Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Learn English with YouTube?

Now I know that many large ABE/ESL programs are part of school districts that block YouTube and other streaming video sites, but what if--bear with me a second here--what if YouTube could actually be educationally useful? I know, I know, schools have all sorts of issues with YouTube--mainly that it eats up bandwidth and contains inappropriate content--but are those issues holding teachers and students back from accessing a potentially powerful learning tool?

The reason I bring this subject up is that I was recently introduced to a website called ESLVideo.com which uses YouTube videos to teach English as a Second Language. Teachers who use the site can choose videos and embed them in interactive quizzes that test students on their comprehension of the video.

Here's an example from the ESLVideos website:

So... YouTube videos for English learners... pretty powerful stuff, no?

But many ABE/ESL teachers won't be able to use this in their classrooms or computer labs, because of school district policies that block streaming video.

As more and more audio, video and photographic media are distributed via the Web, is it possible that ABE/ESL programs are contributing to, rather than working to erode, the digital divide between middle-class mainstream society and more marginalized ABE/ESL students? When we block Facebook, YouTube, chatrooms, etc. (and yes, I know they are blocked for good reasons) in our schools, are we in effect saying "these new technologies are not for you"... since many students only have Web access at school?

It's not a question I have an answer for, but it's one that I think deserves discussion. "Open access" vs. "educational use only" issues have haunted the field of educational technology as long as there has been an educational technology field! But the stakes get higher and higher as our society becomes ever more reliant on technology for meeting everyday needs. Give it some thought and post your answer in a comment!


daniel said...

I really like the concept and to answer your question I think it is inevitable that language schools will make use of these resources. However, you can't beat old fashioned teaching and they could never be used to replace a teacher. And in a similar vein, I see some clever companies going out there, pulling all the various Web 2.0 EFL content there is out there, and package it in a teacher friendly format. On the other hand, the majority of students I have spoken with have not studied at a language school that blocks internet access!

UK Student News and Events

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this great post!

I will never forget the day in 6th grade computer lab that I was typing a report, tried to include the perfectly legitimate phrase "finish it," and had the whole phrase turn to "XXXXXXXXX" because of the last four letters. I got nothing else accomplished that period; I was too busy trying to think of other perfectly legitimate words and phrases that I was not allowed to type because of their meaningless components. It was a fun time for me, but I was probably less protected than the administrators who funded the extra protection had hoped.

Though I do think it’s reasonable to want to protect students, and though I understand that bandwidth is not free, I think it’s easy to make silly, anti-educational choices out of fear. It’s absurd to block all streaming video regardless of content, or have firewalls so intense that web-based academic reporting databases can’t run properly, or block Facebook from academic libraries. I think it does say, “this is not for you.” It also says other negative or misleading things, such as, “we do not support what you want or need to do,” “there is no way for this tool to be put to constructive use,” and “we’re too cheap to do things correctly.” I might add that, to me at least, it whispers of Big Brother.


Susan WB said...

I couldn't agree with you more! Especially since the teachers and students I work with are in Adult education--they're not kids! They don't need the same level of "protection"... but because their schools are part of the k12 system, they're on the same network... which has a firewall meant to protect young children.

Also, your point that choices are being made out of fear is dead-on. Choices made out of fear are always poor choices. Boundaries are set up based on a fear of what might happen if people have open access. And it leads to absurb counter-productive restrictions that undermine the goals of the program!

Anonymous said...

Web casting, or broadcasting over the internet, is a media file (audio-video mostly) distributed over the internet using streaming media technology. Streaming implies media played as a continuous stream and received real time by the browser (end user). Streaming technology enables a single content source to be distributed to many simultaneous viewers. Streaming video bandwidth is typically calculated in gigabytes of data transferred. It is important to estimate how many viewers you can reach, for example in a live webcast, given your bandwidth constraints or conversely, if you are expecting a certain audience size, what bandwidth resources you need to deploy.

To estimate how many viewers you can reach during a webcast, consider some parlance:
One viewer: 1 click of a video player button at one location logged on
One viewer hour: 1 viewer connected for 1 hour
100 viewer hours: 100 viewers connected for 1 hour…

Typically webcasts will be offered at different bit rates or quality levels corresponding to different user’s internet connection speeds. Bit rate implies the rate at which bits (basic data units) are transferred. It denotes how much data is transmitted in a given amount of time. (bps / Kbps / Mbps…). Quality improves as more bits are used for each second of the playback. Video of 3000 Kbps will look better than one of say 1000Kbps. This is just like quality of a image is represented in resolution, for video (or audio) it is measured by the bit rate.