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Online Interactivity for Educators: A Teacher's Tour of YouTube

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger
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As computers and Internet access have become more ubiquitous, and the tech savviness of our nation's youth continues to rise, it only stands to reason that the online experience has begun to evolve drastically in the last few years. The Web is rapidly changing from being simply interactive to becoming more of a user-centric and user-guided experience. Web 2.0 technologies, open source software, and the tech expertise of our nation's youth have opened up a new world of online interactivity.

One exciting layer is the proliferation of video on the Internet. In a matter of minutes, anyone with a basic video camera and a high-speed connection can create, edit, upload, and share video with ease. This is a powerful tool, and to harness what it holds and turn it into something educational can be a thrill and a challenge.

The number of video-sharing sites is growing, and well-recognized names such as Google and Yahoo offer up video content and encourage viewers to upload their own. However, the hugely popular YouTube probably has the most videos (and buzz) to date. Ask any teenager, and you're sure to find that YouTube is one of his or her favorite destinations. One can find music videos, self-created talent auditions, vacation videos, vintage footage of sports events, and a smorgasbord of the odd and unpredictable. According to YouTube, each day, visitors view more than seventy million videos on the site.

So, what do these sites mean for educators? What might it offer classrooms? I spent several days browsing YouTube, and I found tons of fun things and lots of potentially beneficial classroom video clips, as well as the usual eye-opening experience when dealing with the world's population and the things people want to share.

If you're new to the site, search for a favorite musician, or a specific date, or even an old movie. There's everything from video footage of a 1940s school picnic to a frightening (and controversial) look at Hurricane Katrina issues. The most subscribed channel at YouTube is that of an English widower who muses on everything from growing up during World War II to his experiences during college.

One critical issue to keep in mind when sharing and discussing these videos with your students is media literacy, including general Internet reliability. Are the videos truly what they say they are? Might some of these clips violate copyright? What constitutes a "good" video?

My main concern in using any of these video-sharing sites is that what makes it so powerful is also what makes it a tricky tool to use with ease. There are great discussions and commentary on many of the video clips, but those discussions are, for the most part, completely unfiltered and only mildly moderated. However, using and showing YouTube clips, then having your own classroom discussion about the clips, is an incredibly robust classroom approach. Working with students to create and upload their own videos is an even more powerful application.

I think that taking advantage of the excitement this kind of technology brings to our children is a worthwhile endeavor. Children love to produce, and teaching them the skills to make good productions takes advantage of their interest and provides them with a wealth of skills. See the Edutopia article "Film School: Making Movies from Storyboard to Screen" for a look at the use of video in the classroom. In addition, weaving in good media literacy and skills for navigating the new waters of the Web helps us all.

One last note: To learn more about video sharing on the Web, see the USA Today article "Video websites pop up, invite postings," the Digital Video Guru site's comparison of ten video-sharing services, and's Video Sharing and Download Sites page.

Share your thoughts on video sharing sites and the potential they hold for classrooms.

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Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

H. Avanesian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that using all these new things that are available are a have to for us educators. If we educators don't do it children will use them them any way, so it would be nice to use them to educate our future generation. Just like books, they can be educational or they can be not educational the reading and writing is taught in schools. Therefor, we need to introduce new technology and we need to use them to teach more effectively and most important, we can teach students to use technology to self-teach themselves in a right way, to seek information and to post comments on issues that are important to them and their society.

brian619's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with other educators who have commented that we need to help students be ready to think critically about the various messages that they will be exposed to through all of the types of media that will be employed. Higher order thinking skills are what will be most required of them, and practicing how to think critically is essential. By guiding the students in differentiating between quality and trash, we will be taping into powerful discussion and thought processing.
When students use our computer lab and we are using the internet, they know to quickly raise their hand if a web site opens for them that is of questionable content. Our firewall has been doing a really good of late, however once in a while something slips through. Very young children understand when they are viewing objectionable material. While at school their viewing content can at least be moderated by the classroom teacher.
I wouldn't post video footage of my students to a site like youtube. If individuals want to put themselves into the public forum to that extent, then I feel they should be allowed to do it, however my responsibility is to provide a safe learning environment for my students, and putting their images into the public to that extent is beyond my comfort threshold.

Sue's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Are the videos on YouTube safe to view? What are the possibilities that viruses are attached the the videos?

carolw's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My concern is copyright laws. If we show a Youtube video for a valid content-based lesson, could we be sued?

Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would do a few things to verify...
1. There are lots of videos on YouTube that do violate copyright laws, and I'd steer completely clear of those, of course.
2. If it appears that the video in question is an original video, you might just email the person who uploaded it, asking them for permission.
3. Unless the uploader is an actual company which you can clearly determine holds the copyright and can grant you permission, I would certainly not do anymore with it than show it during a lesson. Don't distribute it, copy it, keep it beyond the lesson, show it outside the classroom, or show it in any event/surrounding in which a cost is associated, and I think you at least are attempting to not blatantly violate copyright laws.

I have emailed several individual users who have uploaded their own content (home movies, vacation footage of national or historic places, etc.) and just asked them if I could show their video to students, and so far have gotten all positive responses.

I'm not a lawyer, by any stretch, so best to read up on the latest. Here are a few sources of information:

ErinT's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoy using, a moderated video sharing site for K-12 students, teachers, and parents. They are a little more student friendly, but they've got lots of resources for teachers too.
What's neat about SchoolTube is that no videos are viewable on the site until they are approved by a teacher or SchoolTube staff.

Lea's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a very good and valid point that I never considered until now! As a future teacher, I instinctively would be hesitant to use clips from sites such as YouTube because of the possibility of inappropriate material. But yes, students are viewing this stuff everyday on their own on TV, in the news, and over the internet. This is not to say, however, that I would promote the use of such material without first viewing it for appropriate content.

jobe yu's picture

Thanks for this post. I got so mush idea from some comments. I'm gonna pass this on to my friends. :)

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