Is video the killer app for school reform?

When my kids want to know something, they search for it on YouTube. It would kill me to watch a video to find out where Tajikistan is. But the kids go to YouTube for everything.

They are not alone. To Generation Z photos are like a short email, and videos are like a long blog post. Writing is just for fun annotations. Like YOLO. (You only live once!)

Okay. I am open minded. Fine. So video will be big. And it is already. Video has changed how we learn music. There is no guessing about how to play a guitar chord, or what it will sound like when you’re in tune on a flute. During violin lessons my son constantly says, “Let’s just video it,” so he doesn’t have to pay as close attention in the lesson. And, I have to admit, the tactic works for him. He almost always knows what to practice when he’s at home.

My kids expect there to be a video recorder on everything they own, even their DS has a video feature.

I am enthralled with the resurgence of the Civil Rights Movement now that it’s so easy for people to video police abuse. (#Ferguson)

Here’s a video of student telling a teacher that she’s not teaching anything. The video is revealing:  You hear how much the teacher doesn’t care, and how impassioned the boy is.

My first reaction was that this is heartbreaking. Then I thought that teacher is lucky no one got her face in the frame. Then I thought, what if all teachers were worried about being recorded each day? What if kids started holding teachers accountable and posting the most egregious teaching on YouTube?

And this would happen at home, too. Kids can take videos of their parents being nuts. There is a new level of accountability for all of us. Kids can take school reform into their own hands. That might be the only way it’ll be done.

23 replies
  1. marta
    marta says:

    How Big Brother is that for you?
    Used in those contexts, video is just a totalitarian weapon.

    Educationally speaking, my husband, who teaches at university, says video and TED talks are all the rage now. Which is kind of… the same thing as a live lecture, only on screen, really.
    I wonder why people will consider easier, more valuable, and hipper, to learn from somebody lecturing from a screen than from a live professor.

    A good communicator does not need the technological gimmicks.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      No but it destroys the barriers for those who are too far away and they would pretty much have to put their lives on hold so they can get good education.

      Why do people have to choose between getting a good education, and having meaningful work that provides well for their families, actually form a family, all in favor of going out of their way to live in a dorm room and having to be strangled by ridiculous class schedules?

      The good lectures can reach them anywhere rather than the student having to abandon life to go get a lecture.

      It’s interesting that you call video a totalitarian weapon. The kid was kicked out of the classroom for confronting the teacher. She has absolute authority. She is ridiculously bad at her job. She is getting paid for bad work and she doesn’t allow the payers to demand better quality.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        it is a great opportunity to have access to good lectures and such via streaming or youtube or whatever gets the video to your house. Nonetheless – if I ask my students if they rather come to a real-life lecture or watch it on-line the vast majority chooses to come to the lecture. Many have compared watching lecture videos to watching grass grow or paint dry (and that is pretty independent of teacher, although I do engage students a lot during lectures so that might entice them to actually come).

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I get what you are saying here, I really do. Having face to face access to a professor for some is very very important. But I would like to see you make it through Gen Z as a professor! So maybe you need to find a way to make yourself more relevant. Maybe record your classes so students can watch the videos later.

          Also, in my state (CA) the governor has recently doubled down on online courses for the two state university systems by expanding offerings. USC offers a masters in mechanical engineering completely through distance education, but you get the exact same masters degree as a student who attends on campus.

          I’m just putting that out there for you to consider. It’s not really a debate, I agree that the tail-end of Gen Y probably does prefer classes the way they are currently structured.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            all my classes are recorded for later viewing, not sure why you think I feel that I am not “relevant” – that is not the case at all. Just offered an observation made by my students. The majority like to come to class more than watching the video later. They like the in class discussion and problems and that they can ask many questions. Those who don’t come to class and opt to study mostly from recordings are more often then not students who don’t enjoy a challenge and just want to get a grade.

