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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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YouTube 101 - Yes, It’s a Real Class

It’s one thing to use YouTube videos as reference tools in class, but what about teaching an entire course on YouTube? One educator is taking a crack at it this semester, and everyone seems to have an opinion about it - particularly YouTube users. So I decided to talk with her about the course and what she hopes her students will get out of it.

Starting this month, Professor Alexandra Juhasz of Pitzer College began teaching a course entitled Learning from YouTube. The idea behind it is to engage a group of students around the culture of YouTube, while requiring them to use YouTube as one of the primary mechanisms for communicating during the semester. The course isn’t 100% virtual - they still get together in a classroom on a regular basis - but all classroom activities are uploaded to YouTube, and students are required to publish their own videos on a regular basis.

On her YouTube page, Professor Juhasz explained the course in her own words:

“The class’s structure imitates that of YouTube, modeling its strengths and weaknesses,” she told me earlier this week. “It is an inflexible structure that nevertheless supports a high degree of user creativity. There are time limits and ever conventionalizing norms shaping video production as well as severe character limits on word usage. The vernacular of the site does not encourage complex written thought. It is a relatively democratic space with easy access for anyone who owns or has access to the technology. The range of materials on the site is growing but may not provide all we need to understand the very site itself.”

“Meanwhile,” she continued, “the strengths and weaknesses of traditional higher education are always available as a comparison, given that we are not following these standards but often wish we might be. I believe that much of the learning about YouTube will be produced by the constraints and openness of the form of the class.”

Though the class has just gotten under way, it’s already received a lot of coverage in the mainstream media, leading to a barrage of comments from the YouTube community, many of which have been downright hostile to the idea. “This only proves why Pitzer, which has no required classes to graduate, is the joke of the Claremont Colleges - the Shemp of the Stooges,” wrote one commenter. Another commenter asked, “This is a joke, right? I guess I don’t get it. Maybe I need to go back to college. I’ll start a class that dissects MySpace.”

Others, though, have come out in defense of the course, such as this commenter:

I’m surprised by the stupidity of the comments on this thread. Some of the people… who think that social media are somehow unworthy of study are displaying a lot of ignorance. In addition to YouTube being the #4 site on the Internet, it’s building new communities, hosting presidential debates, changing election commercials, changing the music industry, etc. None of that is worth looking at?

“I am learning to alternatively disregard or learn from these statements about the vernacular of YouTube,” Professor Juhasz said of the online debate surrounding her course. “Why is this a place where the quality of conversation is so low? Need it be? Who benefits from this? Also, my students, and many bloggers, have been responding to the lowest comments on our class page with intelligent, careful articulations about the value of what we are doing in the class. It’s easy to make fun of, but I’d bet few of those taking pot shots at the class or Pitzer college have watched any of the classes or the videos or posts the students are producing.”

Meanwhile, her students have uploaded dozens of videos, including this one, which critiques YouTube as being more of a place for entertainment rather than an intellectual forum:

On the whole, though, Juhasz feel that most of initial student videos haven’t been particularly stellar. “I’ve been pretty surprised at how ‘bad’ their videos are, and we’ve discussed this,” she continued. “Of course, they are making videos that look and act like the standards on the site. As am I, really. What’s exciting about the class is that you need no training to speak with the form. Most representations on the site are direct-to-camera talking heads or they mimic commercial fare. But again, the challenge of the course is whether we can work inside the constraints and architecture of the site to produce work that has higher merit in content and form than the standard confections that become hits and norms on the site.”

Because students are learning to work within the constraints of YouTube, including its own cultural idiosyncrasies, she sees the course as a way of exploring what it means to be media literate in a world flooded with user-generated content.

“What is exciting about [YouTube] is that access to media production, distribution, and conversation has exploded,” she said. “And that’s fantastic. But I believe that without other skills - some knowledge about the history and theory of media, and critical skills for watching and talking about media - people end up being guided by mainstream media, ever bent upon entertainment and distraction, rather than the more artistic or expressive traditions that 100 years of cultural production have allowed.”

“New technologies arrive at our doorstep with greater and greater frequency,” Professor Juhasz concluded. “We accept them at their terms, use them, have fun, and buy more. I am asking my students to be self-aware and articulate participants in this particular new media form, and to perhaps seek to stretch the form to meet the complex needs we have of the media including but beyond entertainment. Can we have informed, intelligent, artistic conversation on YouTube? Can we build an intellectual community? Can we create careful knowledge that build through sophisticated conversation and careful research? I expect them to learn that they have a hand in the production of the culture they wish to live in.” -andy

Filed under : Media Literacy, Video, Youth Media


What a really cute and smart student you have. she must come from good stock.

I think learning from youtube could be a great stride in tech learning. I also think that it could drasticly fail. If you really think about it, alot fo youtube videos are people being themselves, weather that means being stupid, funny, or serious. In my own opinion, having only gone on youtube when someone tells me about a video, I dont think theres alot to actully absorb from a video site. My opinion.

wow this is amazing ♥ I really visit youtube a lot and although some of the video’s are just for fun but I think we do need something really educational that students, teachers, parents virtually anyone can refer to so they have the faith that what they are seeing is real. But this class is something that I myself would be interested in once I get to a higher level of education. Maybe dissecting myspace wouldn’t be a bad idea. Maybe teachers could get accounts and students could contact them via myspace.

But turning youtube into a fun and great way of learning for people all over the globe is a wonderful idea.

I think this is a great course to have. I believe that it is a rapidly growing site and that people who do video production or other media subjects may benefit heavily from it.

It’s cool to use youtbe videos for teaching in class.

Should we even think that You Tube is or will ever be an “intellectual forum”….I say if you want a more intellectucal forum or debate you thought look elsewhere…You Tube is not it.

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