Reflections of an educational video

Hi. I’m an educational video. Check me out on YouTube; I’m everywhere. You probably know that so much has been written about me -- how I’m changing the face of education, how I’m revolutionizing the way students learn, yadda yadda. Yes, all that is true. But what you don’t know is how the world looks like from my particular vantage point. You may think that you’re only watching me, but oh no, I see you too. Here’s what I see.

Don’t get me wrong; of course I believe that video is revolutionizing education. So much good has come out of me. But bear in mind, all the high goals, the mission statements and the visions for these incredible learning systems only manifest sometimes. Much of the time, teachers search for me simply when they’re in a pinch.

You know who you are, teachers. I’ve even seen the author of this article doing the following. It’s 7:53 a.m., and you’re at your desk, not really knowing how you’re going to format the lesson that’ll begin in seven minutes. You do a keyword search, and scroll through thumbnails, glancing at the video’s duration, number of views and if the title and description generally match what you’re looking for. If you find a candidate, you vet, by clicking me and then rapidly clicking through me chunk-by-chunk, verifying that the video generally accomplishes what you need it to.

If the class goes well, you then think to yourself, “Hmmm, I could do this again.” And left unchecked, eventually I’m doing your job for you. I suppose I don’t mind doing all your heavy lifting for you, considering how I’m just a digital entity, oblivious of the human experience. However I do detect some resent from your students who post comments below me, lamenting how you’re not really doing your job. If you’re a teacher who hasn’t flipped your class, a reality check: I’m best served as your pedagogical side dish, not your entrée.

Let’s shift to a high-five moment between us. Don’t you just loathe when students must miss class for all the extra stuff they take on? It’s hard for me to imagine life outside the comfort of my circuit board, but these kids are actors, athletes, community leaders, and even have the audacity to take part in school-sanctioned field trips. Combine all those kids with the students who get ill, and you’re dealing with a massive bottleneck that fits directly over your collared business-professional teacher-type button down shirt.

Video to the rescue! Oh my, I share in the deep satisfaction you feel when you populated your learning management system with me, to serve as additional resources to the curricula you create. To the basketball player leaving class early for a game, now you don’t need your teacher to remain caught up. The ball’s in your court now young friend, both scholastically and on the hardwood.

What I like most about releasing the information bottleneck is that it reveals students’ true character. Home sick and couldn’t come to class? No problem, because now you have me as your teacher at home, so that you can come to class the next day without excuses and on schedule. Trying to get out of taking a test because you missed class due to the theater commitment you chose to take on? Sorry friend – it’s time to get your click on.

And finally, a confession. I was about to apologize to you, teachers. I was going to apologize for the ocean of blithering, useless, video drivel that pollutes the content landscape. I really do want you to find me and use me well, but your job becomes harder when you have to wade through all that malarkey.

I withhold my apology because I realize that such accessibility to all the nonsense is the very force that brings you closer to the content creators who are doing it right. They believe in their craft, they have the courage to invest their time and emotions into it, and they even understand how to work a camera microphone. Video ubiquity is the only way you’ll ever find the good stuff. I ask that you please keep that perspective that in mind when you swear at the screen upon opening another video of a dude whose air conditioner is louder than he is. Give him credit, right? At least he’s making something.

Robert Ahdoot is a math teacher and founder of YayMath.org, a free online collection of math video lessons filmed live in his classroom and in studio, using costumes and characters. Robert has been teaching high-school math for 10-plus years, has given two TEDx talks, and travels to schools promoting his message of positive learning through human connection. He is the author of One-on-One 101, The Art of Inspired and Effective Individualized Instruction.

Recent video productions that hopefully are not drivel include StatsCenter, a statistics educational parody of ESPN’s SportsCenter, and ObaMATH, a tribute to our outgoing president that features the “Commander-in-Teach” imparting trigonometry in a mock Oval Office.

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