Friday, December 23, 2011

YouTube for schools - Pass or fail?

Image courtesy of Alvimann 
There's quite a bit of debate going on surrounding Google's recent release YouTube for Schools and I just have to dip my toes in and make my own views known. Will it be good for schools? Or will it constrict access to a wealth of educational material not deemed educational? Pass of fail?

YouTube for schools is described as being 'comprehensive, school-appropriate, customisable and teacher-friendly' and after trying it out with my own school's Google Apps YouTube domain I have to say that it is all of those. The 'comprehensive' tag is what seems to be causing the most negativity. Why? The videos that form part of YouTube for Schools are selected, from the many millions available on YouTube, by Google and a select group of organisations such as Stanford, TED and the Khan Academy. This at first caused me some concern as it meant I could have access to a very limited form of YouTube video content deemed suitable by others. I've been fighting against such restrictions for the last 15 years of my teaching career and my initial reaction was not to sign up to something so limiting. Fail.

But I consider myself a teacher that tries out new technologies, for better or worse, so that others can learn from my adventures. Let's go back to the descriptive tags. 'School-appropriate' gives schools access to material they deem suitable which means any video a school thinks is educational can be added to that school's YouTube for Schools site. As a teacher or admin, you have access to the complete wealth of material that is available on YouTube which you can then decide for yourself whether it is school appropriate or not. YouTube for Schools requires signing up for a school account, the creation of one admin account and then changes having to be made in the school network configurations. Additional video content can then be added to a school playlist which can be accessed by all users within the school's YouTube site. Admins can also grant unrestricted access to any user in the school site. Pass.

Is YouTube for Schools nothing more than a walled garden? Not quite. It's a walled garden with a large gate. You can restrict content to a water shed of predefined videos which contain quite a few chalk and talk presentations. Not very inspiring at all. But the gate can be opened and you have access to any video you as the admin or staff deem appropriate. You will still be able to search for that one moment that perfectly enhances the learning in your classroom and then mark on the playlist for the school to access. Students will be able to access YouTube at school with no worries that they will view unsuitable material, especially important in Primary schools. Pass.
It's too early to say whether YouTube for Schools will be successful or not but it's definitely not the closed garden that is being suggested. I'm not passing or failing it, yet.

What do you think, pass or fail?

After going over this post I have reconsidered one particular option, 'admins can also grant unrestricted access to any user in the school site' in the school-appropriate description. As the school ICT coordinator/Lead Technology Teacher I would consider myself as the holder of the school admin account and use it to set up other teachers with additional features to add content they too deem suitable. However, what if the school admin account is held by a member of staff that doesn't want additional content to be added? What if the admin account is held by technical staff that wish to keep access to YouTube content locked down? That's one too many ifs for me and therefore is a big FAIL.