YouTube in the Classroom

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education reports that professors are using YouTube in the classroom and making teaching a more public art. Web video opens a new form of public intellectualism to scholars looking to participate in an increasingly visual culture. One Web site that opened this week, Big Think, hopes to be “a YouTube for ideas.” The site offers interviews with academics, authors, politicians and other thinkers. Most of the subjects are filmed in front of a plain white background and the interviews are chopped into bite-sized pieces of just a few minutes each. The short clips could have been served up as text quotes but Victoria R. M. Brown, co-founder of Big Think, says video is more engaging. “People like to learn and be informed of things by looking and watching and learning,” she says.

YouTube itself wants to be a venue for academe. Recently, several colleges have signed agreements with the site to set up official “channels.” The University of California at Berkeley was the first and others will soon follow. How large the audience for talking eggheads is an open question. In the early days of TV, many academics hoped to use the medium to beam courses to living rooms, with series like CBS’s Sunrise Semester which began in 1957. Those efforts are now a distant memory. Things may be different now, since the Internet offers a chance to connect people with the professors and topics that most interest them.

YouTube hasn’t exactly made it easy to find the academic offerings, though. Clicking on the education category shows a mix of videos, including ones with babes posing in lingerie and others on the lectures of Socrates. But that could change if the company begins to sign up more colleges and pay more attention to whether videos are appearing in the correct subject areas, says Dan Colman, director and associate dean of Stanford University’s continuing-studies program, who runs a blog tracking podcasts and videos made by colleges and professors.
YouTube isn’t the only game in town for educational videos, of course. Besides Big Think, which boasts as an investor Lawrence H. Summers, former president of Harvard University and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, there is also (“the thinking man’s YouTube”) which streams, lectures and debates featuring noted scholars (think a hipper, Web-based version of C-Span).

Michael L. Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, made a video about Web 2.0 that drew more than 400,000 views. He says Web video offers a new way for scholars to communicate, noting that he wrote a scholarly article about the same ideas he put in his video, but that the article might be read by only a small number of scholars. “It’s easier than people think,” Mr. Wesch says of making online videos. “The thought process is very different, which I actually think can be very valuable. I mean we think a lot about how to present our work in writing, and I think when you shift into thinking about how to present this work visually, it actually forces you to think through things in new ways.”

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey R. Young, January 9, 2008