video learning

Viewers Like You: The History and Future of Video-Based Learning

The Roots of Video Education

In the early 1950’s, videos of a very different kind were being shown to students. “Social guidance films” represented some of the first uses of video in the classroom. These videos have become the stuff of campy legend –a 1949 film called “Dating Do’s and Don’ts”. It teaches teen boys what type of girl to ask out, how to do it, and what to do after the date. In a 1951 film produced for students by the federal government, Bert the Turtle teaches kids to “Duck and Cover” to stay safe in case of a Soviet nuclear attack.

Around this same time, educators began using video as a way to supplement traditional classroom instruction. In 1951, the Ford Foundation issued its very first grant, for what would eventually become National Educational Television (NET).

It was originally intended as limited funding for adult education. But the grant soon snowballed into what is now known as the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). With just a modicum of programming early, PBS developed in the sixties and seventies. Talented producers such as Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett emerged as the future creators of video-based television learning. In terms of educational programming, the pair was on their way to where the air was sweet.

The Rise of Modern Educational Programming

In 1968, Cooney and Morisett introduced the world’s youth to the educational phenomena that is “Sesame Street.” The original idea came while Morrisett’s three-year-old daughter Sarah sat in front of the TV memorizing commercial jingles. Her father had an epiphany -educators could borrow methods from advertisers and entertainers to make learning fun and engaging. He later told the story of “Sesame Street” to Michael Davis, author of “Street Gang.”

“If television could successfully teach the words and music to advertisements, couldn’t it teach children more substantive material by co-opting the very elements that made ads so effective?” – Michael Davis on the creation of “Sesame Street”

PBS has delivered over 4000 episodes of “Sesame Street” to over 120 countries, featuring Jim Henson’s lovable muppets. The show is still going strong. Soon after the introduction of “Sesame Street,” other networks introduced their own children’s programming, including ABC’s “Schoolhouse Rock!” For the first time, students had access to educational programming on television. Both in the classroom and at home.

From Television to the Internet

Recording technology also left its mark on education. By the 1980s, VHS tapes and VCRs gave educators the ability to customize programming for students, albeit with limited content, high-cost storage, no menus or fast skipping. In 1995 came the DVD, which provided the ability for educators to navigate video faster and offer far better quality video content.

Perhaps the most significant innovation in video-based education since the DVD was the digital subscriber line (DSL) internet modem. It began to roll out in 1997. These modems were not widely accessible until 2001 and were not considered affordable until 2004. Before this point, dial-up internet had provided basic online functions such as email and web navigation, but the video aspect remained severely lacking. During this time, a dial-up modem would take upwards of 28 hours to download a movie, and the word streaming was not yet a household word.

Increases in bandwidth and availability allowed Internet users to download over 10 times faster than dial-up by early 2004 – still not enough into stream video without extreme buffering, but a major change from VHS just 10 years earlier.

During this time, though, cable modems with ‘broadband’ speeds were slowly being rolled out. On February 5th, 2005, the domain name was activated by three PayPal dropouts: Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. The video-hosting site timed the broadband and video revolution perfectly. It grew to introduce 65,000 new video uploads daily in just over a year of operation.

Youtube offered a few critical features that would speed up and even accelerate the online video movement as a whole. Storage space and servers were the most critical, as large video files were (and in some respects, still are) expensive to host and serve. Embedding of videos allowed anyone to curate and share existing videos. Between 2006 and today, Youtube has grown from 100 million video views daily to one billion. Among these sites are some of the world’s most popular educational resources. With Youtube Edu, educators can now upload their videos and access students directly.

The Present: OpenCourseWare, MOOC’s, and the Khan Academy

Closely related to Youtube EDU is the movement towards OpenCourseWare (OCW), begun by MIT in 2002. With the launch of the program, MIT offered video lectures of 50 freely accessible university courses to online users. Other elite universities, including Yale, Stanford, and the University of California-Berkeley, have followed suit with similar programs.

Not so long ago, OCW has evolved into Massive Open Online Courses or MOOC’s. The most important MOOC’s are collaborations between several universities, and feature video lectures by top professors designed for the web. The MOOC revolution began in 2011 when 160,000 people signed up for an artificial intelligence course taught by Stanford professor and Google executive Peter Norvig. Norvig has gone on to teach alongside University of Virginia professors at Udacity, founded by fellow Google exec Sebastian Thrun. Other major MOOC’s include Coursera, founded by 2 Stanford computer science professors and counting 15 universities as partners. And edX, a non-profit initiative between MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley.

While OCW and MOOC’s offer students video lectures from the world’s best universities, the non-profit Khan Academy seeks to revolutionize K-12 education. Although earlier video lectures featured a professor standing at a dais, Khan’s videos display only a black screen with doodles and images, with Khan narrating off-camera. Khan’s short, focused, and casual videos have earned legions of fans, many way beyond primary school. Khan’s videos currently reach over 350,000 subscribers and has branched into a separate non-profit website with over 3,200 video-based lectures on everything from physics to finance.

“If Isaac Newton had done YouTube videos on Calculus, I wouldn’t have to.” – Sal Khan

One of those visitors is Robert Talbert, an associate professor of Mathematics and computer science at Franklin College. He used OCW course materials to supplement his own class curriculum in a “flipped” method. His relatively small classroom of 15 students acquired the majority of the course content outside of class through media resources. They also used the technology available inside the classroom to seek help from Talbert and to do various computer lab exercises. Although Talbert’s inverted approach to education is undeniably unique, it is not an entirely new concept.

The Future: Video-Based Learning and the Flipped Classroom

The Khan Academy has sparked conversations about the “flipped classroom” model of education. In a flipped system, students would watch video lectures at home, and work on exercises in class. The Khan Academy has recently embarked on a pilot project with two 5th and 7th grade math courses in the Los Altos Unified School District. Fifth-grade teacher Richard Julian, who leads one of the Khan classes, told Bloomberg Businessweek that the flipped model has taught students to learn from one another in class.

“It’s amazing – I think you just got a glimpse at the future of education.”– Bill Gates

Proponents of the flipped model aren’t limited to grade school. Robert Talbert, associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Franklin College, has used OpenCourseWare to flip his own classes, using classroom time for lab exercises. Professor Talbert writes a blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he often discusses strategies for the flipped method.

Often, the lagging students are tutored by the students who are ahead. “The kids know whom to call on,” says Julian. “It happened on its own. They just began to get out of their seats and work with each other.”

Video-based learning makes the flipped model classroom, and its future looks bright. As the model gains acceptance and technology continues to advance, we may see some combination of the Khan Academy and YouTube EDU. In this education of the future, students could watch videos, gain a mastery of a subject, and then produce their own videos for others. Indeed, Udacity boasts that star student Gundega Dekena gained enough knowledge to become an assistant instructor after completing four courses. In the coming years, video-based education will be an increasingly-interactive process. It will truly be made by viewers like you.

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