Live streaming to primary schools

This resource by Ashley March, Learning Manager (Digital) at the Museum of London, offers a short introduction for museums, arts and heritage organisations thinking about live streaming to primary schools.

The Museum of London has been a pioneer of online learning practice for many years and has been developing its current model for live streaming to school audiences since 2016.

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What is ‘live streaming’? | Why do it? | What content might a live stream include? | What practical issues or limitations are there? | How do you make live streams accessible and safe? | Any final advice? | Recommended further resources

What is ‘live streaming’?

Live streaming is the sharing of live video and audio over the internet. However, audiences and stakeholders may have specific expectations when they hear the term – about platform, duration or interactivity, for example.

At the Museum of London, we draw a distinction between ‘live streams’ and ‘online sessions’ for schools.

‘Online sessions’ are for a single school (or often a single class) at a time. They:

  • Offer an educational workshop or performance that might have been experienced in-person
  • Offer schools a choice of platform – Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Zoom
  • Can have live video going both ways, so museum facilitators see and respond to students directly.

‘Live streams’ are more like online broadcasts. They:

  • Might offer new or different content not available for in-person sessions
  • Potentially reach large numbers of schools at once
  • Use specialist software connected to platforms like YouTube
  • Can have higher production values, combining live and pre-recorded elements
  • Only offer live video one way; the stream’s hosts cannot see participants
  • Enable teachers to share students’ thoughts and questions through text chat, with the hosts responding in person, in near real-time.

Why do it?

Constant consultation and evaluation with teachers shows us that they appreciate their students seeing museum spaces and objects, and hearing from experts, without having to leave their classrooms. Above all, they say they are interested in new ways of engaging their pupils, who find it exciting to be part of a live, shared experience and to have their own questions asked and answered in the moment.

Groups of any size, large or small, can access them. Distance is also overcome. Schools from hundreds of miles away in the UK have participated as have others from as far as New York and Rome, who could never have hoped to join us otherwise.

For institutions, live streaming gives the opportunity to actively engage far greater numbers of students than otherwise feasible. We’ve had more than 1,000 students join a single stream. It’s an efficient way to share our collections, spaces and expertise with as wide range of young people as possible.

What content might a live stream include?

Popular topics on the National Curriculum are the most in-demand themes. With our collections, that’s things like the Great Fire of London (Key Stage 1), prehistory and Roman London (both KS2).

Some tips for live stream content include:

  • It doesn’t all need to be live as long as it ‘feels’ live. Some of our streams hinge around pre-filmed gallery tours, carefully developed to feel interactive, with age-appropriate activities such as ‘Act this out’ or ‘Talk to a partner’
  • Genuinely live moments are essential. We always include a Q&A section, where a host asks a museum curator (or outside expert) students’ questions submitted minutes before
  • Keep the structure clear and varied to create excitement and hold attention
  • Use free tools such as design app Canva and video editing software HitFilm Express to create animated countdowns, transitions or title sequences
  • Don’t be shy about repurposing video content you already own (as long as you have the necessary permissions).

Even within schools, different classes disagree on the ideal duration of a live stream; it depends on the students. KS1 teachers, on average, suggest 40 to 45 minutes, while for KS2 it’s 45 minutes to an hour. Assume some attendees will join late or drop out early.

What practical issues or limitations are there?

Whether schools have the technical literacy and capability to join is less of a concern than it used to be, but there are still many potential issues to consider.

We share a basic technical FAQ with schools in advance, providing details of the platform we are using and advising teachers to ask an ICT technician whether access will be possible, and if they can provide support on the day.

Schools sometimes contact us with last-minute issues caused by their own technical set-up, with little we can do to help. For example, school security policies often prevent access to platforms such as YouTube.  

And of course your team’s capabilities matter. But all it takes is for one person to get their head around the requirements of streaming to a particular platform. Sharing knowledge, inside and outside your organisation, is a great way to learn.

Technical elements can be scaled up or down to match your digital literacy and budget. It can be as simple as using a smartphone or webcam, all the way up to using lighting rigs, wireless microphones and professional audio/video interfaces.

Our preferred setup is:

  • A Panasonic DC-GH5 mirrorless camera plugged into a Magewell USB capture device for video
  • DPA 4060 lapel microphones on each host, plugged into an M-Track USB audio interface for audio
  • A Microsoft Surface Book 2 computer using OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) to run the stream from.

How do you make live streams accessible and safe?

On top of our standard accessibility policies, such as requiring all films to have subtitles, we invite schools to contact us with any specific needs they have for their students to participate.

This has led, for example, to us providing a full itinerary (including key words) for each stream to teachers in advance. BSL interpreters can then prepare specific vocabulary, teachers can introduce key concepts and EAL learners can start to familiarise themselves with new terminology prior to joining.

Live captioning is rapidly becoming standard, but auto-generated captions don’t always cope well with uncommon historical or archaeological language. You may need to budget for a professional captioner from a company such as Stagetext.

Another aspect to making a stream accessible is getting the word out. Our two most effective marketing tools are free: our mailing list of engaged teachers and our website, on which live stream listings sit alongside other educational programming, visible to teachers that might not have thought to look for them.

Influencers have a notable effect on sign-ups, too, with surges in interest coming in the wake of Twitter posts and word of mouth recommendations (especially from home educators). Those that sign up closest to the time – a week or less in advance – are by far the most likely to actually attend. Drop-out rates are always high.

Though attendance is free, we don’t make links to the streams themselves public. A thorough safeguarding risk assessment is essential before any live streaming, and one of our mitigations is to insist that schools sign up in order to join. Teachers fill in an online form so we can send them a hidden link to the stream before it begins.

Additionally, we dedicate a staff member to moderating the stream’s chat in case of inappropriate language, although the chat has other in-built content-filtering features.

Any final advice?

This resource captures some of the questions and learnings that have arisen through our practice, but you may have very different experiences depending on your context.

The field was changing rapidly even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, which has transformed the digital literacy and expectations of both audiences and organisations. Expect much to move forward.

But this is not a reason to avoid getting involved. Quite the opposite.

Demand for schools’ programming is relentless; there’s always a new term coming. But this also means it’s forgiving. This makes the perfect environment for testing, piloting and improving new approaches. For giving live streaming a try.

Time poor as they are, teachers still take the time to provide detailed feedback and suggestions on how to improve. So we listen, iterate, and do things better next time. Even if you were starting from scratch, you could do the same.

And the feedback we get is overwhelmingly positive, grateful and encouraging, even when the technology or content hasn’t worked perfectly.

So don’t be put off by fear of failure. And crucially: don’t be put off by tech. The barrier to entry has never been lower, and the more sophisticated equipment, settings and language aren’t vital to success at all. Start simple, and go from there.

Good luck!

More guidance on live streaming and video editing:
Free software: