Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lessons on educational videos from the Periodic Table of the Videos

As my students prepare a brief video-based curriculum on Renaissance literature, I've been looking around at other video-based educational videos that are introductory in nature.  One that I explored today and which provided some insights into uses of open educational videos was The Periodic Table of Videos.
The Periodic Table of Videos Project
University of Nottingham
This is a series of mini-video lectures, each focused on one of the elements from the periodic table. This has a clever logic to it. The videos have their own home website, but are also published on YouTube as a playlist and as part of a channel with some 229,000 subscribers and almost 40 millions views to date.

I've only sampled these a bit, but obviously they have an appeal from being experiment-oriented (spectacle!) and by playing up the eccentric scientist angle (check out the hair!):

On YouTube, the first video (on Hydrogen, of course), has gleaned a half million views and over 500 comments (whereas the video for Roengentium, element #111, has had only 50,000 views and 275 comments). Setting aside element popularity for the moment, I wish to focus on the benefits and drawbacks of having this educational content on YouTube.

Obviously they are getting a lot of traffic and views, but this is not in itself any kind of curriculum. It could be, of course, but this information is offered as information, and not as an instructional system. The many comments that have been made beg the question of the need for and interest in instruction. I wondered why some very sound comments were never answered (such as the legitimate question as to why the hydrogen reaction did not seem to produce water).  Without the structure of an instructor or a course, the comments dangle out there like ... an uncatalyzed chemical reaction.

That doesn't mean that these videos are not being used in regular courses, however. A quick search for "periodic table of videos" and "syllabus" revealed wide adoption of the videos by educators, such as in this middle school chemistry course:
Worth noting here is that educators are understandably selective about which of these videos that they are going to assign. I mean, seriously, do Lake Travis middle schoolers really need the scoop on Roengentium? I mean, there are elements and there are elements. I'm not exactly joking here. Organic chemistry courses, with their highly limited range of elements under consideration, would only profit from a handful of these videos. But no problem there. The lesson: open educational resources are most useful when they are structured in modular ways so that those who make use of them can select only what is of use to them for their purposes.

Just think how much less useful this video series would be if they'd decided to create a mammoth, single movie taking each of the elements in turn. Maybe that was what they did at first, and then that one scientist watched the whole thing, and this is what made his hair go supernova.

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