YouTube University

Put this blog post under thinking out loud.

I have been watching the rise of YouTube and Flickr and other media sharing and social software/networking sites and I always wonder what kind of educational angle there is (it’s my job) and I think I see where it’s headed.

I was reading about Yale’s grant from the Hewlett Foundation to post seven courses to the web- materials, syllabus, video – essentially everything but the credit. The Hewlett Foundation is giving them $700,000 to do this and I my first thought was … that won’t scale.

What would scale?

What if the students did the recording themselves and posted them to YouTube? That would scale.

It may sound silly to ask students to do this, but if I believe that video recording equipment will be in every cell phone in about five years. This is jist an extension of Moore’s Law applied to cell phones (many of which already have digital cameras).

Besides, cell phones already have a wireless network connection built-in and I can imagine that while the video is being recorded and stored locally, it is also being streamed directly to YouTube.

Now, let’s build on that.

As the student types her notes into the course wiki (as are other students) they become part of the shared note-taking ecosystem just for that class. Maybe the progressive and far-thinking university has set-up a system like this for their students, but more likely, the students (who are digital natives) have already taken the initiative and done this for themselves. It would not cost much to setup a private wiki using JotSmart or Socialtext.

Flickr comes in as a photostream of what the instructor is writing on the whiteboard which is valuable for different reasons than the video stream on YouTube.

Of course, someone is making an old-fashioned sound-only recording that is streamed/saved to the course blog so that everyone else automatically gets it from the RSS feed they subscribed to at the beginning of the semester. There are plenty of free blog/podcasting services – many are free.

What is missing from this scenario?

The ‘official’ course website, of course. It is not irrelevant, but it is not the only aspect of the course that is on the web – it’s probably just a starting point. The real, valuable information is what the students produce because it represents their efforts to learn.

Faculty may worry about staying ahead of their students, but I think they don’t have to worry – they can never stay ahead of their students. Certainly, the IT departments at universities cannot and why should they when students have all these tools available to them.

Passwords and access-limited sites are not going to be the norm for these students. They are not competing with other students on the curve, they are all trying to learn. Once there is an ecosystem of this type of learning activity, there will be network effects emerging. Students having trouble will search other student’s notes who took the same class (perhaps from the same instructor or others using the same book). It sounds like this would be a meta-tagging/findability nightmare, but not if you include tagging to create an ad-hoc taxonomy (or folksonomy) so that people can find each other’s stuff in a very granular way.

All of these tools exist today (well, except for the cell-phone video cams that can stream to YouTube) and so we don’t have to figure out how to design the software. There are intellectual property implications all over the place, but if Yale is giving away the video of the course, how can they object if someone else makes a video for themselves and gives it away?

In a few years, you won’t be able to find a university or professor who can get away with not allowing the classroom to be video or audio recorded.

Isn’t this a good thing?

Students would be smarter, education widely/universally available.

I think so.

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