What do you think of when imagining the online video site YouTube?  Usually, people tend to see it as an endless void of cat videos and the latest dance craze neatly displayed on a white background, with comments of a low intellectual level.  However, there is much more to YouTube than “David after Dentist” and “Gangnam Style.”  While there is an abundance of simple entertainment and grammatically incorrect or crude comments, YouTube actually has a wide variety of interesting and educational videos.  This “how-to” and educational genre involves anything from eye shadow tutorials, to how to use your iPhone, to videos about quantum mechanics or the War of 1812.

There are many popular educational YouTube channels, many of which with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.  The content creators of these channels are very passionate and enthusiastic about what they are teaching – whether that involves explaining about the origin of curse words, telling the story of Phineus Gage through song, or contemplating whether the TV show Community is post-modern art through explanation of post-modernity and the themes of the show.   Some of these YouTubers are even professionally paid for their videos.  Personally, I have learned about makeup techniques and literature, topics I already know a lot about and have a deep interest in, but I have also learned about history and physics through educational YouTube channels, which gives me interesting conversation starters at parties.  Educational channels are a growing arena in online video that many people are unaware of, with YouTube’s stigma of time-wasting content, but something worth learning from, as you can find well-made and deeply informed videos of virtually any topic.


youtube for schools

Educational videos on YouTube can be legitimately instructive and enlightening, and can come from many sources, from colleges and universities, to college students in their dorm rooms, to middle-aged people with masters degrees in their offices. The article “Higher Education Migrates to YouTube and Social Networks” by Marilyn Gilroy, professor at Bergen County College, published in the Education Digest, discusses how colleges and universities are using YouTubeU to provide educational videos from their classes to students and anyone interested in learning, worldwide.  She also discusses other educational video sites, and social media sites that colleges and professors are using.  More colleges and universities are catching on to the importance of creating a presence in online learning, where teaching and learning can occur anywhere, at any time.

Gilroy talks about the uses of YouTubeEDU in her article, which describes itself as a way to achieve worldwide insight and instruction. It is a part of YouTube entirely involved in educational videos. YouTube is calling this section of their site “a free, self-organizing, democratic website containing all the world’s knowledge.”  On the site, any teacher at a two- or four-year college or university can upload educational content which anyone can access, worldwide.  There are videos featuring educational topics from well-known and ivy-league colleges and universities like Stanford, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

It was interesting to find how many colleges and universities utilize YouTube and their YouTubeEDU services because I’m more familiar with educational videos that aren’t actually academically affiliated with colleges.  Gilroy’s article explains how YouTubeEDU “promises an environment in which ‘any qualified teacher can contribute and absolutely anyone can learn.” In this way, YouTubeEDU focuses on the importance of the wider world reaching out for quality information, rather than just students. In this way, YouTube is broadening the possible market for educational video.

The author also mentions that there are some critics who don’t believe in the use of video and social media in higher education by dismissing these platforms as fads that will fade over time.  This argument seems to be incorrect so far, because while this piece was written in 2009, people are still learning with online video, even more so through individual educational channels. YouTubeEDU might not be wildly popular itself, but the wider genre of educational videos on YouTube certainly is, and has grown in popularity over time with students as well as adults who are out of school.  The author uses quotes from Heather Mansfield, an owner of a consulting business, throughout the article.  Mansfield said “higher-ed has been entirely too cautious, and they probably don’t realize the damage they are doing to themselves,” by not participating enough in social media like YouTube.  The author says that if she is right, the way the world interacts with higher education will change.  I agree that it is important for colleges and universities to have educational tools online for students and non-students alike, but to me it is also important for there to be a presence of non-academically affiliated educational content on YouTube. Non-affiliated channels make learning feel like more of a casual experience of looking further into topics of interest, rather than structured learning.  Watching educational videos for fun and personal interest can make the process more engaging.  However, this does bring up the question of whether some people’s educations will take place entirely through educational video services rather than attending school or online college as it exists now.  Maybe the education system will be entirely different, a thing in which people can sit in their living room munching on pretzels and texting in peace while watching their lecture on Social Psychology.

