The trend for open source online teaching has recently reached a milestone, I think. YouTube EDU has launched, offering a good repository of instructional videos, streaming lectures from universities and elsewhere, to the globe. The Open Culture blog calls it a “robust collection” with over 200 full courses from leading universities, on top of campus tours and other features of that nature.
Unlike YouTube proper, which will accept content from any subscriber, from what I gather, educational sites from MIT to the Culinary Institute of America are providing the content in an “open source” way that gives them a “channel” in the collective, allowing them to not only share information but to some degree expose viewers to their identity as a sort of advertisement. When you click the “apply now” link at the bottom of the page, you get an application for institutional membership, with a stipulation that reads:
We request only one channel per institution that encompasses the entire campus, and you must have authority to open a channel on the institution’s behalf. If you are a school, department, or educator within the institution, please coordinate with the proper department on campus – typically Public Affairs or Academic Technology.
Thus, while it is still “open source,” there is still the brand identity of the academic institution at work which — ostensibly — will filter the content on the user side of the equation. This has pros and cons, and one has to wonder how much production value and censorship comes into play. I think this benefits larger, well-funded colleges who have a procedural apparatus in place for providing such content… ergo, the preponderance of lectures on YouTube EDU currently seem to be Ivy League colleges of high reputation (seeking pertinence in the digital age) and trade colleges the likes of which you might see advertised often on television.
Indeed, with the increasing boundary-loss between streaming online video and the television set — aided by the rise of devices like the AppleTV, Roku Player, and XBox — it seems sensible for academia to take seriously the potential of investing in video sharing.
Readers at the Open Culture Blog are recommending academicearth.org — which LifeHacker compares to Hulu — as a stronger alternative. I can see why, at first blush: it organizes material by subject right from the front page, seeming to be curriculum-centered rather than institution-centered. The videos seem to be high quality, and often offer transcripts and other material that make the vids seem much more “course” like. Moreover, the rating system is organized by instructor so that you can quickly jump to those who browsers feel are the best at delivering the content, rather than just (as in youtube edu) those videos that are given a generic “star” rating on who know’s what criterion.
Another issue on YouTube EDU’s format is the “comments” feature, which like any good weblog allows users to provide feedback. As I give a glancing look at various videos, I see comments that are littered with obscenities and smart aleck jokes, as if they were notes passed between virtual slackers and class clowns sitting in the back row. AcademicEarth, on the other hand, allows embedding of videos which would encourage users to post comments on their own sites, instead. (Of course YouTube EDU allows embeds as well).
The value of YouTube EDU, of course, would be greater visibility in google search and youtube search results. This, sadly, is the monolithic aim of far too much online content, but this is the way the cookie crumbles in the attention economy. Since most students would probably tend to search google long before they ever stumbled upon AcademicEarth, the site bears serious consideration for academic institutions.
There are uses I’d like to see sites like these put to: more academic debates, more streams of events that feature students as much as star lecturers, more faculty/research profiles or interviews…. perhaps we will see growth in this kind of material soon.