Friday, March 16, 2007

On YouTube, Engagement, and Learning

Students still report that too many learning experiences are passive, linear, formal, and impersonal. All of us have been on that side, as a student that is—being talked at, ignored completely, and bored to death. As we discussed in the last post, some educators are either adamantly against or almost afraid of making their teaching and learning fun. You might even argue that the Serious Games Initiative is such an example. Just the fact that we have to call it “serious” says it all. These games are supposed to be serious in education, not fun.

However, new technology and a new sense of willingness in teachers and learners might offer a new way—a way to both seriously improve learning and have fun. I’ve been working with two colleagues—Dr. Coral Noonan-Terry and Kathleen Plinske—on a remarkably enjoyable study called A New Generation of Learning, where we have been exploring the infrastructure institutions will need to create engaging education on the road ahead. Our overarching premise is that all too often we separate physical infrastructure from virtual infrastructure (remember this commentary), and that if we truly want to combine them we need to consider things like blended learning, social networking, gaming, high-impact presentation technologies, mobility, analytics, and mindful high-touch connection strategies.

Coming out of these discussions was a great example from Kathleen. She is a doctoral student at Pepperdine University, which has leveraged these types of tools in her learning experiences. They have a virtual classroom in which they meet in Second Life, they do extensive virtual work for remote students around the country, and they even let her demonstrate her learning using YouTube. Check out this video she prepared as a virtual video portfolio of her study of learning theory. Not only is it an interesting use of technology to engage and document learning, it is a pretty impressive overview of learning theory in practice. I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek jargon meter that runs throughout.

A hand-held digital movie camera, Final Cut Pro software for the video, Garage Band software for the narration, and an internet connection were the only tools she used to produce this video. Just think about how much richer and enjoyable the learning experience documented here is versus writing a typical paper or answering a multiple-choice test. She told me that she ended up spending “way too much time on this” because it was engaging and interesting. Kathleen estimates it took almost five times longer than a traditional research paper would have, but she loved the assignment. Many of the tools necessary to produce something like this are free and our students use them all the time (literally millions of students post on MySpace and YouTube every semester). In another favorite example from the student recruiting and engagement side of the house, Kettering University leveraged a comic flash movie—rather than a professionally produced video—to drive their recruiting of new students (you have to check out their Stick Man video). The viral marketing chain was so powerful that they now have a cult following of the Kettering Stick Man.

If you’re an educator willing to put your toe in the water, you’ll soon find out that these teaching and learning strategies are fun for all involved. But you have to be willing to really engage your students and learn some new things yourself. Don’t worry; many students are more than happy to tutor you. You also have to be willing to let go of your ego. Getting over your sense of self importance is a must to make these kinds of strategies work. Do these things, however, and you’re likely to help your students connect as never before with the positive affective domain in education—which is our jargoned way of saying you'll help them fall in love with learning. Part of the reason this is so is because they'll see that you are willing to learn with them, and enjoy it.

As a final conversation catalyzer, I submit that these technologies and techniques absolutely need not dominate the learning experience, but they at least warrant a try in our continuing attempts to improve and expand learning opportunities for our students. Will you YouTube?


B. Odom said...

The goal of every instructor should be to make students "fall in love with learning." If technology is the way to do it, I'm game. I've already stuck my toe in the water by going online with one of my courses but realize this is only the tip of the technology iceberg. I'm gearing up for more...

Anonymous said...

I am an 8th grade math teacher. A few years ago, I used to do a project with my math students where they had to incorporate at least five math problems into a short video (15 minutes or less). This was when most of the tapes were VHS and only a handful of kids had digital movie cameras and editing software. The projects were usually due right before spring break (I think that is why I quit doing the project- because I grew tired of spending my spring break grading the videos). Each year I got a few really good projects and a lot of really bad projects- but good or bad- most of the students had a lot of fun. Your comments and the golf video have motivated me to “revisit” the value of this project. We would spend some of the free time in class or in study hall the last few weeks of the school year watching some of the “more impressive” videos. It was a fun way to “breathe a little life” into the end of the school year. Unfortunately, the project was an eye-opener in a bad way too, when I realized that a few of my students in no way could apply any math concepts or skills correctly into their projects.

Anonymous said...

Have you encountered faculty resistance to the classroom use of YouTube content on the bases of copyright? Teachers and professors have an obligation to adhere to the law and to promote ethical uses of all intellectual content utilized in a class. I understand the people who post content on YouTube are often doing so to share it. However often the content isn't theirs to share. If the actual copyright holder did not give permission for it to be posted then it is a violation of ethics to used this clip in a classroom environment. In essence the professor is telling students it is OK to disregard copyright law. Oftentimes it is difficult to for faculty to discern what content is copyrighted and what is not making it hard to use the content and adhere to ethical standards.

Just another point to debate.

Mark David Milliron said...

Great point on rights management and using YouTube. It's one of the reasons why for curriculum sharing, I'm actually more a fan of However, it is still useful to teach students about rights management within the context of using these kinds of resources.

WuyiBlog said...

I have been involved with what Paul Elsner calls the enterprise model for learning for a number of years. It is the sense of a student getting away from a research paper and making/presenting a creative project. This past fall I sat and watch presentation after presentation that jumped into youtube for a video to augment a powerpoint. I even had one student create her own youtube video. The power of her presentation was tremendous. The emotion that was conveyed moved the entire class as they sat intensely watching it. I share it as an example of the potential that I believe Mark was alluding to: This led me to create my own youtube world - a way of reaching students in a world they clearly gravitate toward if they are able to find.