YouTube was founded in 2005, which already seems surprisingly recent, so much has it become a part of the cultural landscape. Former PayPal employees Jawed Karim, Steve Chen, and Chad Hurley realized there was no single place for video sharing and set up YouTube with venture capital funding. In just over a year it was acquired by Google, primarily to aid its search data.
As Internet access began to improve, and compression techniques along with it, the viability of streaming video reached a realistic point for many by 2005. YouTube and other video sharing services flourished, and the realization that you could make your own video and share it easily with others was the next step in the democratization of broadcast that had begun with the web. It transpired that people really wanted to share video. While we take it for granted now, these YouTube statistics (Omnicore, 2018) dwarf most conventional broadcasters:
- Total number of monthly active YouTube users: 1.9 billion
- Total number of daily active YouTube users: 30+ million
- Number of videos shared to date: 5+ billion
- Number of users creating content shared to date: 50 million
- Average viewing session: 40 minutes, up 50% year-over-year
- Number of videos watched per day: 5 billion
- 62% of YouTube users are male.
- 80% of YouTube users come from outside the U.S.
- Millennials prefer YouTube two to one over traditional television.
Perhaps the most interesting statistic in that list is the 50 million users creating content. Many of these are existing companies, such as the BBC, but that also represents a large number of content creators who were suddenly given a platform. While many of the videos created are low quality and of interest to only a handful of people, the format also released a wave of creativity and saw the rise of YouTube celebrities and millionaires. Perhaps more than any other site, YouTube came to define the idea of the “participatory culture.” Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, and Robison (2009) defined participatory culture as one where:
- there are relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement;
- there is strong support for creating and sharing what you create with others;
- there is some kind of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced gets passed along to newbies and novices;
- members feel that their contributions matter;
- members feel some degree of social connection with each other at least to the degree to which they care what other people think about what they have created. (p. 3)
This is relevant to education because the authors contend that the types of informal learning spaces people participate in on sites such as YouTube contrast with formal education in several ways. They posit the following differences in culture:
Respond to short-term needs
National, bureaucratic communities
Ad hoc and localized communities
Difficult to move in and out of
Easy to move between
This list reflects some of the optimism around new cultures prevalent at the time and is akin to much of the now-discredited digital natives’ narrative in its sweeping generalizations. It also rather over-romanticizes the participatory culture and glosses over some of the issues that have become apparent, which we will explore in chapter 25. Nevertheless, it does highlight different types of cultural values, much like those mentioned in chapter 10 on blogging. If blogging raised those cultural tensions for educators, then video raised them for learners. Even if we accept the generalizations in this list, it raises several questions: To what extent does this matter? Should universities attempt to be more like the participatory culture, or should they be an antidote to it? The answer for Jenkins et al. (2009) is that the development of digital literacies acts as a bridge between these two cultures. Embedding digital literacies such as the evaluation of information sources, communication, and production of digital artifacts are a core component in much of education now; for example, the Welsh Digital Competence Framework (Learning Wales, 2018) raises this to a cross-curricula level, alongside numeracy and literacy.
The use of video within higher education has seen a substantial increase since 2005, particularly with the ease of embedding videos from sites such as YouTube. Before this, video was usually bespoke, commissioned, or purchased and was often prohibitively expensive. What accompanied and reinforced the online video sharing revolution was a drastic reduction in the cost of production. It had become possible to produce a good quality video using mobile phones, and indeed some cinematic releases such as Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane were filmed entirely on iPhones. Prior to the advent of smartphones, small and inexpensive digital video cameras such as the Flip camera (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip_Video) and webcams meant video production became democratized and, as such, its position in education content was altered. This ease of production, combined with the availability of abundant, easily discoverable, and reusable video content on YouTube meant that producing a multimedia course was within reach of any educator. As we saw with learning objects, it was the success of the simple video explanations of key concepts that could be shared and embedded such as those from the Khan Academy, which realized some of the original vision of reusable content.
One development that has seen an increased interest in the use of video is the “flipped learning concept.” This emerged from K–12 education, particularly in the U.S. where the Flipped Learning Network has promoted it as a model for teaching. The idea is to use the face-to-face classroom setting for more interactive, group-based work and discussion, while individual time at home is spent on learning concepts. This individual element is often realized through the provision of video. It has attracted criticism because it shifts the workload of learning to the home, so it requires a home environment where students are equipped with connected computers, and they must focus on watching videos and taking notes rather than reading books or writing essays. This privileges children who have stable home lives. In higher education, this may not be as strong a factor, since independent study always forms part of the study experience. However, there is debate as to whether this is an effective use of time. Rees (2014) went as far as to call it “depraved,” stating, “You may [be] thinking that you’re teaching more efficiently, but what you’re really doing is putting the onus of learning entirely on the student” (para. 7). In a review of the use of flipped learning in higher education, O’Flaherty and Phillips (2015) found mixed results, including a number of positive student learning outcomes, a strong willingness for academics to engage in the flipped classroom, particularly for large first-year foundational STEM courses, and positive responses from students. However, they also reported that it required considerable time investment from educators, that in some subjects it was not popular with students, and that there were very few studies containing robust evidence demonstrating that flipped learning was more effective than conventional teaching methods. Similarly, Lundin, Rensfeldt, Hillman, Lantz-Andersson, and Peterson (2018) reviewed the literature and concluded that “it is difficult to identify when, under what circumstances and in what ways the flipped classroom approach might be relevant as a pedagogical choice” (p. 17). Like many approaches that acquire a catchy name, this can be both a blessing and a curse. Rethinking effective use of classroom time in a digital networked world, and the effective use of abundant resources, especially video, would seem to be a desirable pursuit in higher education. But following a prescriptive approach or failing to accommodate for the increased load on students and educators can be a result of pursuing an educational trend.
While the use of video in class, lecture, or course is common (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011), its use as an assessment format is still relatively limited. In some disciplines such as the arts it is more common, but, in 2019, it is still the case that text is the dominant communication form in education. New innovations in this area include courses like Digital Storytelling or ds106 (http://ds106.us) that are encouraging students to develop skills in creating GIFs and video in a range of inventive assignments. But many students will go through their education without being required to produce a video as a form of assessment, and we have not fully developed critical strictures for this medium that are as commonly accepted as they are for text. The use of student-generated video can lead to more engagement, increased personal involvement and satisfaction (Greene & Crespi, 2012). There is concern about students possessing the right skills, but with ease of production, this is less of an issue. Perhaps the issue is more that educators know what a good essay looks like, and how to assess it, but are less sure as to what constitutes a good video. Using student vloggers (video bloggers) to construct an image of campus life has been utilized by De Montfort University (DMU, 2018) and Queensland University of Technology (Delaney, Menzies, & Nelson, 2012) with successful results, but such projects are not linked directly to assessment.
For academics, the ability to be a broadcaster has significant appeal. This has inevitably led to a wealth of overlong talking-head video productions, which are rarely exciting, but nevertheless the cliché of “we are all broadcasters now” became true. It would take some time for the implications of this shift to become apparent, in terms of misinformation, trolls, and privacy, but the initial realization of this new-found ability was appealing. Researchers could now produce short, attractive video content to accompany a paper and thereby reach different audiences. It is also the case that the conference experience has been transformed by the ability to live stream easily to amplify an event so that it is possible to remotely participate, particularly in conjunction with Twitter discussions. While the creation of video is still done poorly more often than it is done well, and the comments section on YouTube is not a place to go for informed debate, it is the case that video has become a valuable additional tool for educators, learners, and researchers since its democratization in 2005.