The Toronto District School Board has decided not to extend the pilot program that would see video screens mounted from ceilings in 90 area secondary schools by next January. Citing concerns over advertisers using the technology to market to students, trustees urged that a strong focus on schools as learning environments be maintained.
To be sure, the bid by Onestop Media Group to provide the technology to the TDSB must be seen for what it is: an attempt to create a robust and effective advertising network in a place where young people are compelled to be for most of their waking hours. Aside from the local shopping mall, schools represent for advertisers and marketers the highest and most consistent concentration of the 14-18 year old demographic than any other environment. To believe that the proposal is rooted in anything else would be naïve.
I agree with the sense of caution demonstrated by the TDSB in last evening’s decision. But I did want to make a case for not abandoning completely the power of video technology into today’s schools.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to Peter Fujiwara talk about his broadcast technology course at St. Roch’s School in Brampton, Ontario, you may want to have a listen to the Teaching Out Loud podcast episode over at the Canadian Education Association website. Peter identifies the use of centrally located video terminals in the main foyer of his school as providing a type of connective tissue for the entire school community. Beyond providing communications technology students with a way to learn about producing quality content, the screens allow the story of the school to be told in new and powerful ways.
Listening to Peter talk about the speed and efficiency with which content can be created and shared got me thinking about Shannon Smith’s metaphorical image of the community fire that accompanied her reflection on weaving the narrative of educational change in this country.
In a sense the video technology that Peter has installed at St. Roch’s is a type of new community fire. Students, staff and visitors gather in the foyer daily to hear their stories, retold—re-membered, as it were— through the use of high quality broadcast technology. It’s a concept that is both engaging and unifying. It’s a concept that others might well consider as part of their conversations about community-building, safe schools and nurturing empathy. It’s a concept that I’m hoping does not get lost in the conversation about this type of technology.
It’s a good thing that we are proceeding with caution when it comes to opening our schools up to even more advertising. But let’s not lose sight of how this same technology might allow us to keep a new type of fire burning in the center of our school communities.