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Research shift: YouTube as starting point

I started noticing it a few months back.  The headphones I keep in the office cabinet moved off the shelf each block at an ever-increasing pace.

Nope, it wasn’t that the kids were listening to music.  It wasn’t that they were viewing/listening to off-task video.  They were absolutely on task.

It’s always been clear to me that learners need context about any subject before they can get serious about asking good questions, about investigation, about research, about creating new knowledge,

It used to be that my students started in encyclopedias.  A couple of years ago they shifted to Wikipedia as starting point (or reference tool) of choice.

This year YouTube became the new research starting point.  It has also become my students’ go to independent learning portal.

I noticed my students learning lots of things using YouTube.  A large group is planning to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the prom. One specific clip of step-by-step instructions plays over and over on our workstations.  I’ve noticed our guitarists studying clips to improve their technique.

Why not YouTube, or GoogleVideo?  My students love video.  It teaches to more senses at a time.  Most YouTube clips are short, providing nicely chunked bits of knowledge.

Most of my students recognize that all knowledge is not equal. So, providing they make appropriate choices, and they triangulate what they discover, YouTube makes perfect sense.

They figure out what it is and if they are interested.  And then we move on. 

Lots more tools in the old information toolkit!  But YouTube has definitely become a favorite hammer.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. The New York Times noticed this phenomenon a few months back, too. If you Google “At First, Funny Videos. Now, a Reference Tool” you’ll find it. (Sorry, couldn’t put a URL into this comments box.)

  2. Sadly, YouTube remains blocked in so many schools…

  3. Buffy Hamilton says:

    CBS News Video and CNN News Video are good alternatives. I have been embedding these in my pathfinders with increasing regularity this semester—I still use YouTube, but since they are blocked at school, I rely more heavily on CBS and CNN.

  4. joycevalenza says:

    Good point, Buffy. They usually begin in YouTube, but I often lead them to other video portals, depending on the task or topic. We’re collecting a list of them here:
    Love embedding video in pathfinders!

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