The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has launched a six-month pilot project with Onestop Media Group Inc. that will install real-time, video-based communications networks in four Toronto high schools.
Eighteen screens will be placed in common areas of Harbord Collegiate, Central Technical School, Central Commerce Collegiate, Haydon Park Secondary and one of the TDSB offices to display internal and externally-sourced content targeted to each school.
“It’s their own channel,” said Michael Girgis, CEO and president of Onestop Media Group, a Toronto-based developer and operator of public networks for transit, retail, education, residential, hotel and corporate environments.
Programming will include automated content, such as news feeds and entertainment, and locally-published content created by the schools. “All of our networks really run on the same platform, but they provide real time news content and location-specific content to the audience,” said Girgis.
The network is positioned as a compliment to the school’s existing communication process, he said. The screens can display, for example, school announcements, student council information, sports scores, countdowns to the next period and polls for the students’ favourite yearbook cover.
The school boards, principals and students are all provided publishing access. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for students to start to understand digital publishing in the high school environment,” said Girgis.
The pilot intends to encourage youth engagement in the schools, said Chris Bolton, vice-chair of the TDSB. The end goal is to help students pay attention to what is happening in their schools and make them feel that they are actually a part of it, he said.
TDSB also plans to include content from MuchMusic, which would be interspersed with local programming throughout the day, to “catch the kids eyes and keep their attention,” he said.
The pilot is partially funded through sponsorship from other organizations such as colleges and universities, but “we are making it very clear that we are not into an advertising mode,” said Bolton.
Onestop and TDSB are planning to put together a long-term model based on the learnings from the pilot, said Girgis. “At the end of the day, there is a model to be defined for that environment and that’s what the pilot is all about,” he said.
Onestop has worked with universities in the past, but this is the first time the company has built a network for high schools, according to Girgis. The network resembles one created for Queens University in terms of the communications tools and templates, he said. A similar network also operates within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) system in Toronto.
The TDSB pilot runs until June. “My hope is that it will be adopted by a number of other schools,” said Bolton. He also hopes to see a more parent-oriented version adapted for elementary schools down the road.