Streaming Video Gives Family and Friends Front Row Seat to Commencement Celebrations

Every May, thousands of graduating seniors from eight different colleges walk across the stage at CSUN’s Commencement ceremony to receive a personal handshake and their degree as friends and family cheer them on in this college ritual.

Yet not all family and friends can attend due to geographic and transportation barriers.  Several years ago, they would have been out of luck.  Today they can watch it live in their own homes thanks to technology which enables digital streaming of the event live.

Paul Schantz, from Student Affairs, runs the Commencement website and manages streaming.  “In the six years I’ve been here, viewership has increased dramatically, primarily because of increased promotion,” he says.

Viewership extends beyond national borders. In May 2012, the largest segment of the international audience included family and friends from Saudi Arabia.

The highlight of his job, says Schantz, director of Web and Technology Services, is that he gets to “collaborate with a lot of people on campus in order to make this happen.”

It takes a year to coordinate digital streaming into reality.  Tom Piernik, director of Student Development and International Programs, says the Commencement and Honors Convocation Advisory Committee, which he chairs, meets eight times a year for the sole purpose of orchestrating the annual honors convocation and college commencements.  Piernik takes pride in the fact that CSUN hosts all of its commencement ceremonies  on campus and makes the experience personal for graduating students and their families.

Piernik, who calls himself a late adopter of technology, believes in the presence of family and friends at the commencement ceremonies. Yet he sees the digital streaming process as a resource for everyone who cannot physically attend the ceremonies to witness a once-in-a-lifetime moment. “Digital streaming broadens our audience like that without replacing the cheering throngs who want to witness that special person’s commencement,” he says.

The initial purpose for filming the ceremonies, Piernik explains, was to broadcast them on campus for audience members who preferred the big screen and air conditioning in the Bianchi Planetarium.

“We were just trying to make comfortable on-campus venues workable,” he says. “Now we find that people who could not get to our campus—either those locally, or at home in Canada or India—saying, ‘I can’t realistically travel there, but it’s important to witness and I’ll watch it online.’ It’s quite exciting.”

Making each Commencement ceremony a success requires close teamwork across multiple departments. Chris Mahony from IT’s Faculty Technology Center directs the video production and coordinates the web streaming, while Tony Hillbruner sets up the cameras and trains the camera operators. For a glimpse behind the scenes, watch a timelapse of the ceremony setup captured by the Center’s Marty Soupcoff.

Many of the operators are CTVA students who learn all aspects of streaming, from equipment setup and camera operation to captioning the video as the event is shot live. Schantz says student involvement offers valuable experience they can put on their resumes.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the students that we have here on campus who are in our CTVA program to get some practical experience in a venue that’s a very large event,” he says.

The filmed ceremonies are saved to CSUN’s Commencement and Honors Convocation YouTube channel.  Schantz says one out of every four visitors to the 2012 commencement website accessed it from a mobile phone, more than double the amount of mobile users compared to the previous year. The ability to watch video on any device at any time, he says, “is becoming not only possible, but expected by our visitors.”

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