Should YouTube be unblocked at school?

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YouTube is a mixed bag. It can be a powerful educational resource ripe with tutorials and videos that will educate you in any area that interests you. It can also be a land filled with time wasting videos, content that some may find distasteful and music videos that you watch for hours. YouTube’s diversity is the reason why it has appeal with…well…nearly everyone!

But this diversity underlines the debate about YouTube’s role in schools. What role can YouTube play in schools? Can it be a powerful educational resource, or not? Who should watch YouTube at school, and why?

What I intend to outline is a number of ways in which YouTube can be used to enhance teaching and learning. I will then discuss the dangers of using YouTube with the perspective that these concerns do not necessarily  mean that you should ban it in school for staff and students.

How can YouTube enhance teaching and learning?

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Now, what I’m going to provide is not an exhaustive list, but these are three examples of good ways that you can use YouTube in schools:

1. Independence

The largest benefit of YouTube is that it allows students to become autonomous learners. YouTube is ripe with tutorials, documentaries, and project outcomes produced by other students. This creates a huge bank of learning opportunities that are quickly accessible and easy to rewind to assess your own understanding.

In the classroom, and in a 1:1 device environment, you can quite confidently give a student an instructional video and ask them to prove their learning from it. For example, in design and technology if students can follow a YouTube video’s instructions to produce a finished project this may suit some students more than written instructions.

For homework, my Year 11 GCSE Classical Civilisations group had to use a BBC Documentary, on Boudica’s revolt, to produce work showing an understanding of the revolt’s chronology and the sources used to study the revolt. All students met the outcomes because YouTube was accessible and easy to access independently. This set them up very well for their controlled assessment, as they knew the content before I taught them about the topic.

2. Differentiation by support

Secondly, YouTube allows excellent differentiation by support for students. If I notice a problem with a student’s use of commas or punctuation, as I walk around the classroom, I could sit down and explain the conventions of English to the student. However, I then lose the ability to circulate and help others. Having a few iPads with YouTube, and some headphones, allows you to quickly find a high quality video that suits the needs of the student. There are lots of literacy guides on YouTube suitable for any age group.

A playlist of videos can also come in handy. The back wall of my classroom has QR codes on that link to YouTube videos to support specific literacy problems. Moreover, you could create a support playlist for any topic that you are studying. Your differentiation can therefore be low effort, easy to check, and implemented immediately based on the needs of students as they arise.

3. Stretch high ability students

You can also use YouTube to stretch the most able. There are a lot of high quality documentaries on YouTube and these can be provided to stretch your most able students. A lot of documentaries on YouTube are designed for an intellectual audience or offer an alternative interpretation of something that you may have studied in class.

For example, I gave my high ability Year 8 students an iPad with extracts of ‘The Necessary War’ by Max Hastings. I then tasked them to compare his arguments with sources that we had studied. This excellent documentary provided these young students with an early insight into historical interpretation. It allowed them to make more progress while their peers were focusing on more basic source analysis. The accessibility of audio and video allows you to present it to targeted students as they need it.

So..why ban it?

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Ok, so while I’ll happily sit back and praise the effective use of YouTube in education the debate is clearly not as simple as this. There are reasons why YouTube is banned in a lot of schools.

1. It’s all about the bandwidth

A lot of schools ban YouTube on the grounds that it will be a bandwidth hog, and yes, it can be. Imagine your school’s library surrounded with students watching YouTube videos on laptops or iPads. It would be a disaster for bandwidth if this was left unchecked.

However, there are solutions. At Streetly Academy, most students were using YouTube to access music videos while they were working, so the school got students to use Spotify as an alternative. Instantly, there was a huge reduction in bandwidth! YouTube could stay unblocked!

2. Students might access inappropriate content

This is a serious concern. However, this risk already presents itself in the unsupervised environment of a child’s bedroom, their friend’s bedroom, or on any mobile device.

There is a risk that a child may access something inappropriate but if access to devices is supervised, and if students are aware of the expectations of using YouTube this should not be an issue. However, before allowing access to YouTube you should consider whether your e-safety policy, and e-safety awareness is strong enough among both staff and students to warrant unblocking YouTube.

If you want students to have access to YouTube but with only approved content you could register for YouTube for Schools which only allows access to content that is approved for schools.

3. I don’t want students accessing inappropriate comments or contacting strangers

This is a very good point. Comments on YouTube can be confrontational and students can be put into contact with strangers. You could consider allowing students to only access pre-selected and unblocked videos on ViewPure so that you can prevent students from accessing the comments on YouTube videos.

ViewPure takes YouTube videos and embeds them, but it doesn’t drag along all of the comments that can cause problems.

Overall…

Beaver Lake Dam - Open Floodgates

YouTube is a powerful educational resource, and unblocking it for students brings a great number of advantages in terms of teaching and learning. There are risks and problems involved in unblocking it, but if you put the time in to consider these problems there are low effort solutions.

The educational power of YouTube is something that teachers and students do want to use in school. If the site is blocked without compromise it is an issue that will never go away.

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