It was my husband who first pointed it out, several years ago:
"Have you noticed that everytime our friends come over, at some point in the evening, we all end up crowded around the computer, watching a YouTube? What did we do before YouTube??"
He was right. Sure we have some deep friends, and we had some deep face to face convos as well, but it never failed: at some comic-relief-needing point in the night, someone suggested that we all check out this HILARIOUS You-tube video.
And, being the dutiful English teacher I was, I immediately had the brilliant idea to use a Youtube or two as a hook into a lesson. And, working at the conversative schools I worked, I was immediately shot down and told we didn't use inappropriate YouTube videos; the site was blocked.
Flash forward a few years, and I'm teaching some teacher candidate college kids, and we have this "materials and strategies" project, where they come up with several diverse texts around a theme of their choosing to use with a class. 92% chose a Youtube for one of the texts. Some were songs, some were "how to" videos, some were mini-documentaries about famous people. But NEARLY EVERYONE immediately turned to Youtube a text of great worth for their discipline (art, science, math, English, history, etc). Oh- and a suggestions from a midterm eval in that class: "Since it's a three hour class, I recommend you show a few more Youtubes to break up the time."
What to make of all of this? (Beyond the fact that I'm freaked out that these students will make a ton of lesson plans revolving around Youtube only to find that their school doesn't allow it . . . ) I kind of like what Alexandra Juhasz makes of all of this, during her great experiment of a class ON Youtube ABOUT YouTube. In the course intro video she is clearly skeptical. As Jenkins puts it, "does a participatory platform insure diverse, meaningful, or innovative content?" She asks questions about ownership, the value of popular culture, control, access, losing the value of expertise, and community. And, in the spirit of academic inquiry, she asks these questions on the very platform in question. The class defines four structural limitations to YouTube, including communication, community, research, and idea building, and THIS is the crux of critical education.
What if we thought about ALL meaning-making in this way? What if we looked at both the affordances, but also highlighted the limitations of each medium? And, even more exciting . . what if we empowered our students to do so?
And (gasp) what if we realized that stupid, humorous, short video snippets can also do a lot for our ability to make connections, provide a contect for learning, provide a common experience to discuss, provide an advance organizer for later discussion, and link to an emerging participatory culture (Bonk, 2008).
So is YouTube broccoli or twinkies in the land of nutrition for our brain? My guess . . . it all depends on your reflective/critical capabilities . . .