            I have many students who tell me during or after the class that they never thought materials science can be so interesting. I have students who only attend from “off site” – some can participate during the class itself and do so via a skype-like interface and those who can only watch later often come to extra on-line office hours. Their ages range from 16 to 50, pretty inter-generational.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say you were irrelevant today. I meant for Gen Z which is the context of this post, I think kids born early 2000’s. The kids of this Gen (gen Z) should be called the youtube generation because it so accurately describes them. They watch videos on everything. I don’t know if any current college professor is going to be prepared for them… I don’t know what to expect from them, but I imagine a lot of them not doing what we do today. I can’t really articulate what I mean because it’s a complete leap forward from where the tail-end of GenY is…

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I don’t think they way humans learn and comprehend complex material fundamentally chnages. What changes is the delivery mechanism – and any good teacher adapts and changes all the time.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Quistic, my company, is in the online education space, so I have a lot of knowledge about what is working at the university level — I get grilled by investors all the time.

          The thing that’s most interesting to me about online teaching trends at universities is that the schools that are investing heavily in online curricula — MIT, Stanford, etc. — are finding that the most popular courses are not by the most famous professors or most knowledgable professors, but rather by the people who are most fun online. People want to be entertained when they learn.

          So Stanford is letting younger, inexperienced faculty teach topics they are not particularly “qualified” to teach, in the academic sense of the word, because they are great on video.

          The idea that top schools capitulate to the demand for entertainment in education – that’s incredible to me.


          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I don’t think fame in research translates to being a great teacher necessarily, sometimes yes, often no. So having a young professor teach is good since they are not as set in their ways, and more ready to try out stuff; usually they are also more energetic and not work out by huge administrative loads….
            Not sure about the “fun” part- but not because I don’t think that learning should be fun, but because fun is just different for different people. I find it fun to brood over data and experiments for day – weeks, it is bliss. But… my idea of fun might not be share by many.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            This is really interesting, but it makes sense. Our generation wants to be entertained constantly. I hate that. I really dislike sugar-coat ‘ing’ and feeding into the need for constant gratification. It’s like -everyone- has ADD.

          • Karelys
            Karelys says:

            You’re right .

            I was taking the mcat prep test in khan academy for fun. The girl doing the video was good but so boring!

            I’ve done the history videos with John Green. My husband and I watch John Green YouTube videos. Dude is fun!

            So I hope that same lady is not doing all the MCAT prep videos and I want john Oliver or John Green to do all of khan academy!!

  2. redrock
    redrock says:

    ah, I did not mean to sound negative about youtube – I think its great. It simply depends on what you want/ need for a specific purpose. If a teacher uses lectures to develop ideas then an in-person real-time discussion is great. In general one remembers more when reading on a concept than listening about a concept, partially due to time spent processing is longer in reading. Check out videos with George Polya – they are ancient and very interesting in terms of teaching math.

    • marta
      marta says:

      Of course video lecturing crosses all sorts of social and geographical boundaries and we should all thank techonology for that kind of mass education.

      My issue is precisely with that mass education substituting real life/real attendance at uni. classes. My husband and his colleagues complain that most students (18-23 ys old) have a very low tolerance for listening&pondering while a professor teaches in front of them and are always using their tech devices while in class… When they watch videos they also tend to fastforward what they think is irrelevant or not fun.
      These are kids who like to engage in discussions (they like to engage, in general ;)) but then lack the consistency and depth that comes from having listened to and having thought thoroughly about the subject to be discussed.

      A lot of classes depend precisely on having an ever growing knowledge of bibliography&case studies so that the live discussion can actually take place. You can only get this through real participation in the class after having read/listened to on your own.

      This is not the problem of video lectures, or learning through youtube, it is the problem of easily accessible technology that is ubiquous and substituting millenia old human characteristics like pacience, memory, great attention spans (how could you possibly hunt if you did not have the patience to be quiet and observant for great periods?), a tolerance for effort&discomfort, etc.

      If technology is fast changing a lot of the characteristics that made us humans the way we’ve been until now, is it a good thing? Should we just embrace it in the name of modernity, self-directed learning, fun, whatever? Shouldn’t we, as a species, be more intelligent and critical about technology, and shouldn’t we start by being less permissive about our kids’ use?

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        On the one hand, I imagine the same statements being made after books began to be mass-produced. “Kids these days – no patience for manuscript copying. And their memories for recitation are terrible!”

        On the other hand, the phenomenon of substituting YouTube for an Encyclopedia and other books might leave kids who do that with a serious disadvantage not only in success in college, but in admission and in any work that requires writing (i.e. almost any job that pays more than 100K).

