“What to do? What to do?” I’ve got some instructional videos I need to share with my students, what’s the best service to use?. “Uncle Google will know!”…
Voila! is the answer for us as a media streaming service! Problem solved!
Or is it?
Like many people you are probably aware of YouTube, and its wide spread use as part of many students’ learning network or toolset, along with the likes of Wikipedia, Howcast, etc. YouTube is widely recognised both as a channel for delivering video content through its easy user interface and the trolls that lurk in its depths awaiting unsuspecting individuals to harass and feed their lulz. As well as the trolls and advertising that students need shielding from academic institutions need to be sure their content meets appropriate academic standards of accessibility, accuracy and quality.
If YouTube is not an appropriate channel for sharing instructional academic content then what services are there that may meet this need? Enter TeacherTube. Although I have been aware of the TeacherTube service for some time (it was launched in 2007) I found little content of interest that wasn’t easier to find on YouTube. Work has been done since my early visits to the site to make the user experience more intuitive and user friendly, yet I’m still left feeling the experience could be less “academic”.
The original vision of Jason Smith, TeacherTube‘s main creator, was to provide “an online community for sharing instructional videos”, and to that end TeacherTube does well. TeacherTube is geared to fill a need for educationally focused material that is safe for teachers to use in their courseware.
The service relies heavily on its community of users, with over 300,000 user created educational objects (video, audio, photos and documents) shared on the site. Users are encouraged to rate content and have the ability to flag inappropriate content for removal.
Content on TeacherTube appears to be aimed at the K12 segment of the education market. Although there is content aimed at higher levels of study this is not readily apparent when first visiting the site, and probably reflects the make up of the wider TeacherTube user community.
TeacherTube places itself as a safe alternative to YouTube, focused on educational content. TeacherTube is “safe” in that students are not so exposed to the trolls that can appear on YouTube or other video hosting sites. Uploaded videos “must address specific learning objectives and/ or provide professional development for educators”.
TeacherTube does not allow any nudity or profanity and videos must be appropriate for all audiences. The focus on videos for professional development for the teaching community is another positive for the site. Safe browsing for students, and the specifically educational content, is an important difference between YouTube and TeacherTube.
TeacherTube functionality is similar to YouTube, making it relatively easy to upload and manage content. You also have the (limited) ability to control access to your content through setting and sharing options. Media is searchable by user defined categories, assigned when uploading content.
For usability and awareness YouTube far outstrips the educationally focused TeacherTube, with a community of users in the hundreds of millions (as opposed to TeacherTube’s estimated 750,00+ users).
Trolls and advertising are the most obvious reasons not to use a public YouTube channel as a sole means of delivering instructional video to students. So what alternatives are there? The easy answer: many and varied!
The first consideration you’ll need to make is whether you have the capability and capacity to host internally (on your own servers, like Moodle/ BlackBoard/ ) or a requirement to host externally (on YouTube, iTunesU or a service like TeacherTube).
A very good reason for hosting your media files on internal servers is that an academic organisation can retain ownership of their media, protecting it behind authenticated login and distribute it to known individuals. A drawback of this approach is the need to invest in server space and the infrastructure that supports delivering media online (including skilled IT staff).
For academic institutions wanting to protect their intellectual property, maintain quality and adhere to brand standards internally hosting media content should be the first choice. The flexibility and responsiveness of organisational infrastructure is only ever dependent on that organisation’s capability and not susceptible to what could be the limited life of an external provider.
If internally hosting/ serving media is not possible there are a number of dedicated video hosting options available. Wikipedia has a comparison of some of these options, which scratches the surfaces focusing on educational services, or those geared to that market specifically.
Two heavy hitters in educational video hosting/ serving are YouTube EDU (YouTube’s educational variant) and iTunesU. Both allow you to upload content for free, and may require a subscription to embedd or use content either at an organisational or user level.
In many situations, YouTube EDU is a simple and straightforward way to host content you have created.
YouTube EDU content is served in both Flash and H.264 formats, allowing a level of ubiquitous access across devices and platforms, with users having the option of which format they wish to view.
Posting copyrighted content outside your ownership, even under fair academic use, will often result in a takedown by YouTube EDU.
iTunesU provides a no-cost hosting service for educational media. Students access media using the iTunes U app http://www.apple.com/apps/itunes-u/index.html. While iTunes U is free, it requires the institution to register before use. In some cases, the terms of service have been problematic with institution’s legal councils.
Users are able to specify the level of copyright of their materials. Apple allows restricting videos to users in a class, users on campus, or free and open access. Externally copyrighted materials can be included in videos and restricted to students enrolled in a class.
All video content must be encoded MPEG 4 or H.264 for upload so iOS devices are able to access it. Apple only allow access from within iTunes, so non iOS devices are not able to access the content without syncing from a desktop/ laptop. iTunes must be installed for access from a desktop/ laptop.
With both these options you have the a user experience that many students will be familiar with by exposure to YouTube and/ or iTunes. Navigation and search functionality are intuitive and user friendly.
Regardless of what service provider you opt for there are other considerations you’ll need to make prior to jumping in boots and all. Ask yourself things like:
What kind of learner experience do I want to create? Formal setting with minimal interactions, or informal and organic?
How will me students access this material? Mobile device, desktop/ laptop, or lecture theatre?
Will it be shared freely, or does it need to be accessed only by a specific cohort of students? Publicly available, free to download and use or authenticated login, view and comment only?
Are there learning media standards I need to adhere to when producing, uploading and using video content? Strict academic design/ brand standards or full, unimpeded creative control?
Questions (and their answers) like this, and the many others not covered here will help you decide on the best fit for your media content. Do you want to embed the video as part of an e-pub, or in a larger site? Do you want it to stand-alone as a resource, or is it part of a larger programme of learning (a series of videos)? If there is enough interest I will look into these considerations and post at a later date. Feel free to comment below.
On a personal note my main concern when using video (or any media for that matter) is how easy it is for students to find and use that content as seamlessly and directly as possible. I work on the principle of the “general masses” first and then focus on special requirements second. Back to the “Field of Dreams” analogy, if I have media content available, those students who wants to will engage with it. They will search it out, use it and share it with their networks.
As many legitimate businesses found when MegaUpload was taken down access to their files and content was cut-off entirely without warning, and will remain so possibly forever. More recently the GoDaddy service fell over leaving millions of their customers’ websites to suffer through several days of no access to their data and remedial work restoring that data once the service did eventually get back up and running. As an academic institution these types of access issues are an obvious concern, and contingency plans need to be made to ensure your students can use your media when they need.
What if it all falls over?
Aside from relying on a service provider’s disaster recovery planning and infrastructure (or lack there-of) the only real option available is to retain copies of your media content on servers, either local or external, and link to these from somewhere in your learning material. The big players in the market invest heavily to ensure user content is readily available and protected against single instance take-downs or natural local disaster by spreading their servers geographically and content across numerous arrays (group of servers). If the type of contingency plan does not meet your individual organizational requirements you will need to speak with your infrastructure team and work to a solution that does.