Teaching YouTube

The folks at MediaCommons have pointed to an interesting Inside Higher Ed article by Christopher Conway on the potential uses of YouTube in cultural studies classrooms. The discussion at both IHE and MediaCommons is worth checking out, and I’m writing this post in part as a reminder to revisit these ideas in my “Technology in the Liberal Arts Classroom” seminar next semester.

Specifically, Conway, a professor of Latin American studies, points out that clips uploaded to the service can provide a useful accompaniment to course readings, documentaries, and other assignments, adding that in one recent course, he was able to show Hugo Chavez’s notorious “Bush is the Devil” speech (with a Noam Chomsky book playing a key prop). Conway points to a number of other useful clips including the Chomsky-Foucault debate and Malcolm X appearing at Oxford. I think there’s little doubt that Conway is right that scholars and teachers should plunder, I mean borrow from, YouTube at every opportunity, and Conway is also right that blogging software makes it relatively easy for professors to link to these clips (although I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to assume that students will have access to the high-speed internet connections required to view the clips, at least not at my university). At the same time, YouTube’s “video library” vastly exceeds the resources available at my local university or at the high school libraries where many of my students will eventually teach, so I think he’s right that it can be a very useful resource.

Conway’s article also raises some imprtant questions about YouTube and copyright, asking whether a professor who links to an illegally uploaded YouTube clip is “complicit in infringing on someone‚Äôs copyright.” And, of course, now that Google owns YouTube, we may see some of this valuable material removed from the website. I think that the MediaCommons position, which emphasizes “fair use” addresses many of Conway’s concerns, but these legal and institutional issues will significantly effect what kinds of material remains available on YouTube and other video-sharing sites.

And yet, I find myself wanting to read Conway’s article somewhat “against the grain,” emphasizing not the “hidden gems” that he describes but the amateurish, home movie clips that he describes at the beginning of the article before asking what YouTube can do for professors “apart from giving them something to look at during their lunch breaks.” Instead of looking at YouTube as a source of content, why not look at it as a technological form, focusing with our students on how the site not only changes what we (can) watch but how we watch (the beauty of the SNL “Lazy Sunday” clip is that I didn’t have to watch an entire SNL episode to see it). I think these questions are implied in Kathleen’s question about how we could re-imagine YouTube as a “scholarly tool.”

Lots of interesting questions here, and I’m not sure I have any answers yet, but I’m happy to see others thinking about the role of media sharing in the liberal arts classroom.

Update: Jeff’s reading of the IHE article is also worth checking out. In particular, Jeff offers an insightful reading of Conway’s passing comment that instructors who use YouTube may not want their students to view the sometimes inane comments that accompany most videos, and like Jeff I see comments (and the video responses inspired by such video series as the LonelyGirl15 saga) as a crucial component of the medium. Again, some interesting questions.

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