Online and Digital Learning

Reflections on YouTube in Higher Education (Durham Blackboard Conference 2012)

Part of a series of posts reporting back on the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference 2012.

Part of a series of posts reporting back on the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference 2012.

  • Parallel session: Open Education Videos in the Classroom: Exploring the Opportunities and Barriers to the use of YouTube in Teaching Introductory Sociology
  • Presenters: Elaine Tan and Nick Pearce
  • Presenters’ twitter feeds: @ElaineRTan |  @DrNickPearce
  • Use of video at Durham to show case studies of TEL

This post provides a summary of Tan and Pearce’s presentation which summarised the way YouTube/online videos have been used to support learning at the University of Durham. Taking two key themes, I then briefly discuss the use of open resources on a course and socially-networked learning.

Summary of the use of video

Key points

  • Video is another way to transmit knowledge
  • A video could replace the one-way delivery of content seen in lectures
  • Videos allow students to witness events and cultures they may otherwise not experience

Key challenges of the use of openly available video (YouTube)

  • Vast quantities are out there: how to choose the best?
  • Quality control: is it a case of quantity over quality of resources?
  • Appropriate content: there are many unsuitable videos and possibility of adverts or links to further inappropriate content on the public YouTube site.
  • Lack of control (linked to above): also, the owner of the video could remove it at any point.

Feedback from students

  • Use of video in lectures breaks up the monotony of standard presentations
  • Students viewed the videos again after the lecture to recap
  • Students aware of video as a viable communication medium therefore are accepting of its inclusion as a learning medium. They are also conscious they too may need to be aware of how to use video as a communication medium.
  • Students use multiple platforms and share links to videos (e.g. via Facebook), creating their own learning network.
  • Students need guidance on how to approach an academic’s video playlist like a reading list (ie. not to watch everything!)
  • Students aren’t concerned with copyright and will ‘scavenge’ resources off the internet if it helps them achieve their learning aim.
  • Students appreciate the role of the lecturer as a guide, someone who contextualises the openly available content.


Openness, and open resources, was the theme of the conference. In higher education we often hear about ‘Open Educational Resources’ (OER), which are normally packaged learning material created by a lecturer (who has normally had a small grant to do so). These OERs tend to meet specific learning objectives, so will present material within a framework which could include narrative commentary or instructional activities. Traditional OERs are also repurposed and then embedded within a VLE (ie. from the students’ point of view not directly utilised off the internet).

YouTube, however, presents a different sort of open educational resource. It is free, readily available on the internet (hence open), it is often educational (for one reason or another), and as a resource it is extensive in the diverse range of topics covered. Previously though we haven’t fully accepted YouTube as a legitimate academic resource, instead using it for ‘supplementary’ or ‘supporting’ material. Certainly, an appreciation of YouTube’s flaws (mainly that there is so much rubbish out there) makes it a little difficult to extract the worthwhile resources for teaching, particularly at HE level. Yet, as Tan and Pearce indicated there are many learning opportunities which become available when video is used as a learning medium, and YouTube cannot be ignored as a source for such learning content.

During the presentation Tan and Pearce drew attention to the legitimate argument that some people (not necessarily students) may have about the use of open, freely available resources being used on paid-for courses (HE now being considerably more expensive in the new fees regime). They were keen to point out though that the value of courses lies in the opportunities for collaboration and access to a subject expert (the lecturer). Not only this but the role of the lecturer as a teacher (there to guide the use of resources, contextualise and stimulate debate) was fundamental to students’ views of the value of a course.

These findings and suggestions apply just as much to online, distance learning as they do campus-based courses. Whilst the internet does exist with millions of valuable educational resources available, for constructive, meaningful learning, the role of the teacher remains significant. The teacher may take many forms, but I think what became clear from this presentation (particularly in light of the mention of MOOCs in Conole’s keynote), that the roles of motivator, expert and guide are very important when asking students to use internet-based resources. It may also be possible to argue that the teacher doesn’t even need to be present, but purely a pedagogic design through self-paced, but structured learning, would also produce the motivational and guiding effect. I assume though, that not providing some sort of interactivity with the tutor themselves would not go down well with £9k fee payers!

Tan and Pearce also detailed the way that they observed students forming their own learning networks. Again, Conole indicated that such approaches will become more common (if not already). Concepts like rhizomes (Cormier, 2008) and mycorrhyzae (Engeström, 2007), as mentioned in Conole’s keynote, go some way to describing the non-terminating, branching out of learning, pervasive, interconnected, partly hidden, not individualised – as such removing one part does not kill off the rest. These metaphors along with theories of networked learning (Jones, 2004) imply that the links between students/teachers/content [delete as applicable] are facilitated with the use of internet technologies in a way that has not been seen before Web 2.0.

The sharing, mixing and mashing of online resources is now far more easily done through the use of twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, etc – all of which need little technical expertise. Thus, students can create their own informal learning networks using social networking tools (and indeed they do, whether consciously or not).

Whilst these networks may be unregulated and unmonitored by teaching staff, they best represent the digital equivalent of the coffee shop, photocopier and noticeboard. These networks take us beyond the use of email or websites to share resources. Email is a closed communication system; websites require publishing and owners. Now, the use of social networks offers the opportunity for anyone to invite themselves to the learning party – contributing and extracting new knowledge and ideas in a free, open way – without individual ownership but a collective.

The use of online video, both through consumption and also encouraging staff and students to share, comment and contribute their own work to online repositories, is just one example of the way that learning and education is not bounded by the people within your institution or the books gathering dust upon the shelves.


Cormier, D. (2008). ‘Rhizhomatic Education: Community as Curriculum’, Daves Educational Blog. Also published in Innovate – Journal of Online Education.

Engeström, Y. (2007). ‘From communities of practice to mycorrhizae’, in Hughes, J., Jewson, N. and Unwin, L. (eds) Communities of Practice: Critical Perspectives. London: Routledge. pp. 41-54.

Jones, C. (2004). ‘Networks and learning: communities, practices and the metaphor of networks’, ALT-J, 12(1), 81-93.

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