Al Hasvitz has four decades of teaching experience — and he has fully embraced video aids in the classroom. He claims to have more than 80 video website bookmarked, including one site he highly recommends: WatchKnowLearn. The site is funded entirely by an anonymous private donor and was built by teachers for teachers. It is also free to use.
“For four years teachers have gone out and loaded the videos and designed the directories,” says CEO Joe Thomas. “WatchKnowLearn is teacher designed, teacher rated, and teacher managed.”
However, others bemoan the fact that it doesn’t have the speed or capacity of the major player in the online video industry — YouTube. The online video behemoth accounted for 84% of the 181 million unique online video views in January of this year. YouTube EDU features more than half a million videos on 750 channels from various education partners. It contains content for university students and those in K-12.
TED-Ed is a popular new channel launched last month which generated over one million views in the first week. It pairs teachers with animators to create an engaging educational experience. TED-Ed’s mission is to create and aggregate high quality K-12 content.
But YouTube isn’t the perfect solution either. Even its advocates will admit that it requires some skill to navigate the dross and find the signal in the noise. For some educators it isn’t even a viable choice as many school districts block the site entirely, or provide heavy restrictions on how it is used in the classroom.
“It takes away the spontaneity,” says Deven Black, a teacher-librarian in the Bronx, where the New York City Department of Education blocks YouTube completely. “If a topic comes up I can’t just search for it and use the video immediately. I have to download it at home in advance and transfer it to a different format. It just becomes more complex.”
For teachers like Black, alternatives like WatchKnowLearn are currently invaluable. YouTube isn’t ceding ground either though, in December it introduced a network setting that an administrator can select and will then only allow access to approved channels. They hope this will be acceptable to the schools that currently block or prohibit YouTube use in the classroom. If the initiative is successful it will mean a much wider choice for all teachers and potential benefit for students.
“These other sites are all poor substitutes for YouTube in the classroom,” says Jason Mammano, an instructional technology facilitator of a large district in North Carolina.