Most school districts filter YouTube and with good reason.  It may be edublogger blasphemy to take the side of the school districts on this issue, but even a cursory look at YouTube’s palette of hotties, mentos and  piano playing cats convinces me that I don’t want a duty assignment in the Media Center telling kids to turn that off.  Although I agree that one of our new obligations is to help students navigate a media environment with everything and anything available at any time, we have to pick our battles.  Yes, it seems that another socializing responsibility and slipped away from the family and snuck into the back door of school.  We should therefore highlight the benefits of the media that is available.  And much beyond our obligation to model responsible use of technology, we need tools like YouTube to enhance the media environment of our classrooms.  So while it makes sense to block student access to YouTube, it makes even more sense to open teacher access YouTube.

youtube I’m lucky enough to work in a district where the Director of Technology stuck his neck out and made the case to the district and the board that it was a good idea to open YouTube to teachers on a trial basis.  Four months ago, the door was opened just a crack, distinct user groups were created and teachers were given different rights than students.  What happened next says a lot about YouTube and says even more about what some teachers can do when they are trusted.

Within a month, two instructional e-mails and a video tutorial were distributed showing teachers how to “blank the screen” of their data projectors so they can pull up the video they want to show without having students see the preview thumbnails that haunt the YouTube interface.  Teachers could switch to “full screen” on their computers, un-blank the data projector and viola, no distractions.

In the classroom, English teachers created lessons in which students assess five different interpretations of the same scene in Hamlet.  Students who would have never known the creepiness of Vincent Price have seen his interpretation of Poe’s The Raven. 

Psychology students who were disturbed when they read about Milgram’s Obedience to Authority experiments, were even more aghast when they actually saw them. 

Sociology students who would have had a run-of-the-mill discussion about the power of image in America, had an even more active and lively debate when it started with Dove’s Evolution of Beauty.  Teacher questions prompts in class discussions were now be augmented with videos like Dove Onslaught.

Social Studies students now have current event discussions concerning the presidential primaries while watching quick news clips and candidate commercials. Perhaps you’ve experienced those good class discussions that involve a student saying “did you see…?”  Well, now everyone can see.  The students who are not tuned in politically, but may be intrigued by the use of religion (or not, you decide) in Mike Huckabee’s “What Matter’s” commercial can now be a part of that conversation, they can know what we are talking about.

YouTube’s vast library goes beyond the purely academic, its power is in short clips and quick search.  How many teachers have you heard say, “I use that movie in my class, but only for a couple scenes”?  How many truly committed professionals used to hunker down over their vcrs, trying to make “best of” tapes with only those scenes?  How many hard working teachers struggled to tape Nightline and segments of 60 minutes because they wanted to use it for class?  It’s so easy to do this now you can even do it on the fly during class.

And you don’t always need a projector to benefit from an unfiltered YouTube. An English teacher, widely known as a self-confessed luddite (and perhaps wanting to still be considered one) used YouTube for music, not video.  When he found how easy it was to play some John Contrane for his students, he was convinced. 

Perhaps the real untapped power of YouTube is in creating atmosphere and mood in the classroom.  At least it makes sure your students are ready to go when the bell rings.  During our French Revolution unit, I played Allen Sherman’s “you’ve gone the wrong way ol’ king louie” during the class change, its a great parody song complimented with a clever lego animation.  No one came in the door late, everyone was in their seat with their eyes forward, and not a peep or pointless gossip was heard.  The first four minutes of The Kingdom had the same effect and prompted a half-dozen questions about the middle east.  Again, sometime you just need the music.  Before a class on the Industrial Revolution, I ran a PowerPoint slideshow of historical quotes while YouTube played Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” in the background. Although I’d be hard pressed to convince anyone that there is a direct academic benefit to this use of YouTube, students would have no trouble explaining why they would rather walk in a classroom that is using it.  I’m not too concerned about the “you’re being an entertainer” argument because it takes exactly 15 seconds to type click play and about five minutes the night before previewing the clip.  That’s a small price to pay to keep students from falling off the cliff of the media world when they enter my classroom.

In the end, YouTube is a collection of media that can be seen as entertaining or dangerous.  Some can rightly claim it is just another one of educational technology’s “bells and whistles” that has a lot of flash and dazzle and no redeeming value.  Essentially, they are correct.  That is why YouTube should remain blocked for students on school networks.  Yet when that media is placed in the hands of a committed professional educator, it becomes a powerful tool, which is why YouTube should be available to teachers.