Streaming Videos Connect Campers and Parents

by Bob Fulton, Brad Onasch, and John Maio

Are camps ready for the twenty-first century? Ready or not - it's here! Computers, e-mail, and the Internet have all found their way to camp. "Streaming video" is one of the latest technological advances that allows parents and families to actually view their children participating in camp activities and others to view facilities and take part in training sessions from hundreds of miles away to across the globe.

Why Use Video?

In the past few years, people from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and India have contacted Universal Bridges asking for advice and help on designing and operating universally accessible ropes courses. However, disseminating information in an efficient and economical way has been problematic. Text and static images don't seem to quite convey the power of the concept and nuances necessary. Videotapes are too labor intensive and expensive.

Then in the summer of 1999, the Greater Long Beach YMCA hired us to film several days of camp activities. We were inspired by their High Teen Adventure Program and felt compelled to find an efficient and cost-effective way to share the camp's program and Bridge's work with accessibility with the world.

Enter the Internet

"The teen years are the time to develop character and discipline, form values, explore interests and possibilities, and learn about ways to give back to society," says Brad Onasch, creator of the Camp Oakes Teen High Adventure Program. "Camp does all that and more. Technology can connect it all together and bring the family and the world families more intimately closer."

This past year, streaming videos on the Internet connected the families of Camp Oakes's campers with their children even while they were at camp, sometimes on the same day and sometimes half way around the world over the Internet. Overnight horseback trips, rock climbing at the Joshua Tree National Park, zip line runs on the universal high ropes course, and mountain bike rides were all seen in streaming video on the World Wide Web. In the coming years, Camp Oakes hopes to provide teens with progressive new programs to help them successfully develop their futures and provide access to technology to help them connect their experiences at camp with their families, peers, and society at large.

Improving Technology

Streaming video technology has made rapid progress in the past three years, and it seems the perfect solution for keeping campers, parents, and others connected. Last winter, we filmed YMCA programs and started experimenting with the Real Producer program. In a very short time we were able to e-mail short film clips to families who participated in the program. The content quality was very primitive, but the response was overwhelming. Parents and campers just loved it.

Fast forward over the last nine months of experimenting, the advances in the Real Producer program and Internet speeds, and now we're in the twenty-first century. This summer, we used a video camera to film the Camp Oakes Teen High Adventure programs as well as the YMCA's Ranger program and posted the videos on a Web site. One of the groups of Rangers was from Japan, and through streaming videos, their families were able to see their children as they participated in exciting programs at camp.

Equipment Required

We are looking forward to 2001 when we will have the potential to have live mobile Web cams that will provide same time experiences via the Internet. Participants can wear helmet cameras, which will be as close as possible to seeing an experience through the camper's eyes. Camping is going public, very public. Character development, values clarification, personal growth, and service to others will be live on the Internet for all to see. Web sites and videos can also be password protected so that the only people who can view videos are campers' families and friends.

We use a High8 Sony video camera to film the original content. The quality is very acceptable, but a digital camera would provide even better resolution. We use the Real Producer 8 program to create the videos posted on the Web sites. A video capture card and at least a Pentium II computer are also needed. Real Networks suggests the Osprey 100 as a capture card which costs about $200. Viewers need Real Player 8 to view the videos. It and Real Producer are available in a free version on the Real Networks Web site (www.realnetworks.com). 

New developments
By the end of this year, Microsoft and the Gilat Satellite Company plan to offer "Gilat-to-Home" satellite Internet service with prices comparable to existing line service costs. This technology will provide the potential to download and upload video to satellite and reach audiences anywhere in the world - live. Camp Oakes is discussing ways to take advantage of this opportunity next summer by perhaps having video relay stations around camp or using the satellite service to stream videos live to families of campers. Think of it! By following campers on some of their outback teen adventure programs with a portable unit, we can upload live video as it happens.

Connecting the World

In the next few months, the problem of sending videos and training to people around the world will be gone. We will have the capability to post techniques and equipment used in the universal ropes programs on the Internet in streaming video. People from anywhere in the world will be able to view, learn, and apply these ideas in their camps.

The applications of these technological wonders is amazing. Parents can now see their children at camp either live or archived. Educational ideas can be shared with other camps and organizations around the world. And with the introduction of new technology, the quality of these images is superb.

Bob Fulton is the founder of Bridges and a ropes course and adaptive equipment designer and builder. He also runs workshops on empathic skills and consults on course modifications to create universal access. For more information, you can contact Bob via e-mail at bridges@pineknot.com.

Brad Onasch has been with YMCA Camp Oakes for thirteen years. He is a consultant in developing teen and active adult programs.

John Maio is the producer\director of more than thirty documentaries and a feature film. He has worked with the YMCA for twenty years and is a consultant in outdoor educational programs.

Originally published in the 2000 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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