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?”