Craig Steele and Daniel Devine take us behind the scenes of Digital Skills Education. They run sophisticated online workshops for schools and businesses, on relatively advanced technical subjects like AI and cyber security. Find out how they minimise risks when running highly engaging live interactive event, keeping everything running smoothly and on-schedule.
Why live streaming? Craig was comfortable with the format and tried it before, including experimenting with Periscope. They were only doing one or two streams a year but when the pandemic hit, demand ramped up.
Working in pairs
“We do all of our live streams in pairs. This means that if anything unexpected happens – a technical problem or an interruption, then the other person can keep it going.”Craig Steele
Streaming with a parter helps if you can’t see your audience – if you’re staring down a group of black boxes on Zoom, at least your co-presenter can laugh at your jokes!
They used to hire AV people to deal with cameras and sound but since COVID they’ve done it from their own locations.
It can be easier to stream from separate locations, in terms of having your own equipment to hand, as well as simplifying some aspects of the audio.
When doing stuff for schools, they will have more people working on it with Daniel and Craig as presenters, and usually two other people on the “back end” covering moderation duties, looking at what is coming back from the participants, as well as controlling aspects of the interactive activities. Answers are looked at and info is fed back to the presenters. They’re also checking Twitter, email and YouTube stream quality.
“We decided early on that we would not have a chat feature. Instead we wanted to have some other way to see their progress, so our colleague built us a system where we could build an activity, and on our screens we can see each of the students’ answers as they progress”Craig
Their system also supports polling – the ability to ask questions like “does your school have solar panels?” and the results can be brought up on-stream.
Based on feedback, everybody feels very much involved thanks to all of these ways of interacting.
“What do you do about corporate situtations wher ecameras are not switched on” – They’ll be encouraged to type in the chat. They’ll do a poll in chat and ask for reactions to find out which ones they’re most interested in learning about.
We say “these are the topics we’re thinking about covering today. But the secret is, we know what we’ll be talking about, we’re definitely gonna cover all of these topics, but it gives the participants an opportunity to interact and react”Craig
Sometimes they deliberately pause because unlike in a room where you can see how engaged people are, you have to get people to tell you in chat. If you were in the room with someone they would have said it out loud, but if you’re doing it online and you can’t see them or hear them then you need to ask them to tell you those things. This can reassure you that things are working!
Polish and production
They wanted it to feel like a live television broadcast style, but subsequently switched into more of a Twitch aesthetic with more lights and equipment being visible.
“We plan out the sessions and mix it between having us talking to the camera, activity dashboards and other little overlays.”
They’ll usually have 8-10 scenes – some with the presenters, often in a frame so they can have overlays and text boxes that support the presentation. Each activity tends to have a 1-2 minute introduction video – a teaser or trailer that’s a bit over the top of dramatic, to get them hyped up for the activity. The mixture of different scenes and background music and data feeds – pie charts etc…”
They can moderate responses and bring them up onscreen.
They get a really wide range of abilities involved – not just a core audience of maybe 11-14 year olds, but often even younger. Having interesting stuff onscreen helps people stay engaged.
Our most popular activity is called “How to rob a bank” and [students ] go through the stages of hacking into a bank.[…] On our live stream we have a totaliser, and as they start to steal money from this fictional bank, the totaliser cranks up”
This helps students feel like they’re having an effect on the stream. Instead of like a Blue Peter charity appeal, it’s how much money can we steal from a bank!
Ivanka’s first experience of interacting with a live stream was remotely watering a plant at MIT and watching the robot move from across the globe.
The power of being able to control something so far away and see it, when you’re a kid, is very exciting!Ivanka
It can really feel like you’re in the room with someone when they say your name on stream.
Producing the clips
Is it a lot of work to produce the intro clips and trailers?
Usually it’s filmed on a phone and edited in VideoLeap or iMovie. Occasionally they’ll get some help to produce a more polished version.
They have experimented with AI video generation tool called Lumen 5 and it was actually alright!
A key part of their preparation, because for the school workshops it really needs to work.
What we do to reduce our risk is to prerecord parts of our live stream, as if we’re doing it live. So we’ve got our script, we wear the same clothes we’re gonna wear and we record it. To start the stream we just start playing a video where Craig and Daniel from the day before or the morning before are introducing and welcoming people into the session, and then we go live after that after a wee trailer.”Craig & Daniel
“If we are going to do some live programming or typing in terminal commands, I can’t type without typos at the best of times, never mind when I’ve got a hundred 15 year olds watching waiting for me to make a mistake, so quite often I’ll prerecord that, and replay the video and commentate over it live. It takes the pressure off.”Daniel
You don’t even have to do that for big events – they do it for smaller training sessions for businesses. As part of it they show how to use a password manager but this is prerecorded to avoid accidentally flashing up something sensitive or anything else going wrong.
Also has the benefit of being able to give people a link to the video at the end of the workshop.
How many times have you been trying to demonstrate a tool to someone and the company has updated it the night before and you can’t find the button or you can’t log in?
“We don’t technically go live until about 6 or 7 minutes into it, because we’ve go the prerecorded intro, then the little trailer, then we’re live from that point on”
“How do we make the most of the fact that we’re live or with a group compared to just slowly shuffling through the same slide deck every time?”
“I’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days because I thought I was gonna finish this video on Tuesday but I’m still working on it!”Michael
If you’e doing a presentation in a couple of weeks time, think about what you could prerecord – is it a sensitive topic or a risky topic then why not prerecord it and put into your Powerpoint?
Why Digital Skills Education?
Are there ways that we can use tools to improve things? Should we have people that have these digital skills in all sorts of jobs? How can we find more ways of using technology to help people with their digital skills?
Daniel didn’t find computing at school engaging enough to commit to studying it at university, but was always into digital tech and teaching people things. They both worked at the Science Centre and thought about how to improve people’s perception of the skills.
It’s aimed at helping people see what they might want to focus on in future, showing the fun side of working in tech.
One of the challenges Ivanka faces is low expectations in government because they don’t have those digital skills to understand that what they’re being sold is just not good enough.
You can have a better conversation with people about what might be possible, instead of being “bamboozled” by the technology.
More about Digital Skills Education
cyberskillslesson.com to try out some of the exercises.