YouTube and Education (Week 10)

Over the course of my blog so far I have explored how technology has expanded the classroom, from noticeably changing the physical geography of the classroom to taking the classroom environment and attempting to replicate it digitally through MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. The difference between this and my other posts is that in both previously discussed conceptions of the “classroom of the future,” interaction between the student and the teacher was still central to the existence of both mediums. Online classroom still maintain some level of teacher-student interaction, through both text and Skype-like video services. In the “classroom of the future” the teacher still facilitates the discussion, even if the lecture alone is no longer the central focus.

But what happens when the teacher isn’t a professional at all, just someone with information they feel compelled to share? The first ever YouTube video, the somewhat infamous “Me at the zoo,” was the most basic form of this phenomenon in my opinion. Just someone with information about something and a desire to disseminate that information to as wide of an audience as possible. If you look at the principles of a MOOC, which are outlined in the graphic from my previous post, and compare it to the objectives of YouTube video there are a number of broad parallels that can be made between the two. Open [i.e. free] content, the creation of learning communities united by common interests, open registration, and a self-paced approach are all hallmarks of both YouTube and online courses. They are also the standards for the conception of the “classroom of the future” I discussed in my first few posts; the creation of an open intellectual environment where information is disseminated freely.

The development of an education community on YouTube is the product of  much precedent. The first time I heard of YouTube was in a Newsweek article from 2007 I had been assigned for my 7th grade English class. We had to debate the major contention of the article; whether or not YouTube was a passing fad or a new social media staple. Most of the class concurred with the article, which contested that YouTube was a mere flash in the pan. I didn’t know what to think. Hell, I didn’t even have a MySpace at that point. Seven years later, however, and that cluelessness has been replaced with a complete YouTube obsession.

YouTube was revolutionary in that it was the first platform designed exclusively for sharing video. Until that point video hosting was too expensive and homemade video quality was sub-par at best. What started as a video sharing site for clips of Janet Jackson at the Superbowl and other people’s pets has become a host for all kinds of corporate and amateur content, including educational content. Certain channels and individual YouTubers gain cult-like followings for everything from makeup tutorials to book reviews to chemistry 101. Wikipedia even has a list of YouTube personalities. The concept of fame in the digital age has never been more relative.

Two of my favorite YouTubers John and Hank Green, otherwise known by the channel name the VlogBrothers, were perhaps the first to rally a community of fans around their creative endeavors. The difference being that the Green brothers used their internet fame to crowd fund charity projects and to organize events like VidCon and the Open Education Conference. Their side channel CrashCourse offers instructional videos on chemistry, biology, psychology, history and literature.

crash course

What I like about CrashCourse is that it doesn’t claim to be a substitute for a classroom education, but rather offers itself as a useful tool or accessory to classroom learning. I can imagine a high school student typing into a search engine “what is photosynthesis?” or “To Kill a Mockingbird summary” and being directed to a CrashCourse video. CrashCourse and other educational YouTube channels represent a change in the way we access secondary education. Instead of being the recipients of topical information obtained through an online encyclopedia article or a lecture, educational YouTube videos are designed to make the viewer feel as if they are part of the conversation.

Not to devalue the importance of reading, of course. The ability to read critically is still an essential skill, but the question has become, “read what?”



Week 9: Sound Project Proposal

I grew up listening to talk radio. Every car ride two or from every ballet lesson, martial arts practice, family dinner at my cousins’ in southern Illinois was accessorized by NPR. I was also a natural storyteller with a gift for description and pacing. I understood how to thread a narrative intuitively, before even really being taught about beginning, middle and end. I dove into fiction of all kinds like a glutton for words. Books and stories were my haven.

What have always struck me the most, however, are personal narratives. My favorite public radio segments are the ones that allow me glimpses into other people’s lives and experiences. However, it’s not just the stories themselves but the way the teller chooses to convey them. How do you go about revealing something deeply personal while also making it digestible for a larger audience?

I thought it only natural to choose to use my sound project to tell a story, much as I began my first blog post by sharing an experience in order to introduce the reader to my focal topic. I want to use my personal experiences with technology, education and information in order to support my argument for why information and information technology is so important to the future of education and to the nature of information gathering.

I had considered doing interviews with library technicians or professors here at Miami, but I wasn’t sure I wanted more than one voice in my project. I know that multiple narrators and multiple narratives are what made “Reading Stories” so compelling. In order to convey why it is so difficult to narrate a story, Rosenthal almost necessarily had to include multiple narrators for the sake of comparison. As my creative writing teachers would always preach, “Show, don’t tell.”

