Sunday, September 27, 2009

“Seeing is Believing”: A Video-sharing Assignment

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

I am spending the next two weeks visiting my boyfriend’s family on the East coast of New Brunswick. Their house is located on the St. Croix river just a few kilometers from the Bay of Fundy. I have always heard about the extraordinary tides that are the largest in the world, but until I actually saw it with my own eyes, I found it difficult to really understand how amazing they really are. Yesterday, as we floated in our canoe looking at the astonishing array of fall colours along the bank, I couldn’t help but think about the other incidents in my life that left me speechless in their unique beauty; the rare sighting of Haley’s comet when I was a child; the exceptional and eerie beauty of the dancing and colourful Aurora Borealis; or the power of the Niagara Falls. There is no oral or written description that can describe the wonder of these phenomena as clearly as seeing it for oneself. That is the simple fact that makes video images such a powerful tool. Seeing is believing.

This is the premise behind YouTube, which was developed in 2005 by Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, after a mutual friend, who had missed out on a dinner party, denied that it had ever taken place. They came up with the idea of posting videos for him to view to prove that the party had indeed happened without him (Wikipedia). I have long been a user of YouTube, but had never tried to post my own video before. The video that I chose to post was another rare instance that I was lucky enough to catch on my camera. I am an avid ice climber, and last December, when the temperatures dipped uncharacteristically low, I went out to Shannon Falls to see if the waterfall had frozen enough to climb it. What I saw that day is something that I will likely never see again – fast flowing water freezing before my eyes. This is a video I’ve shared with many friends and used in my classroom when taking about change of state

I am happy to say that the process for opening an account on YouTube and uploading my first video was as easy as floating in a canoe on a calm lake. It took less than 5 minutes to upload the video and approximately 10 minutes for the processing to take place so that it could be viewed by anyone. The straightforwardness and ease of this process was astonishing. There was no template to set up, or personal space being created. The video was simply ‘put out there’ for the masses to find. No wonder an “impressive 10 hours worth of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute”! (Davies and Merchant, p. 53)

I also played around on for the first time. I was unaware that a special site geared towards educators even existed until I read about it this week in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (Richardson). What I liked about this site was that it not only provided a space for video-sharing, but it was also organized to share audio, photos, blogs and documents. It had less of a ‘marketplace’ feel and the homepage had a cleaner layout (with no advertising), providing easy links for teachers to follow updates on twitter, RSS feeds, daily emails or Facebook. However, I did have some difficulties on this site finding relevant videos. It became easier once I used a specific ‘channel’ for high school, but it simply doesn’t have the plenitude of videos that are available on YouTube. Hopefully, as this site becomes more known, it will attract more users that will in turn, upload more videos to be shared.

Video- sharing as a tool for my own personal learning

I must admit that for the two months this spring I was on crutches and couch-bound, I spent an inordinate amount of time ‘surfing’ the internet and watching YouTube. It was a lonely and frustrating period of healing and I didn’t have a TV, so watching videos on YouTube provided good entertainment for me as well as providing a social connection to the outside world. I like that the clips are short, often humorous and put up there by REAL people. It is like being able to watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos” anytime I choose.

Besides providing entertainment and a social connection, I have used many instructional “How To” videos on YouTube to learn how to sand floors or rewire my kitchen outlets for new appliances. I also regularly watch Avalanche Bulletins in the winter to stay informed on snow conditions in the mountains where I plan on skiing and ice-climbing.

Having seen how easy it is to upload a video, I am now far more likely to post videos of my ‘adventures’ so that family and friends can view them. I do have a few concerns about safety and would take care not to use my real surname, or mention the location that I live in. I would also be careful to get permission from anyone else featured in the video. Until I feel more comfortable with the masses viewing my video footage, I’m more likely to choose the option not to have it viewed by the general public but only by a list of friends or post it on my Facebook page rather than Youtube.

