Lights, Camera, Learn: SchoolTube Strives to Be YouTube for K-12 Education

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screengrab / schooltube.com

Can sharing facts you learn in class be as fun as sharing the latest “Call Me Maybe” parody on YouTube?

That’s what SchoolTube says. The free website claims to be “the nation’s largest teacher-moderated K-12 video-sharing website” — think of it as YouTube for the education set.  Teachers and students can upload videos that they produce, from a lesson on quadratic equations to “Call That Safety,” a “Call Me Maybe” parody about science lab safety.

Since father and son Carl Arizpe, 53, and Andrew Arizpe, 27, established the St. Louis-based site in 2007, they report that its library has grown to about 400,000 videos and represents at least one user from 40,000 schools nationwide (up from 30,000 in Winter 2011/2012).

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“We expect that number to grow with the advent of students having mobile devices [at school],” said co-founder Carl Arizpe, who is referring to the “Bring Your Own Technology” movement in which some schools allow students to use cell phones and mobile devices in class.  Arizpe may have a point: 38 percent of teens share something they have created online, including videos, artwork, photos, and stories, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.  And 71 percent of adults visit video-sharing sites like Vimeo and YouTube.

YouTube boasts an entire section of educational videos called YouTube EDU — but some schools block the video-sharing tool because of the explicit content on other parts of the site.  So SchoolTube’s founders saw the need for a K-12 alternative.  “Anyone can put anything up on YouTube, so we came up with a moderation process that includes us verifying teachers, and then teachers approving content from their students,” said co-founder Andrew Arizpe.  Another site that is similar to SchoolTube is Khan Academy, which maintains a collection of 3,300 videos produced and narrated by founder Salman Khan (a TIME 100 influential person) and a small coterie of elite faculty.  SchoolTube, on the other hand, is entirely crowdsourced and features thousands of student-made videos.

The site has also worked with the Red Cross and the NFL to challenge students to produce online videos about various safety and exercise topics.  Within the next month, PBS Frontline will post content from its presidential election show “The Choice: 2012″  to help teachers design lessons about the upcoming election.  And SchoolTube will be launching a new Abraham Lincoln channel to coincide with the release of the new Steven Spielberg movie Lincolndue out November 9.”

From “A Rap About France” / Courtesy of Steven R. Pritchard and Brandon O’Connor / South Buffalo Charter School

One history video that is going viral by SchoolTube standards (3,200+ views) is “A Rap About France,” made by students at South Buffalo Charter School (Buffalo, N.Y.).  For the past couple of years, the school has produced a weekly “This Week in History” video segment.  In June, the school started a SchoolTube account, uploading videos it created as part of an after-school Global History Seminar Club.  Examples include a “Don’t Hate, Emancipate” rap and “Joseph McCarthy,” a satirical piece about the Red Scare leader.

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The school’s Enrichment teacher Steven R. Pritchard, 27, and Social Studies teacher Brandon O’Connor, 29, hope that the video-making process will help the material stick with students.  “When you hear the kids sing the chorus of these rap videos, they’re singing history!” Pritchard said.  “When taking a state test or an assessment, they will go through those lyrics.”

At Joseph B. Cavallaro I.S. 281 (Brooklyn, N.Y.), four major academic subjects include an online video component. These kinds of assignments are so popular that the school hosted its first-ever film festival on June 14, 2012.  Students and parents voted online for their favorite I.S. 281 SchoolTube videos in categories such as math, science, “My Immigration Experience,” and “Most Thought Provoking Anti-Bullying Video.”

SchoolTube’s founders also consider themselves leading advocates of the “flipped classroom” model, in which students watch online video tutorials at home and then do homework and pose questions to teachers in class.  Recently, there has been some buzz about this method since the July 2012 release of Flip Your Classroom by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two science teachers who successfully flipped their classrooms at Woodland Park High School (Woodland Park, Colo.).  “Teachers can’t spend 90 percent of time with the student one on one,” SchoolTube founder Carl Arizpe said.

Don Goble, 39, a Broadcast Technology and Film instructor at Ladue Horton Watkins High School (St. Louis, Mo.), flipped his Broadcast Technology classes two years ago.  He has been putting tutorials about video-editing and journalism essentials on SchoolTube and requiring students to watch them at home.  In class the following day, students try out those lessons.  Goble told Techland that flipping his Broadcast Technology classes has saved him a lot of time; he used to spend 60-90 minutes doing a demo, and now he usually only has to spend 15 minutes helping out the few students who did not understand the concept.

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His students seem to prefer the method as well.  “Kids pay attention more to videos than to lectures,” said Samantha Shanker, 17, one of Goble’s students and Executive Student Director of the school’s television show Ladue View.

But Lisa Nielsen, an author of Teaching Generation Text, warns that a flipped classroom may work for some students, but not everyone. “The flipped classroom revolves around the idea that people learn best through lecture or by watching something, and some learn best by doing,” she said. “Everyone’s acting like it’s this great new thing, but we’ve used video and film in education for years. It’s just video clips.” She also points out that not all students have Internet access at home.

Joseph B. Cavallaro School’s technology coordinator John Hutton said students who do not have Internet at home can work on their videos in the school library or partner up with students who do have access. He also encourages them to take on roles that do not require Internet, like creating storyboards or writing scripts.

Because everyone can see SchoolTube videos, students are more motivated to produce high-quality work.  They told Techland that they feel more confident, too.  As Katie Miller, 12, a 7th grader at South Buffalo Charter School, put it: “It’s a lot of pressure when everyone in the class is looking at you and expecting you to say something, but now it’s not as bad because there are all these people on SchoolTube that are watching us.”

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