The difficult part is going to be “showing” using my voice as well as my writing, especially if I choose to only use my words and my experiences. I’m hoping to approach the script like a good piece of opinion journalism. First, the personal narrative that appeals to the pathos as well as serves to introduce the topic. Then I have to include evidence, both quantitative and qualitative. The qualitative will come from interviews I’ve read from education officials, members of the OET, students, and teachers etc. mixed with my own conclusions about why information technology is so relevant to the future of education. The quantitative will come from data I’ve collected during my research about things like the cost of installing a national broadband network for all public schools. Finally, I have to summarize my topic by again conveying its importance. I want to accompany each factual point with a thread from my own personal narrative about my experience with research, education and technology.

What’s in a MOOC? (Week 6)

According to the gateway for all accurate information on the internet [Wikipedia] Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are online courses “aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.” A fairly straight forward definition that does nothing to illuminate the impact they have made on the education market. Or perhaps not made, depending upon who you ask.


(Image source)

I know that sounds cryptic, but so are Massive Open Online Courses to a certain degree. IF you’re “in the know,” i.e. if you’re an educator or a techie or someone looking to finish a degree, then you’ve probably at least heard of MOOCs. If not then the concept is probably as foreign to you as it was to me a few months ago.

I’ve always thought that the education system was a bit of a scam. Sure, public education is mandatory in the United States until age 16. However not all public schools are created equally, and a high school certificate only goes so far. White collar employers are awash with candidates with high level graduate and professional degrees from top level schools. Schools with substantial price tags attached to their well establish brand names. The average middle American student is damned if they do and damned if they don’t, but for whatever reason they generally do invest in overpriced secondary educations. And so the cycle goes on and education and opportunity in the United States continue to be available to the elites. Just as they were in Ancient Greece, when access to the gymnasiums were only granted to those with the citizenship status, money, and the time to spend on an education rather than tending the fields.

I know it’s a far-reaching metaphor, but any historian will tell you that the “ivory tower” of academia has been and continues to be an elite phenomenon. We are literally signing our life savings away for the privilege of having access to information. So what would happen if that information were to be offered to anyone and everyone, free of charge?

That is the driving concept behind the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. According to David Cormier, the man who supposedly coined the term “MOOC” in 2008, the purpose of a MOOC is to be more than a digital correspondence course or another form of distance education. A MOOC, in his words, provides “access to information about a topic” through a platform “built for a world where information is everywhere.” Still confused? You can find his full description in his video “What is a MOOC?” on his personal YouTube channel. He goes on to state that “MOOC is not a school.” Rather, a collaborative community that fosters the sharing of information between interested learners and qualified instructors. It is not divorced from accredited online education; those enrolled in MOOCs can still receive credit for participating in them by enrolling in a university’s online education program. However, the purpose is to not have to pay for participation in a conversation. It is an extension of academia and academic communities to include any and all interested parties, regardless of their age, socio-economic status, or academic credentials. All interested parties welcome.

But Cormier didn’t invent the MOOC, he just named it. He’s not even a professor. His professional title is Manager of Web Communications and Innovations at the University of Prince Edward Island. He is a collaborator in the MOOC universe who maintains that a MOOC is the original question, the collaborative discussion and the collective answer to that question. You can read his thoughts on MOOCs here on his personal blog. Because he’s just a person, albeit one who was savvy enough to actively observe changes in secondary education as early as 2008. He does not insist that the MOOC as a concept is infallible. Simply that it is important to the larger conversation about digital education.

The fallibility of the MOOC is one of the main points of contention amongst its critics. MOOCs tend to have an incredibly low completion rate. In many cases up to 80% of those who enroll in MOOCs drop the course or simply fail to complete it, especially if completion of the course requires keeping up with regular assignments. Many take issue with its collaborative nature. What is the role of the highly qualified, tenured professor in the digital world of the MOOC? Furthermore, do MOOCs seek to replace the classroom and the “ivory tower” altogether? There is a really great opinion piece “In Defense of Teacher Learning” that explores the value of the unique experience of being in a traditional classroom to be found in the hyperlinked text. It does justice to the lack of nuance in the highly polarized media debate surrounding MOOCs in which only two camps seem to exist; either you’re for MOOCs or you aren’t.

I can see the validity in the confusion surrounding MOOCs. I can see why educators, professionals and students are both highly enthusiastic and highly critical about such an open ended concept. However the debate should not be centered on whether or not MOOCs are a valid equivalent to the college degree, because clearly they aren’t. They are a way in which technology has made information more accessible to interested parties, and even as such they stake no claim in being the only valid vehicle for perpetuating freedom of information.