        Writing poorly in long form, and impatience at reading or listening, are par for the course in a ten year old, but are deadly in college or in a job interview.

        Perhaps this phenomenon is not evidence of greater freedom and market reform, but of more dumbing down of our educational system and reduced expectations for our children.

        It’s sad to think of kids who have been coddled with instant videos and low standards confronting the reality of kids from other countries who can read, write, think, and work circles around them.

        Our global isolation and boom after WWII as the only non-damaged developed country helped job prospects here for generations. We got pretty confident that a slacker high school degree followed by four years of keg parties guaranteed us a great job. I worry that now, with increased internationalization of business and competition, citizenship no longer commands a premium in hiring. To get a post at Genentech or Google today you don’t have to compete just with the stoner lacrosse player down the hall, you have to compete with the brightest lights from Germany, Switzerland, Israel…

        A lot of what’s going on in our schools – art projects in math class, sports over academics, barely literate teachers – won’t help with this, but neither will hacking at pixels in a PvP Minecraft server or consuming learning only in the form of bite-sized infotainment.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          I also think it comes down to parenting.
          I mean good god has tech enabled some lazy parenting. I go out to eat and everytime there is at least one table with adults chatting and a young child, sometimes toddler, glued to an iPhone or ipad.

          People seem to do this without thinking.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Lazy parenting? Wow, that seems awfully judgmental for seeing a family once during an evening out. Not every family is the same, nor should it be.

          • jessica
            jessica says:


            Yes I think it’s really bad for the kids and I think it reflects on the parents. I think gadgets in place of face-time at a dinner table is ridiculous. It’s an easy out to ‘distract’ the kids so they don’t have to deal with them. I’m not afraid to say that putting an ipad with yo gabba gabba on in front of a baby at a restaurant should not be acceptable. So you’re right, I am judging because I believe that is bad for the kid’s development and social behavior. There’s a time and place for things.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            And it’s not just one family, it’s a predicament that I’ve come across in Spain, the UK, and here. Mostly here though, and most nights I’ve been out this is happening at the table next to me.

            My kids eat and converse when we have dinner, that’s the point right?

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            When my child was a toddler/preschooler I let her color or draw at the table when we dined out. I didn’t see a problem with it and was often complimented on her “good” behavior. This allowed us to go many places and do many things without disturbances. I don’t know that I’d be conversing at length with a toddler/preschooler at a restaurant. When my kid was that little (she’s 7 now) the handheld devices were not that common (?) or maybe I was just not the kind to give one to such a small child. I let her start playing video games on my phone and kindle at about 6. I would not let her play the game at a restaurant now, though. I would still let her draw, though. I don’t know why the distinction. I wouldn’t judge someone else for letting their kid play with an electronic device though…I mean, adults are on their smartphones all the time.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          it is such an interesting discussion as to how humans learn. I actually don’t subscribe to the view that students today are all ADD-like and cannot focus any more – but I think many are not taught to do so. Instant gratification as you get from a fun video with an entertaining person talking about stuff has a lower “activation barrier” – one does not have to initiate a focussed state of mind but is drawn in. I would love to see a comparison about how and how much content is remembered for on-line lectures delivered in different ways. But back to my original point – the brain actually has to learn to sink into a state of deep thinking, if we interrupt the process all the time we “unlearn” it. For example, frequent interruptions in the work place prevent deep and productive thinking and after a while the brain learns to anticipate interruptions and “preemptively” interrupts itself. It takes a while to unlearn this behavior. And while these work days of constant business feel productive – in terms of intellectual productivity they are not. In the same vein, group work is all the rage nowadays; it is all about learning to work with a group but this is not necessarily the best way to go about productivity. In the same vein – brainstorming sessions, which are touted often as the one and only way to collect great ideas and tap the potential of everybody, are not a good route to reach transformative ideas. So, I think we train kids and students to not sit and contemplate any more, let their mind go and explore but favour and push them to abandon “thinking” for “doing”.

          And your comparison to european countries is interesting: returning from Austria the other day I had the impression at the first airport in the US that this country is (compared to Austria, Germany) is slightly ADD in the collective behavior of groups of people.

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