The teaching part of teaching history with YouTube.

16 04 2008

As I write this, I’ve been told that an article I wrote called “Teaching History With YouTube (and Other Primary Source Video Sites on the Internet)” will be in the May issue of AHA Perspectives. If you’re reading this before then, I wrote my first draft of this essay on this blog here. That will have to do for now. If you’re reading this because of that published article welcome. What I want to do in this post is lay out some points I couldn’t put in the article due to space.

I’m not sure why, but when I wrote the article I expected it to be in their teaching section rather than technology. However, looking at the final product, classifying it in the technology section makes sense. I spend the vast amount of my allocated space on YouTube mechanics and content and almost no time on how to use the content.

Here are just a few thoughts on how to use it:

1) I find that students have a ten minute attention span for video. Anything longer and they zone out even if the material is really compelling. That’s a big advantage over sites like the Prelinger Archives which have whole short films.

2) All films need to be introduced. No matter how familiar it is to you, your students need some context for whatever you show. 99 times out of 100, you’re older than they are, and they weren’t there. Even if you’re showing something from the Nineties, they were probably tuned out anyways. You have to tell them what they missed.

3) Unless the film is silent, don’t talk through it. That’s annoying. However, make sure you talk to them about the film after you show it. That way it doesn’t feel like an add-on to the lecture. Instead, you’ve integrated it into the points you want to make that day. Indeed, no matter how good a lecturer you are, short films can make key points better than you can.

and finally 4) The information that goes along with the film can often be a good teaching tool. This includes the comments below the clip, the introduction provided by the poster and even their personal information. Last semester, I used a clip from a documentary from Hiroshima that didn’t show the United States in a particularly flattering light. When in response to a request from a student to see who posted I found that they were from Iran, it was one of the best teachable moments of the semester.



6 responses

17 04 2008

When I took music “appreciation” in college there were two approaches. In one the instructor would bring a phonograph into class and play some selection and then discuss what was heard. Sometimes the discussion was very enlightening, but usually most of the class sat their bored (and most of them were actually music majors). What are you supposed to do while listening?

In the other we were told to go to the music library and listen to a piece. I heard one of the most memorable pieces this way for the first time. I still remember the experience.

With the advent of the internet it would seem that there is less need to take up class time showing material, just have students watch it on their own. Obviously this only works for material that is online, but using YouTube as the example guarantees this.

So what is the advantage of showing material in class? If you are afraid that the students won’t watch on their own, then this seems like punishing the diligent to ensure that the slackers do the work.

17 04 2008
Jonathan Rees


It’s the relationship between the introduction before the clip, the clip itself and the discussion (however brief) afterwards, that has made this most useful for me in my classes. Video is a lot more gripping than music, and I should add that I’ve never shown more than ten minutes of one or more clips in one period, leaving plenty of time for more conventional instruction.

18 06 2009

Thanks for the information, I’m an avid phonograph fan and have been researching (and buying) them for over 10 years now!

1 01 2010
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8 10 2012
David Cheely

I’ve been teaching philosophy courses at USF since I began graduate school 6 years ago and I have used youtube clips during that entire time. Indeed, because philosophy is such an abstract subject, using video clips to make the various abstract ideas we cover into a more concrete experience for my students has been a godsend. I’ve found that most of students have trouble following the clips if they are much longer than 5 minutes and I’ve also been in the position of ‘spoiling’ some rather good films for them by playing a clip that gives away a bit of the film. That said, the advantage to using these clips in the classroom is too great to allow such concerns to derail my use of them.

Unfortunately, more and more of the clips that I once used from feature films that express philosophical content are being removed from youtube without being replaced with similar clips. Several go-to clips that I once used from films like the Martrix, Blade Runner, Inception, and other, more recent films, are no longer available. I suspect that this isn’t as large a problem for you since you teach history and the clips you employ are less given to copyright concerns than the ones that I use, but in my case, the recent crackdown on youtube clips from popular movies has left me searching for other on-line sources for these feature film clips.

Is there any consideration given to pedagogical concerns by those who seek to reign in the use and distribution of film clips on sites like youtube, or has this consideration not even been broached by those involved in the dispute? I would hate to see a good pedagogical tool be wasted because of copyright worries.

8 08 2013
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