Nestled within the Atlanta metropolitan area is Forsyth County, Georgia. Their highly ranked public school system contains 39 schools with roughly 51,400 students and over 6,000 employees. Forsyth County Schools joined the MyVRSpot family in February 2020 to utilize our Live Broadcasting solution but ended up expanding into MyVRSpot’s instructional suite of services for their students, teachers, and admins, to fulfill their virtual learning needs during the Covid-19 pandemic. We met with a few key individuals within Forsyth County Schools to see how MyVRSpot has impacted their day-to-day instructional, administrative, communication, and professional development needs. Here’s what we learned.
What was the original goal?
When Forsyth County Schools began exploring MyVRSpot it was because they needed a Live Broadcasting solution. “We had several products that we used for our school news and broadcasting of events,” said Jason Naile, Director of Instructional Technology and Media. He explained how those other solutions were not working well or meeting their needs.
Furthermore, when Covid-19 hit, the district had a greater need for an online resource to create videos and screen recordings and be able to safely share media, including YouTube videos, with their students. As they got more into the system, “it was like we kept uncovering little things that we could use along the way,” Jason added, referring to the other tools within the MyVRSpot system.
How does MyVRSpot address those needs?
MyVRSpot’s Live Broadcasting solution was the first major draw for Forsyth County Schools. They needed a streaming service that could not only stream morning announcements and other events, but could also record and archive those streams to allow for sharing afterwards. Dane Forlenza, an Instructional Technology Specialist at Settles Bridge Elementary School, explained how they pair a Teradek media encoder with MyVRSpot’s broadcasting service for their morning announcements. He elaborated that the ability to share the recorded broadcasts was an added bonus, particularly the automated process of recordings going directly into a Video Showcase. “We have a link on our website, as well as a link in ClassLink for parents to go to access those live stream recordings. One of the things I really like is that the system puts those recorded streams directly into that gallery with all of our other previously recorded broadcasts [Video Showcase].”
One of the other more popular MyVRSpot tools amongst faculty in Forsyth County is the YouTube tool. With this tool, teachers are finally able to share YouTube content with their students without the fear of something inappropriate showing up as an ad, comment, or in the list of suggested related videos. Brian Sudderth, Instructional Technology Specialist and Athletic Director at Riverwatch Middle School said, “You’ve got teachers talking about how they now have confidence in sharing media with their kids. They’ve had negative experiences with YouTube in particular, as you never know what’s going to pop up.” Lori Perkins, a second-grade teacher at Settles Bridge Elementary School echoed this sentiment, adding “We really like sharing the YouTube videos with students without the advertisements.”
Another reason the YouTube tool is so important is due to filtering. Taylor Stevens, a Social Studies Content Specialist at Forsyth Virtual Academy, shared with us that they have students who have a range of different filters on their home networks, and some are filtering content that’s not marked for kids on YouTube, but content the students still need to access. “We use MyVRSpot from a compatibility and equity standpoint as well, since many students have one of our district hot spots, which filter YouTube as a top-level domain.” With MyVRSpot and the YouTube tool, those students are able to view that shared YouTube content, even if using a district hot spot. Taylor brings up an extremely salient point about compatibility and equity being so important, particularly during virtual and hybrid learning situations.
A common sentiment among MyVRSpot users is just how helpful the audio, video, and screen recorders are. Jason pointed out that the video recorder was especially important during virtual learning. He reflects, “Our schools really found it helpful for students to hear their teachers voice and see their face. Teachers transitioned to using MyVRSpot to give their virtual classroom more of a personality, which is vitally important especially for our younger students.”
Lori spoke from the teacher’s perspective and explained that the primary teachers created read-alouds for their students using the built-in video recorder, which helped them to “create normalcy for the kids.” Dane summed it all up with the following, “I view MyVRSpot sort of like a Swiss Army knife because it does a bunch of things: the audio recording, video recording, screen recording, the safe linking of YouTube videos, Smart[Spot] quizzes, and more.”
Forsyth County Schools started working with us in early 2020 and during that time, their usage has been extraordinary. In less than a year’s time they have uploaded and/or created over 153,000 videos, are storing roughly 12 TB of data, with those media files being viewed over 15,000,000 times. Additionally, they have broadcast over 2,300 times with more than 510,000 viewers.
Such incredible usage can be attributed to many different factors – the increasing demand for digital media in education, having to adapt to circumstances amidst a pandemic, and providing teachers with a user-friendly instructional toolkit! “It was really easy to use, it was really easy to train our staff and get them going,” Brian remarked about training his teachers how to use MyVRSpot. Jason added that MyVRSpot’s Customer Support is “one of the most responsive support desks we work with. It’s been a very impressive response time.”
We think that Jason really summed it all up, however, when he reflected upon the past 10 years at the district office, plus the years before that as a classroom teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist, he said, “We’ve rolled out numerous platforms, products, and applications, and in those 10 years I’ve had only 2 unsolicited pieces of positive feedback almost immediately upon launch of the product.” One of those products was MyVRSpot with one of the more skeptical users telling him “...out of all of the things we’ve ever done, this is the one that has made the most sense.”