Google's products are wonderful classroom resources. Sadly, one of my favorites, YouTube, can not be accessed by students in educational settings. My school completely blocks student access to YouTube; both the site and embedded videos. I agree with this policy: there is simply too much garbage on YouTube to allow student access. In order to reverse this policy, and gain access to the millions of students and teachers who would benefit from YouTube access, Google will need to structure YouTube in a filter friendly manner so that required school web filters can distinguish between trash and treasure.
Apple took a step toward becoming "school friendly" when it added a K-12 section to iTunes (check out my previous post on the topic). This move was made after an overwhelming response to the addition of iTunesU and the wealth of content uploaded by colleges and universities from around the country. The service hasn't taken off. In my opinion, this is because of the added layer of complexity that the iTunes software adds to the process of finding and downloading videos.
Google has a prime opportunity to own educational video content on the web by optimizing YouTube for use by educational institutions. Here are four reasons why they are the best company to accomplish this:
- The corporate philosophy at Google is to allow open access to information, no special software, subscription fees, or restrictions.
- Google has the brain power, coffers, and infrastructure to satisfy demand.
- YouTube's technical infrastructure is unmatched in terms of speed, reliability, and ease of use.
- YouTube is familiar to virtually all internet users (ranked as the third most popular internet site by Alexa).
There are essentially two reasons to use YouTube or other related video upload sites. The first is to upload and share your videos. I do this fairly regularly, perhaps as much as once a week. In my classroom, I assign 1-2 video creation projects per year. YouTube certainly satisfies need, but so do several other video upload sites such as Vimeo, SchoolTube, and Google Video. The second reason to use a video site is to find a video on a specific topic. For this purpose, YouTube's breadth and depth is unmatched. No other video site can match the content offered by YouTube. Phillip White reports that the number of videos available on YouTube in July of 2009 was somewhere around 100 million. TechCrunch reports that YouTube streams as many as 1.2 billion videos per day. With a pool that deep, it's hard not to find something useful.
The entire reason that Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion was to be the facilitator of the largest collection of user generated video on the web. Google Video has a fraction YouTube's content. The fact that most students are unable to access this resource is unfortunate. Schools can choose to use any number of sites for uploading and sharing videos, but no other site (currently) can offer the range of videos offered by YouTube. For this reason alone, Google should optimize YouTube so that schools can offer this content to students. Here are some suggestions:
- Standardize video URL's: each video hosted on YouTube has a unique URL. Because of this, unblocking videos is a tedious task. Each video must be unblocked separately. Standardizing URL's so that each video showed up as "youtube.com/jrsowash/watch?v=wH-6vM61LaI" would allow the unblocking of all video content from a "clean" user.
- Add Channel Certifications/Ratings: Allow YouTube users to apply for channel certifications that would stamp their content with a seal of approval. Educational institutions, non-profits, businesses, and certified teachers could apply for this certification which would elevate the credibility of their content. These certifications would require independent confirmation by some authoritative group. I would recommend something similar to the Wikipedia model of editing and approval for this. Use the wisdom of the crowd!
- Give individual videos a rating: We rate our movies and TV shows, why not online videos? Allow users to tag videos with G, PG, PG-13, and R ratings (or some equivalent) . Again using the wisdom of the crowd, videos with some number of the same rating (say 10) would be confirmed into that category. This would make filtering videos for viewing at school easy.
Note: Just this week Google announced a new feature called "safe mode" on YouTube. This is a step in the right direction!
- Solve video search: One of the biggest unsolved challenges related to digital media is how to search the content of a video. Currently, all video searching is accomplished through text tags which users add to their video. No one (not even Google, the king of search) has figured out how to dynamically search video content. When they do (yes, they will eventually!), filtering content will be much easier and automated. Inappropriate videos tagged as "educational" will be immediately identified and the tag can be changed.
Google, your tools have added tremendous value to my classroom. I hope that you are able to open up YouTube to K-12 students in the US and around the world.