Unified Communications Featured Article

Teachers + YouTube = Learning?

December 15, 2008

Yes Mom, they are doing their homework watching YouTube videos. Not just a site to pass the time or procrastinate when one should be doing homework, YouTube.com also hosts education videos helping students with their biology or math homework.

For example, when junior Nicole Nissim of University of Central Florida got stumped in trigonometry, she checked out what was showing on YouTube. After watching a couple of trig examples, the psychology major says, she finally understood the equations and how to make graphs.
"I was able to watch them at my own pace and if I didn't get a concept, I could easily rewind it," Nissim says. "It was a lot clearer once I watched the video."
YouTube is probably best known for its hundreds of homemade performances and TV clips, the Britney Spears fan crying “Leave her alone” video comes quickly to mind but now many people like Nissim are turning to it for free tutoring in subjects like math and science.
Math videos won't rival the millions of hits garnered by laughing babies, but according to the Associated Press, a YouTube tutorial on calculus integrals has been watched almost 50,000 times in the past year. Others on angular velocity and harmonic motion have gotten more than 10,000 views each.
The videos are appealing for several reasons, says Kim Gregson, an Ithaca College professor of new media. Students come to the videos when they're ready to study and fully awake — not always the case for 8 a.m. calculus classes. And they can watch the videos as many times as they need until they understand.
The Websites allows viewers to comment and most posted on tutorials offer praise. Khan Academy, a not-for-profit tutor have posted under some of their videos, "Now why couldn't my calc instructor explain it that simply?" and "I was just about to leave my physics course. You saved me." One viewer went as far as to declare to the man behind the videos: "You are god of mathematics!!!"
Creator Salman Khan, of Khan Academy motto is, “Keep it simple.” His laid-back approach while focusing on a single concept and probably most importantly, keeping the videos at a digestible 10 minutes may be the reasons for his success.
He says he purposely did not create clips featuring himself standing at a whiteboard because he wanted something more akin to sitting next to someone and working out a problem on a sheet of paper. Using Microsoft Paint sketching software, with a black background and brightly colored lines he works through equations while explaining the process.
"If you're watching a guy do a problem (while) thinking out loud, I think people find that more valuable and not as daunting," says Khan, a California hedge fund manager by day and math geek by night.
University of Miami education professor Walter Secada, who specializes in how math is taught, praises Khan's personable style. But while Secada says the Khan videos he reviewed are accurate, he's concerned about how Khan uses an example to define a term, rather than defining the term more generally. Secada says he can envision some students becoming confused when having to apply a concept to a different example.
"It may seem like a small point but it lays a foundation for later problems," Secada says. "That's the strength and the weakness of this. In an eight-minute video, you can only do so much."
Central Florida sophomore Jacqueline Boehme found that out quickly when perusing biology clips. Some had poor video quality and were blurry or too small.
"There are definitely some that are better than others, so it's always useful to look at a few," says Boehme, who has looked up videos that explain processes like protein synthesis. Boehme says the 3-D representations have helped her conceptualize what she's learning in class.
Secada would like to see math faculty incorporate some videos in their teaching, or recommend clips that have been vetted. He cautions students not to depend solely on what they find online.
"There's a point at which kids do need to double-check with their textbook" and professor, Secada says. "Before you need to quote this in your test, you need to look at this and check if it's right."

Jessica Kostek is a channel editor for unified communications, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. To read more of Jessica’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek

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