YouTube: Socially Relevant

In the article “’It Took Me About Half An Hour, But I Did It!’ Media Curcuits And Affinity Spaces Around How-To Videos On YouTube” Simon Lindgren, the author discusses how YouTube is truly a social networking platform where connections and friendships are made in the comments section of how-to videos, rather than merely a host for entertainment.  This research was very interesting and useful, and goes in-depth into YouTube as a platform for community engagement, especially within the realm of the how-to genre.  According to this article, as of 2010, YouTube has 24 hours of videos uploaded each minute, with over 2 billion views each day.  With that large capacity for content, great educational videos and interesting communication can easily occur.

Lindgren’s take on the social media aspect of YouTube is interesting, and in my own experience, accurate.  She says that with its “various forms of interaction, including possibilities to comment and rate videos, as well as commenting and rating the comments themselves,” YouTube is a social community site with peer support systems and constructive criticism on instructional videos.  The commenting system, which can lend to negative or even “trolling” comments, can be very beneficial for building relationships between content creators and those who consume the content.  YouTube comments are, in many cases, part of the process of learning from how-to videos, and there is much engagement in this category the topics are very widespread, from cooking, to makeup, to educational videos, there is a how-to video for everyone.  Lindgren says that in the comments section of YouTube videos “people come together because of common endeavors or interest, rather than of race, class, gender, disability, etc.  Newcomers and masters all share the same space, and the creation, exchange and distribution of knowledge is an important part of the common activities.”  Personally, I try to comment on the videos of a lot of the vloggers I watch, but I also comment on educational videos if I took something particularly important away from it, which could lead to relationship and community building among myself, other commenters, and the video creator.

Vloggers as Educators

hank green

Hank Green, a very popular YouTube video-blogger and entrepreneur, has been working on two educational channels since January of 2012, SciShow, an educational science channel, and CrashCourse, which has covered biology, chemistry, world and American history, with a brief foray into literature, with his brother, John Green.   Both Green brothers are very passionate about educational video on YouTube, and started out making a few, teaching various subjects on the Vlogbrothers channel, which sparked them to continue making more of this content, with interesting and eye catching visuals made by the company Thought Bubble.  Most of the videos on CrashCourse and SciShow are 10 to 15 minutes long, much shorter than the average college class, but much longer than the average entertainment YouTube video.

“Making educational video has a different value proposition for the consumer of that video than making entertaining video,” Hank said, in the Vlogbrothers video entitled “Revolutionizing Education…With Weirdos.”  “It’s just a different thing, and I think it has the potential to change the face of the world.”  He also declares that it is wonderful to see old industries innovating and fitting into the current technological capabilities.  Hank says, to his brother John, “There is nothing right now that excites me more than revolutionizing how we teach, and also what we teach.  And John, I honestly think that we are so lucky to be there.  And of course we are lucky to have a community who support that.”

With YouTube, education has the chance to change forms and origins.  Rather than learning predominately from teachers and parents, we can learn from friends, strangers we judge as intelligent, people with interesting views, those with skills we don’t encounter on the daily basis; virtually anybody.  Personally, I have had incredible experiences with educational video.  I have learned things I never would go out of my way to know about had YouTube not been an option, and developed an interest in the work of brilliant video creators.  It allows content creators and consumers to engage and interact, for people to learn in new, possibly simpler ways, to take in information quickly, and to always be able to access the information later.  Those who make education videos on YouTube, as well as those who watch, are excited about how this type of content is progressing in the future, as YouTube  becomes so much more than cultural crazes.  Who knows, maybe Vlogbrothers videos like “Froghoppin’ with Gatsby,” a mix of amusement and education, are the next viral videos of the world.


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