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YouTube gains popularity as teaching tool in college classrooms

Monday, September 24, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:12 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

COLUMBIA — Mike Perkins has given up trying to verbally explain tardive dyskinesia to the students in his Case Management class at Columbia College.

Describing the symptoms of the neurological disorder, which is caused by the long-term use of drugs prescribed for psychiatric disorders, was “almost impossible,” he said.

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So instead, he shows videos of actual patients suffering from tardive dyskinesia — videos that he found on YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site.

“You can stand up there and try to explain that all you want, (but) a picture is really worth a thousand words, or much more than that,” Perkins said.

Perkins, an instructor in the Human Services program and faculty technology coordinator, already has a solid grasp on the latest trend among colleges and universities: using YouTube as a class resource.

Perkins, who began using the two-year-old Web site in his classes last year, often uses videos uploaded by other people to provide a visual aid for the material he’s teaching, whether he’s asking students to write about a video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or showing footage “you can’t get anywhere else,” such as war footage from Iraq.

He also said he makes and uploads his own videos to YouTube for use in his classes. His next goal is to require his students to do the same, something he said he will probably start next semester.

At MU, some elementary language courses are using YouTube for the first time this semester to provide a real-life foreign language experience, said Dawn Heston, resident instructor of Spanish.

“(Students) can see real native Spanish speakers doing real things with the language,” Heston said. “They can hear people speaking Spanish in their native language in a real-life situation.”

For example, as part of the recent unit on Peru, students watched a Peruvian newscast about Machu Picchu as one of the new seven wonders of the world, available through a YouTube video embedded in the course’s online Blackboard site.

Heston also plans to use YouTube as a tool to assess her students’ language skills. As part of an upcoming exam, her students will watch advertisements in Spanish and then record themselves discussing that ad in Spanish with a partner. Heston said YouTube has so far proven to be a good resource for her classes.

“I think it’s very important to reach students where they are,” Heston said. “It’s undeniable, the popularity of YouTube in general.”

Perkins said students aren’t surprised by the use of YouTube in class. In fact, he said, many have come to expect it.

“These are kids that use MySpace and Facebook, and they listen to music online. So the reaction is not one of gasping and wonder,” he said. “They’re very open to it. It’s pretty normal to them.”

Perkins said he thinks the Web site has more potential as a resource than many give it credit for — even his own students. He’s often been disappointed when students in his classes don’t use video sources in their presentations.

“Students have been told so much not to use stuff from the Web that they don’t do it, and that’s going to become increasingly ridiculous as we move forward with this technology,” he said.

Stephens College has taken a slightly different approach to using YouTube. In October 2006, it created a video-sharing group on its Web site, which contains a collection of student-created films and videos geared toward prospective and current students and alumnae.

Some videos are produced professionally by the college, while others are footage of campus events, said Eric Watkins, Stephens College webmaster.

“I post pretty much any interesting video we have,” he said.

There are 29 videos in the Stephens College YouTube group, and they have been viewed more than 10,000 times collectively, Watkins said. The most popular video is a preview of the school’s equestrian program, which has been viewed more than 5,100 times.

Watkins said he wanted the videos in the group to be easily accessible through social-networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Livejournal, which allow users to embed YouTube videos within their individual pages.

“Many of our students and alumnae use sites like that, so I wanted to make it easier to share videos through them rather than making people come to the Stephens site and using our video player,” Watkins said.

YouTube is not currently used in the more than 500 classes that are part of Columbia College’s online curriculum, which has about 7,000 students at 31 nationwide campuses.

The school, however, is researching and exploring new ways of using the Internet for online courses, including the possibilities of YouTube, said Gary Massey, associate dean of adult higher education and online campus.

“We’re working with the technology department and instructional technologists so we know what other people are using,” Massey said. “We want to stay current ... and try to be creative and use the most recent technologies.”

As for Perkins, he encourages the use of YouTube as an academic tool. He said it doesn’t replace the basics of teaching and learning; it enhances them.

“It doesn’t teach your classes for you,” he said. “It’s just another tool, but it’s a nice tool when used correctly.”


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