On YouTube, Engagement, and Learning

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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Students still report that too many learning experiences are passive, linear, formal, and impersonal. All of us have been on that side, as a student that is—being talked at, ignored completely, and bored to death. As we discussed in the last post, some educators are either adamantly against or almost afraid of making their teaching and learning fun. You might even argue that the Serious Games Initiative is such an example. Just the fact that we have to call it “serious” says it all. These games are supposed to be serious in education, not fun. However, new technology and a new sense of willingness in teachers and learners might offer a new way—a way to both seriously improve learning and have fun. I’ve been working with two colleagues—Dr. Coral Noonan-Terry and Kathleen Plinske—on a remarkably enjoyable study called A New Generation of Learning , where we have been exploring the infrastructure institutions will need to create engaging education on the road ahead. Our overarching premise is that all too often we separate physical infrastructure from virtual infrastructure (remember this commentary), and that if we truly want to combine them we need to consider things like blended learning, social networking, gaming, high-impact presentation technologies, mobility, analytics, and mindful high-touch connection strategies. Coming out of these discussions was a great example from Kathleen. She is a doctoral student at Pepperdine University, which has leveraged these types of tools in her learning experiences. They have a virtual classroom in which they meet in Second Life, they do extensive virtual work for remote students around the country, and they even let her demonstrate her learning using YouTube. Check out this video she prepared as a virtual video portfolio of her study of learning theory. Not only is it an interesting use of technology to engage and document learning, it is a pretty impressive overview of learning theory in practice. I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek jargon meter that runs throughout. A hand-held digital movie camera, Final Cut Pro software for the video, Garage Band software for the narration, and an internet connection were the only tools she used to produce this video. Just think about how much richer and enjoyable the learning experience documented here is versus writing a typical paper or answering a multiple-choice test. She told me that she ended up spending “way too much time on this” because it was engaging and interesting. Kathleen estimates it took almost five times longer than a traditional research paper would have, but she loved the assignment. Many of the tools necessary to produce something like this are free and our students use them all the time (literally millions of students post on MySpace and YouTube every semester). In another favorite example from the student recruiting and engagement side of the house, Kettering University leveraged a comic flash movie—rather than a professionally produced video—to drive their recruiting of new students (you have to check out their Stick Man video). The viral marketing chain was so powerful that they now have a cult following of the Kettering Stick Man. If you’re an educator willing to put your toe in the water, you’ll soon find out that these teaching and learning strategies are fun for all involved. But you have to be willing to really engage your students and learn some new things yourself. Don’t worry; many students are more than happy to tutor you. You also have to be willing to let go of your ego. Getting over your sense of self importance is a must to make these kinds of strategies work. Do these things, however, and you’re likely to help your students connect as never before with the positive affective domain in education—which is our jargoned way of saying you’ll help them fall in love with learning. Part of the reason this is so is because they’ll see that you are willing to learn with them, and enjoy it. As a final conversation catalyzer, I submit that these technologies and techniques absolutely need not dominate the learning experience, but they at least warrant a try in our continuing attempts to improve and expand learning opportunities for our students. Will you YouTube?
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