Do YouTube and Facebook distract students? Of course they do! On the other hand, can YouTube and Facebook help students with their school work? Until recently I wasn’t sure, but after my partner’s experience with a professor who wasn’t a good teacher, and seeing how YouTube and Facebook saved her and her classmates from poor grades, I’m convinced that these “digital distractions” can be, if used intelligently, excellent Learning Tools.
Being the father of two teenagers, the husband of a partner that has recently gone back to college, and Systems Administrator at a University Law Library, I have a front row seat on how technology is used and abused in the service of homework, research and education in general. When my partner found herself in a college class with a teaching challenged professor, I was amazed at how she, along with her classmates, used technology to compensate for the poor classroom instruction. Her learning process for each class was as follows:
- She would read the chapter(s) in preparation for class, and usually understand some, but not all of the concepts that she read.
- She and her classmates would go to class and listen to the professor read his power point slides, leaving the chapter’s concepts no clearer than the text book reading.
- Later that evening, my partner would check the facebook group for her class to see if anyone had figured out the main points of the lecture yet. If no one had yet, she would start doing YouTube searches for the key topics in her readings, and would usually find one or more videos that visually explained the topics much more clearly than either the text book or her professor could. For example, check out this explanation of Mitosis on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlN7K1-9QB0
- After finding a clear explanation, she would post a link to the video on her classes Facebook group. At the same time she would typically find links to other topics from the reading and lecture that classmates had posted.
- She would watch all the videos and make notes from them for later review before exams.
This is how the whole semester went. In the end, in spite of her ineffective teacher, she received an A- grade in the course. Then again, maybe it is because of her teacher’s poor instruction that she and her classmates were forced to spend extra time to find quality materials on-line to explain and learn the concepts they needed to master. To sum up, there seem to be two important tools and trends that were very helpful to my partner and her class:
- The availability of high quality learning resources on YouTube and other websites for college and high school students.
- Facebook’s collaboration capabilities make it very easy for groups to share information (links to YouTube), and then discuss the quality and merits of each of the videos among themselves. All the students are Facebook users, so it is a natural virtual space for them to collaborate in while they work on homework from home or library.