YouTube EDU

November 2011


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YouTube’s education channel is taking the world’s universities by storm and it’s only a matter of time before it infiltrates our entire education sector. JUDE BARBACK reports.


Sneezing pandas, double rainbows and haka flash mobs are the sorts of mindless entertainment that tend to be associated with YouTube.  Not any longer. The hugely popular video-sharing site is flaunting its more high-brow side with its education channel, YouTube EDU, featuring world-famous academics sharing their lectures and research with the masses.

YouTube’s education channel is fast becoming a club that the world’s leading academic institutions are desperate to join. While online learning has been part of the furniture at tertiary institutions for some time now and is almost synonymous with distance and flexible learning programmes, few online resources currently available can compete with YouTube EDU’s vast and rapidly expanding collection of learning materials and topical discussions.

New Zealand institutions have yet to embrace YouTube EDU to the extent of their more prestigious counterparts overseas. The universities of Stanford, Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge are prolific users of the site, heading up over 400 tertiary institution partners of the channel from around the world. A year ago, that number was 200. Just over a year before that, YouTube EDU didn’t exist. Such is the exponential growth of sites of this ilk.

Are universities simply jumping on the bandwagon, or are online video repositories like YouTube EDU actually useful for universities and students? One of YouTube EDU’s newer members, University of London International Programmes, is a vocal proponent of the site. Since joining the channel in June this year, the International Programmes, one of the world’s oldest and most extensive providers of degrees through distance and flexible learning, has seen a threefold increase in viewing figures of its uploaded content to 30,000 a month. Professor Jonathan Kydd, dean of the International Programmes, believes the YouTube channel is a great addition to the existing online resources available to their students and will help leverage dissemination of their content.

“With the level of exposure afforded by YouTube EDU, it allows the International Programmes to share its learning content immediately with a greater global audience. We feel confident that the new channel will continue to attract a diverse audience of prospective and current students; individuals interested in increasing their knowledge of a particular subject area; local teaching institutions that provide tuition for our students who opt for further local teaching support; and our alumni, who wish to keep up to date on the latest developments in their area of study.”

The channel already covers most disciplines and amongst its content is some ground-breaking stuff. In one video, Professor Ian Roberts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine speaks about how the death of a 10-year-old girl on his intensive care unit compelled him to explore randomised control trials – a scientific procedure used to find out whether or not a specific medical treatment works. Following the success of the ‘Crash 2’ trials, Roberts explains the importance of early treatment with tranexamic acid in bleeding trauma patients: the drug could save 100,000 lives a year.

The ability to share pertinent research with a wide audience demonstrates just how much power Google is wielding with YouTube EDU alone. Niggly questions arise, however, about the trustworthiness of the content. Just as we shouldn’t take anything on Wikipedia as gospel, should we tread as cautiously with YouTube EDU?

Angela Lin, who manages the channel, goes some way to quell these fears. She says there are high expectations among YouTube EDU partners. By becoming a partner, these institutions are committing to upload high-quality content. They are expected to upload lots and often, and refresh the material frequently. Content on YouTube EDU falls under the same watchful eye as the general YouTube portals, where Google works closely with law enforcement bodies to ensure no illegal behaviour is promoted. Failing that, the public acts as a regulator, with the ability to flag up anything inappropriate to the YouTube puppeteers.

With Google at the helm, we should be prepared for YouTube EDU to grow beyond all belief. The channel is only two years old, is already taking the higher education world by storm and showing no signs of slowing.

Lin says that while the channel is currently aimed at tertiary institutions, there are plans to expand it into all levels and areas of education. “What we’re trying to do at YouTube EDU is build a global classroom,” she says, in an interview that naturally is available on YouTube for millions to view. She speaks with the sort of Google-bred confidence one might imagine and leaves viewers with the feeling that it probably won’t be long before year 11 maths students are using YouTube EDU to swot for their exams and preschoolers are learning another language.