Learning from YouTube

I am (just barely) old enough to remember a time when people argued about facts. I might mention off-hand, for example, that Meg Ryan was in "Top Gun", one of my ne'er-do-well friends would disagree, and we could spend the next 20 minutes on the topic. ("You're thinking of Kelly McGillis"... "I most certainly am not, sir"... and so on). The only authority we could appeal to was the back of the case at the local video store, unless "Top Gun" happened to be on television, or we took the trouble to remove Leonard Maltin's encyclopedia of movies from its position propping up our 70s-era sofa.
Today, of course, a quick trip to imdb.com would end the discussion as quickly as it started. While it may be tempting to mourn the ancient occupation known as "arguing about facts," a new reality is upon us, and I propose we embrace it, and trust that the youth of today will find novel and innovative ways to while away their time.

We are all quite used to getting facts from the internet: how many tablespoons are there in a cup, what is the atomic number of yttrium, what is the cosine law. Along with facts, the internet can tell us how to do things. Just in the past week, I have used the internet to teach me how to make delicious barbequed ribs, and also how to set up an encrypted disc image on my wife's MacBook (yes, I'm quite a catch). Both of these sets of instructions were text-based. However, there is also a wealth of process-based information on YouTube.

An illustrative example of this came a few weeks ago when a student asked me to help figure out how to use a particular function on her calculator. Specifically, I had just shown the class how to use the reduced row echelon form of a matrix to solve a system of equations using a TI-84 calculator. This particular student had a TI-89 calculator, which has a different menu system. Rather than poking around experimentally (well, I did that for a minute or so... old habits die hard), I opened the YouTube app on my iPad and searched "TI-89 reduced row echelon form", which the search engine auto-completed after "TI-89 red". There was a 90-second video of someone using a TI-89 to find the reduced row echelon form of a matirx while he explained what he was doing in detail. The video showed both the keys he was pressing and the resulting output on the screen. In less than a minute, both the student and I were comfortable with the function.

There are several notable ideas here. First, the specificity was amazing -- these were instructions for exactly the thing I was trying to do on exactly the platform I was using. I have had the same experience with other devices and software packages; for example, I learned from a YouTube video how to do complicated animations in PowerPoint.

It was also invaluable that there was someone doing and explaining, instead of having to read a text-based set of instructions. I could pause, rewind, or turn off the instructions when necessary, but being able to work through the process with the instructor in real time feels very natural. The on-demand nature of YouTube allows us to very quickly learn how to operate the ever-growing complement of devices that we need - or choose - to use on a day-to-day basis.

So next time you are trying to figure out a process-based task, instead of using Google (or, if you are of a certain age, the instruction manual), head to YouTube and see if you can find someone to talk you through it. The ease and efficiency may surprise you.

6 thoughts on “Learning from YouTube

  1. Hi Adam,
    Thanks for this post! I think you've outlined effectively how learning is shifting and moving our conversations around "what are facts, and their place in learning?" You should check out @thutton, a librarian from Cohort 21 12-13 who explores this very effectively: "If there's no content, how can students think critically?"

    You've also touched on a very important shift taking place in the classroom, namely how can we blend technology and shift WHERE and WHEN learning can happen for a classroom? Check out the great work done in previous Action Plans around Flipping the Classroom - you'll find some great resources with @ddoucet


  2. Adam,
    First, I have to say that halfway through your blog post, I had to stop and Google "reduced row echelon" because I had no idea what you were talking about. Turns out, there's a video on that: http://bit.ly/1288aeA. While I didn't understand most of what what happening with coeffecients and matrices, it certainly highlights your point about the effectiveness of these online resources. If you haven't checked out the Khan Academy (linked above), it might be worth a little exploring - tons of free online video lessons for you and your students!
    You should also check out @ehitchcock's recent post about Desmos and how he's using it to redefine the use of calculators in his classroom.

    1. Post author

      HI Les,
      Thanks, I liked Ed's post on Desmos; I'm already a fan, and I hope others get turned on to it, too. Khan Academy is a great resource as well, my students report that they use it regularly as a supplement to my classes.

  3. Adam!

    Thanks for such a great post. Your writing is open and so captivating to read. Even though I don't know a stitch about reduced row echelon forms...I couldn't stop reading!

    Yes to all the things that Garth and Les have said. I also just wanted to add that making my own videos and putting them up on my Youtube channel has been a game changer for me. I used to spend so much time thinking and planning the flipped videos I make for my students...now I just do a simple screen share with Quicktime and upload it. Instead of making my students watch it at home (I will do this sometime), I have my students watch it in class as part of a whole open learning session. They might come in to the class, have some opening announcements and messages to frame their thinkings, and then watch a 5 minute instructional video on how to set up a Blogger account. They watch it and pause it while they are setting things up and then I'm free to roam around and support people in one-on-one settings. OR (if I'm really lucky) I can use the space and time created to conference with students in small groups about something totally unrelated to the vid. Whenever I have instruction that I think students would want to stop and start, I turn it into a video. Nothing fancy, but I love love love it!

    If you are curious about flipping instruction, I would definitely suggest experimenting with Quicktime screencasting or a solo Google Hangout!

  4. Great post! I am just discovering the 'handiness' of youtube in my personal life, as I find it so much easier to watch a demo video rather than read a set of instructions, and I love the idea of using this as an on-the-spot resource with students. I also thing it's always a fantastic opportunity and a powerful message for students to see teachers openness to learning alongside them and using tools that they also have at their disposal.


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