Is YouTube in the Classroom a Good Idea?

Opinion on the internet seems to be unanimous: schools should be using YouTube. A search for “blocking YouTube in schools” yields articles explaining why schools should stop blocking YouTube mixed in with advice for working around school blocks. But schools are still blocking YouTube in Canada and in the US. The main reason is safety. This is a valid concern, but it’s not that simple. There are many other considerations such as fair access, quality of education and the loss of reading skills acquisition time.

Blocking YouTube to Protect Children

The United States has the Children’s Internet Protection Act to “address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content.” Schools and public libraries have to be CIPA certified in order to receive funding. CIPA doesn’t require YouTube to be blocked, but because offensive content can be found on YouTube, schools block it. It is possible to set each computer in a school to view only “safe” YouTube content, but that is a lot of work. When funding is on the line, districts aren’t willing to trust that every computer in every school will have the correct settings. It is easier to set district-wide blocks.

Canadian schools don’t have the same funding pressures, but there is pressure from parents for schools to set up strong internet filters. Earlier this year, the York school district received media attention when parents were able to access pornographic material from school computers. With incidents like this occurring, it is easy to understand why schools might be conservative in their filtering choices. But what is the cost of heavy internet filtering?

Blocking YouTube Creates a Disadvantaged Group of Students

The American Library Association published a report in 2014 recommending changes to filters on public library and school computers. One of the arguments was the idea that filters increase the digital divide. Children from homes without internet access depend on public library and school computers. If those computers provide limited access to common websites, those children will miss out on the educational opportunities available to children with more family resources. For example, most high school students have to study Hamlet. Students with YouTube at home can watch a movie version of the play for free (and without violating copyright) to gain a better understanding of the text. Students who are unable to access YouTube at their school or public library are left to struggle through the text on their own.

YouTube as a Teaching Tool

YouTube has put a great deal of effort into educational content. The #Educational channel has thousands of hours of educational video, and there are channels set up by grade range and subject. Teachers can ensure safe YouTube use through the Google apps for education. Many schools have figured out how to employ YouTube in the classroom safely. In fact, a growing trend in education is the flipped classroom model in which teachers assign video lectures for at-home viewing. Class time is spent on assignments, allowing teachers to interact with students who need direction.

YouTube and Brain Function

Another consideration is brain function. If schools use YouTube in the classroom, what is the consequence for growing minds? Common wisdom states that TV rots the brain, but there is no conclusive evidence for this. We do know that reading requires more thinking than television, and that exercising the brain through reading is a healthy pursuit. In order to graduate, students need to be able to read with a level of comprehension that requires practice. Is video learning taking away from time that could be spent exercising the parts of the brain required for reading skills acquisition?

More Questions Than Answers

There are reports of improved learning with flipped classroom programs. But is this because of the video, or is it because the teacher is spending more one-on-one time with students? And what about those kids who don’t have ready access to YouTube? Are those disadvantaged kids having to work their way through Hamlet actually getting a better education as a result?

There are so many factors that it is hard to know what role YouTube plays. And the consequences of video are going to be different for each child. One thing is certain, kids still need to read. Fortunately, there are ways that YouTube can be used to promote literacy. Since YouTube isn’t going away anytime soon, it might as well be put to use as a literacy tool.

Tell Us Your Story

Have you had success with YouTube in the classroom? Does your school block YouTube? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or email orca@orcabook.com.

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