As a follow up to my last post on the evolving geography of the “classroom of the future” I found this article on 21 things that will be obsolete in the classroom by 2020. Some of it I had touched on in my post, such as forgoing desks for a more “flowing” layout involving work tables and group learning environments. Others seem more intuitive or far fetched, like the elimination of lockers. Either way, I think the article makes a valid point about how the integration of technology in schools is changing the physical structure of the classroom.

Classrooms are Changing part 2 (Feb 27)

Location, Location, Location

I was already in high school by the time my local school board took the initiative to do away with overhead projectors; those clunky but reliable fixtures of my grammar school days that meant the next thirty minutes would be spent with the lights turned blessedly low. Of course, this only came after they had installed laptops in all the kindergarden classrooms. The result was a bizarre amalgamation of old school and new school. Literally.

In my Algebra classroom a SMART board was mounted sandwiched between two chalkboards, one of which featured a Victorian-esque calligraphy guide. In French I watched my teacher lose a daily struggle against the pull-down screen projector and Microsoft PowerPoint. It was as if every old school academic in the building, the kind who still administered blue book exams and spent a good five minutes finding the YouTube “play” button every single damn time they wanted to use a video clip in class, were putting up a silent resistance. I can remember my history teacher complaining daily about being forced to record her grades online through the school network instead of in an old school gradebook, which she still insisted on carrying to every single class and taking with her whenever she left the room. [Never mind that the digital gradebook would calculate the grades for her.]

However, by the time I graduated the school board had installed several of what it liked to call “classrooms of the future,” accessorized by walls that were floor to ceiling white boards and interactive touch screen projection systems. Instead of organized rows we sat at adjustable communal worktables in chairs of modish color and design, all white or orange or kelly green. The whole classroom could be rearranged from the tables to the teacher’s workstation, as if even the furniture resisted the very idea of sitting still for hours at a time. But sitting still and silent was all I understood of school. If there was discussion or interaction it was limited, cultivated and artificial. Everything, from how I was taught to structure my notes to the conclusions I would make in class, had been prepackaged for me. To a certain degree I didn’t know how to operate in the wide open space of the interactive classrooms. I couldn’t associate the new, more casual atmosphere with the serious academic practice of memorizing names, dates and tables for an exam. Where was the final test? Where was the rigor and the pressure?


The so called “classroom of the future” is a larger concept educators, not-for-profit organizations, administrators, developers, IT professionals, parents and amateurs with a video camera have been striving toward for years. I’ve heard it bandied about on blogs, in interviews and by my own teachers. Though more often than not it was used sarcastically as if referring to a Jestons-esque concept of a distant future, rather than the very real possibility of technology in the classroom. I can understand the skepticism. After all, what happens to the traditional structure of education when students are allowed to write on the walls and talk openly during class? Where is the structure and order that we have come to associate with the learning process?

The guiding principle of the “classroom of the future” is that technology will enable students to have more control over the learning process. Instead of a collective grind students will engage in self-directed learning, say by doing internet research on an iPad, and engaging in collective discussions with other students and with the instructor. Hence worktables instead of silent rows of desks, and interactive projected images that reflect onto every surface instead of solitary screen projectors. Ideally the interactive classroom of the future contains no barriers, physical or otherwise.

As a result, the implementation of technology has changed the geography of the modern classroom. The director of the Office of Education Technology, Karen Cator, gave an interview for Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ASCD, and more on that in another post] in which she outlines the role of technology in classroom conduct and the nature of interactive learning. She described a gradeschool she visited in North Carolina as “exemplary” in its use of technology in the classroom. She states, “In several classrooms, I couldn’t tell where the front of the classroom was. On one side of the room was an interactive whiteboard; on another side, a regular whiteboard; and the teacher’s desk was on a third side.”

It reminded me of the interactive classrooms of my own high school, all open and free and casual. According to Director Cator the technology itself should not be the focus of learning but an aid in the process. The entire room should be, “a learning environment, and the technology was just part of the infrastructure.” Sort of like high tech wallpaper. Ideally it should straddle the line between being completely invisible and totally distracting while still defining the learning environment.

Classrooms are Changing (Feb 20)


Ever hear of the Office of Educational Technology? Probably not. I certainly hadn’t, despite all the technology classes I have taken over the course of my education. As it turns out the Office of Educational Technology, or OET, is the department responsible for taking the initiative to revolutionize technology in the classroom. They provide research grants. They make Wi-Fi accessible for public school students across the country. They get it. They’re “with it.” So with it they have a YouTube page. Go figure.

