The perennial debate on filtering and blocking of web sites, in education, has been lively on several fronts recently, including Twitter, ETR (Ed Tech Round -a group of teachers and others who meet online weekly), and the Naace advisory list of UK ICT education professionals, reaching over 50 posts in a few days. The idea of creating a Google Maps mashup to demonstrate blocking on a national and local level was one of the ideas proposed. Whilst I don't think a name and shame list will do much to change the situation, the data might be useful as a broad indicator, especially if there is some creative detail, that others can add to. What is clear is the increasing degree of irritation with the status quo by a growing number of teachers, whilst advocates of blocking show little sign of changing their thinking, no matter what evidence is brought forward.
It will come as no surprise that much of the debate was centered around YouTube, so in this post I will consider some of the the wider issues relating to YouTube, though much of it could apply equally to other online services. I visited a, (primary), school a couple of weeks ago which allowed access to YouTube, parents are aware and supportive and the world has not come to an end. Quoting; Lisa Stevens, the languages teacher who speaks regularly in the UK and Europe on creative use ICT, including Web 2.0, in school:
"We make them, (children), aware rather than blocking. I use YouTube a lot in lessons. I like the fact that it not blocked and I can be spontaneous, but I always check before I show it to the kids. I think it's a great resource. There's lots of cultural information, especially songs, I can find for Spain. If you ask my children to name the planets they will burst into a Spanish song. There are times when they will go on to YouTube and find things, then, I have to say to them could we not go ever there, now is not the time and explain to them why. I know there is TeacherTube but to be honest there isn't as much good stuff there
We made an animation about the Carnival of the Animals and shared it on you.' and they were so excited "Miss Miss we are on YouTube," Look at the hits that can't just be my Mum." I say "no its not - and they are on iTunes as well". The kudos of being in a place place where others than their peers can see them. And, parents like to see what their children have been doing.
Access and Control with the number of mobile devices and Internet connected laptops growing, and students playing the bypassing filters game, it is probably only a matter of time before blocking may no longer be a realistic option. Indeed, a great deal of blocking seems to be a knee jerk reaction to behavioral issues rather than seriously concerned with pupils e-safety. YouTube itself does have a notification process, perhaps not ideal in everyone's eyes, but it is available. Probably of much greater concern might be the 'comments' left by those who use comments features to abuse others, (and their right to free speech). Teachers may find Comment Snob a very useful addition when using YouTube with a class.
The inappropriate Content case is a Straw Man, it is unlikely anyone will disagree there is much low level rubbish, both from user generated, and professional sources, and some may say YouTube has a dark side, but that is easily counterbalanced by the growing number of good educational channels, including recently digitised treasures from the BFI. It is the breadth and freshness of content, that generates YouTube's value for teachers, often addressing current issues such as this video analysis of a topical 'copyright' issue, (Satriani v Coldplay). In fact YouTube reflects our culture at all levels, and future social anthropologists will be far more likely to study YouTube than the professional produced, authoritative media preferred by Andrew Keen.
From the discussions it is clear, many teachers 'download' the video streams from YouTube to use in different ways and contexts. Even though everyone's doing it, (many possibly unaware), that it breaks YouTube's, (restrictive), terms and conditions. It is not my role here, or in my nature to suggest teachers stop downloading, but, is important to know, in order to make informed decisions on using use YouTube materials. Considering the hundreds of tools available to download video, it would be naive to assume YouTube (Google) will be unaware of this, but since 2006 there seems to be no official response from YouTube, and from their point of view it may now be case of, 'let sleeping dogs lie'.
This leads naturally on to Licensing, along with many others, I maintain YouTube could do much more here, for example allowing users to add Creative Commons licences to the videos they upload, as is the case with Flickr and Blip.tv. I suspect that is because a large number of videos may have copyrighted materials embedded in them. Lawrence Lessig extrapolates on the issues, in depth, here.
Finally the Technology. YouTube continues to improve its services, recent developments included: captions and video annotations, deep linking, wide screen format, a bigger player and HD quality video. Add to this low cost easy to use mini video cameras, (now including HD) and visual quality is set to improve dramatically. There are a now number of third party services allowing you to deep link or edit online with more likely to appear. There are also tools that will transform the use of video in learning now emerging from the research labs.
All this suggests that, (online), video including YouTube is here for the long run, and as technical standards, cost and ease of use will continue to improve there is a great untapped potential for learning. It is up to (educational) users of YouTube to make sure their voice is heard as YouTube evolves, rather than it be left to the media industry, repressive regimes or governments that should know better.