Video-sharing as a tool for teaching and learning

In their book Web 2.0 for schools, Davies and Merchant acknowledge that video-sharing websites “can be very useful for an educator, [but] its purpose is not to serve that community” (p.56). It is meant to be an open community that caters to a very diverse audience of all ages worldwide. The community is in control and determines what is popular on the site. YouTube does not view videos before they are posted online and it relies on users to flag the material as inappropriate (Wikipedia). This can be a cause for concern for educators. Despite their ‘copyright tips page’ and ‘community guidelines’ it has been noted that “there are still many unauthorized clips from television shows, films and music videos” (Wikipedia). What kind of message does it send out to our students when we are asking them to create authentic work and not plagiarize other peoples’ ideas, but they can easily see videos and music on YouTube that violates copyright? In its terms of service, YouTube also forbids the uploading of material that is likely to be considered inappropriate, but many schools, including my own, “have blocked access to YouTube due to students uploading videos of buying behavior, school fights, racist behavior and other inappropriate content” (Wikipedia)

Many school boards have effectively dammed the flow of ideas and possibilities that this video-sharing website could offer by blocking it altogether, and I think that this is a real shame. It is possible to portage around this obstruction and still access the content by posting a video into another web page outside the site (like a blog or class wiki). By doing this, a teacher can provide students the opportunity to discuss the video privately, as a class, and also surround it with other related materials on that subject (Davies and Merchant p.55). Another option that is less likely to be blocked is using SchoolTube or TeacherTube as a forum to post student work.

Personally, I find it far more satisfying and interesting to kayak down a class 4 river, than drift on a blow-up rubber air mattress on a flat lake. The difference being, one requires skill and proper instruction and the other requires no effort or learning opportunity. If children are going to go swimming, shouldn’t we teach them the skills they are going to need to avoid the riptides, currents, eddies and other dangers that are inherently found in water? In my opinion, the same holds true for students using the internet and in particular YouTube. I agree with the opinion that “as young people are accessing these sites anyway, we need to give them the critical skills to negotiate the spaces carefully” (Davis and Merchant p.68). This is an opportunity for learning that I feel too many administrators have shied away from, for it is cheaper and easier to post a “NO SWIMMING” sign than it is to provide proper swimming lessons and a trained lifeguard to monitor the activity.

In doing so, a powerful waterfall of possibilities has been shut down. Think of the engaging learning opportunities that video-sharing could generate from the following stream of classroom project ideas:
• Digital Storytelling (of novels or personal life stories)
• Learning objectives (like safety rules for chemistry labs or geometry tutorials)
• Promotions (for school or community events)
• Public Service Announcements (that give students the opportunity to share their knowledge of social issues like anti-smoking campaigns)
• Reenactments (of historical events)
• Documentaries (of social issues)

The possible uses within the library are also varied and include:
• Storehouse for instructional videos or tutorials to teach students (like how to use a library catalog, how to request a journal article, how to use library tools like the microfiche machine, or how to use archives and public records)
• Library welcome and orientation video
• Using the RSS feed to notify patrons of new content

My plan as an educator is to provide a safe video-sharing experience for my students. I will likely let them ‘wade in’ by introducing them to SchoolTube (or TeacherTube) or selected videos that I’ve downloaded from YouTube. However, I feel strongly that my students should be able to swim on their own by the time they are done high school and will try to teach them the skills that they need to navigate a site like YouTube properly and critically and swim with their eyes wide open.


Accredited Degrees Blog (June 18, 2008). 100 Awesome Youtube Vids for Librarians. Retrieved September 25, 2009 from

Davies, Julia. Merchant, Guy. (2009) Web 2.0 for Schools: Learning and Social Participation. New York, NY: Peter Lang

Lamb, Annette. Johnson, Larry. (2007). Video and the Web, Part 2: Sharing and Social Networking. Teacher Librarian. Seattle, WA. Vol 35(2)p. 55-60.

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Webb, Paula. (June 2007). YouTube and Libraries. Retrieved September 25, 2009 from

Youtube. Retrieved September 25, 2009 from

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I love your swimming analogy and agree that students should be able to navigate these waters by themselves by the end of high school. I sometimes feel like I am incompetent if my students have not mastered these skills this year. Thank you for making me see a bigger picture.