According to the department’s official website (see link above), the OET is located in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Education. Just one of many sub-offices and fractal departments that fall under the umbrella of government funded, capital “E” Education, sandwiched between something called “Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” and Student Financial Aid.

More importantly, it’s the reason public schools across the country have been going “paperless” by installing desktops, laptops, SMART boards, interactive projection systems, Wi-Fi and other innovative technologies in their classrooms. In fact, according to their official government website, one of the primary initiatives of the OET is to “close the broadband gap in k-12 schools in the US” in order to promote “equity of access.” This means high speed Wi-Fi in every public school system across the country. It’s an expensive but vital step in closing the learning gap from one public school system to the next.

Access to Wi-Fi means access to ideas, programs and information, to educational websites and resources. It means that if the OET is successful in achieving its goal, for the first time in the history of education children in every single classroom across the country will have access to the same kinds of resources at the same speed and in the same volume.



What Is Digital Education?


The Past 

I remember my first “computer science” class. It was 1999 and my grammar school had recently installed a computer lab in an annex [probably a former supply closet] next to the library. It consisted of two rows of hefty IBM desktops, an industrial printer we weren’t allowed to touch and a projector. There was only one window [again, supply closet] and the walls were inexplicably painted black so that we sat in perpetual darkness, save for the bluish glow of our monitors. In short it was terrifying.

It also came with rules. Way more than an ordinary classroom. We couldn’t actually touch the power buttons on the monitors, but had to wait for a teacher to come do it for us. We couldn’t save any documents to “My Computer” and we couldn’t use Google because it was “unsafe.” We could only visit educational websites [mostly about math, no thank you] and even then only if we asked for permission. It was thanks to this cautious introduction that the science of computers seemed too limited to be of any real interest, especially in the eyes of an eight year old.

And perhaps in 1999 it really was a limited field of study. As if overnight the computer had become a household fixture, but it had yet to be understood and incorporated as an educational tool. Computer access was a privilege and I was instructed to treat it with near reverence. It was a tool with specific limitations and totally devoid of nuance. Windows 98, Microsoft Word, floppy disks and Yahoo search. Anything that wasn’t “.org” or “.gov” was automatically unreliable. It was as if the librarians that haunted the computer lab like bats in a cave, carefully warding against the slightest hint of unsanctioned fun, saw it as their duty to arm us against the evils of technology. If the school board were going to force them to teach grade school children how to format a Word document, fine. But that was as far as our technological education was ever going to go.

The Present

Under two decades later and oh how things have changed. The classroom is no longer an island in a sea of information but part of the larger conversation. A conversation that is facilitated by the implementation of technology in the classroom. “Digital education” is not a necessary evil, but a natural progression into preparing students to become active in an increasingly interconnected world. The very concept of digital education is based on the idea that simply learning how to use technologies effectively is only the first step. The second, third and fourth are using technology in order to share and to gain a holistic understanding of information that goes beyond a classroom.

The classroom is no longer the isolated, reminiscently Victorian affair it was when I was only a generation ago. Students, primary and secondary, are not isolated from the information revolution that was just beginning when I was being taught to “properly” use a computer. Use. Implementation. Understanding. Integration. And finally access.

Photo cred:

Focal Topic Proposal Draft

I only have one idea for my research blog that I am truly interested in. However, I am confident that it is a subject that I can carry through twelve weeks of research and focused writing. The idea came so naturally to me I actually couldn’t imagine having the same level of enthusiasm for a different subject matter.

I would like to research the connection between the evolving debate over access to information, specifically digital information, and education. I would like to explore the various mediums that people, both professional and amateur, have used to produce and share educational content. I would like to explore the question of who deserves access to information and why. Historically it has always been those who could afford it. In ancient Greece only the sons of the aristocracy could afford the time and monetary cost of the gymnasium. Philosophers and thinkers were the products of the upper tiers of society.

I believe that this trend has continued into modern society. A college education is required for any white collar profession. However, the cost of such an education is beyond the means of most people. For example, my parents have never been wealthy but they have earned steady incomes from white collar jobs their entire lives. Even so I know with absolute certainty that I will be paying off my student loans well into thirties, if not beyond. Formal education has been and remains a bourgeois institution.

However, as technology progresses the idea that Matt Damon’s character in “Good Will Hunting” epitomized is slowly becoming truer than ever.  We drop thousands of dollars for information we could get “for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” I would like to address the way technology has changed education, the modes educators use and the relationship between education and freedom of education.