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YouTube in the classroom: A new necessity?

Some say YouTube’s library of educational content allows educators to teach more creatively
Teachers are increasingly incorporating videos from YouTube’s education channel into classroom lessons.
Teachers are increasingly incorporating videos from YouTube’s education channel into classroom lessons.

Districts are dropping bans on YouTube and allowing students and teachers access to the site’s educational videos. Paving the way in this shift in policy are large districts like Chicago and Broward County, Fla.

YouTube’s library of educational content allows educators to teach more creatively, says Angela Lin, manager of YouTube’s Education Partnerships. “After learning the same way for hundreds of years, educators are now redefining educational experiences to make them more fun and powerful by taking advantage of today’s technology, especially video,” she says.

On the site’s education channel, YouTube EDU, teachers can search videos by subject or categories such as primary and secondary education, and university. The channel, which has more than 2.6 million subscribers, has hundreds of thousands of free educational videos from PBS, TED, and other organizations.

Fast Fact

  • About 55% of parents are in favor of blended learning models in public schools, according to a new poll on American attitudes toward school reform from the Center for Education Reform. Over 60% of adults support blended learning, the poll found. And of the 73% of Americans who support charter schools, 70% also support digital learning in the classroom.

Chicago Public Schools gave teachers access to the full YouTube site last year, and Broward County Public Schools in Florida followed in October. The site had previously been completely blocked in both districts. “Teachers and staff were really the impetus behind it,” says Tony Hunter, CIO at Broward County.

When Hunter joined the district in March, he met with staff members to learn more about their technology needs. “One thing I heard repeatedly was the need for the educational content within YouTube for their lesson plans and activities,” he says. For example, the College Board has a YouTube channel with videos about AP courses.

Both Broward County and Chicago block students from using YouTube, but technology officials in each district say they are considering the best way to provide safe access in the future.

It seems that students are already harnessing the site’s educational content on their own. From 2011 to 2013, views of educational videos during the summer increased by 99 percent in the United States. Among the most viewed videos of summer 2013 were an experiment on sound and resonance, and a history of the border between the United States and Canada.

And teachers can now show their classes current-event videos that may not be available from a publisher for months, says Rob Residori, manager of the Chicago Public Schools’ education technology department. For example, a Chicago science teacher recently used YouTube to connect a lesson on sustainable water use to the real world. Students watched videos of speakers with opposing viewpoints on the environmental impacts of bottled water and tap water. Students also analyzed bottled water commercials on YouTube, Residori says.

Also in Chicago, teachers are broadcasting YouTube videos from their laptops to their classes while students are using an educational video program called Safari Montage for research and projects. Many of the educational videos on YouTube are also in Safari Montage, and students can access them without fear of inappropriate content coming up, says Residori.

Chicago’s technology team tested YouTube for Schools, a service launched in 2012 that offers free access to the YouTube EDU channel for students but blocks the general site and user comments. However, Residori found that students could still search for videos of guns, and decided to hold off on allowing student access through this option.

Even with educator-only access, the district faced issues with inappropriate “recommended videos” populating the screen after teachers project a video for the class, Residori says. Teachers now stop videos before they are over to avoid this problem, he adds.

Districts allowing teachers or students to use YouTube or other social media need to have digital citizenship guidelines in place to ensure appropriate use. “It’s better and more controlled to open it up ourselves and inform people about it than to have people try and go around the firewall and hack the system,” Residori says.

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