Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are closed and students are now taking classes online, but sadly in many cases that is only for a few hours a day. Perhaps now is the time that parents should actually increase the screen time and let their children turn to YouTube – not for the next dance sensation or to watch movie trailers, but rather to engage with some educational videos.
Could YouTube be a way to help students, especially those in elementary and middle school, stay engaged even if the school day is cut short?
“YouTube could supplement well-planned lessons that have clear instructional goals,” said Carolyn Parker, director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program within the School of Education at American University.
However, this doesn’t mean that parents should simply look up a video on science projects, history or math and expect it to replace a teacher.
“YouTube videos that supplement instruction should come from trusted and vetted sources,” added Parker. “For example, in science, NASA posts many educative videos that are scientifically accurate, aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, and are paid for by our taxpayer dollars. A great example is this video allows children to explore the universe from home.”
Parents should not see YouTube – or any online platform – as a replacement for regular studies, but rather as a supplement to what is being offered. This includes online programs that schools are sending, as well as official video interaction.
For those reasons and others YouTube will never replace teachers, even though there are many teachers who have created amazing YouTube content, said Vivian Vasquez, professor at American University’s School of Education.
“To begin with, not all children will have access to technology or internet service in their homes so there are various equity issues that need to be addressed,” Vasquez explained. “When it is used for teaching and learning, YouTube should not be used as the primary text. Instead, it can be used to search for content that supports the inquiry questions of learners.”
Moreover, there is the issue of context as much as content. Social media is already a platform filled with more opinion than fact and this can certainly be an issue even when videos are meant to be “educational” in nature.
“Those who choose to consume YouTube videos, need to understand that its content is a socially constructed text created from a particular point of view, and therefore offers one set of perspectives on the topic or issue,” warned Vasquez. “As in other print-based text, we need to work with children to read with the text, reading the text as an ideal reader taking in the perspective of the writer; and against the text, disrupting the dominant discourse and critically re-interpreting the text. In this way, they can make informed decisions regarding what to take away from a text and what to leave behind.”
Not A Babysitter
Just as parents today are unlikely to see the TV as simply a babysitter, the same holds true for YouTube videos even those of a supposed educational video. For one thing, small hands could still click on links and be taken to far less education, even if more “engaging,” content.
“With any use of technological tools, parents should consider monitoring the content, and to the extent possible, especially with younger children, co-viewing alongside them,” suggested Priya Driscoll, associate professor of Education and Early Childhood Education Department Head at Mills College.
“As an educational tool, YouTube can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the age of the child and their learning goals,” Driscoll added. “For preschool or elementary school-age children, a tool like YouTube could be seen as a supplement to reading or lesson, rather than the primary source of content. For example, children who are reading about animals can view videos of some of these animals to learn more about what they look like, how they move, and where they live.”
For older children, YouTube could even allow students to engage in a topic more deeply.
“For example: viewing interviews with people from around the world to supplement a social studies lesson,” noted Driscoll.
Again, parental guidance remains important.
“Even with a tool that is designed for children and marketed as educational and safe, it is important for parents to supervise children’s online activities,” agreed Driscoll. “Research also tells us that children can show enhanced learning from video through interactive co-viewing with parents, compared to solo viewing.”
Honing One’s Skills
For older students – as well as adults who suddenly may have more time on their hands – YouTube could also be a place to hone skills, but it could require more dedication than many younger children will have.
“YouTube is an excellent resource for self-directed learning, especially when it revolves around skill development,” said Oliver Crocco, an assistant professor of Leadership and Human Resource Development and coordinator for the online Learning Experience Design and Innovation program at Louisiana State University online.
He uses YouTube videos in many of his courses – especially when much of the content today is quite high-quality and is better than what he could make himself.
“In self-directed learning, learners set their own goals, create strategies to achieve those goals, and then evaluate their learning,” Crocco noted. “Self-directed learning is why YouTube has become the DIY hub to learn skills for just about anything, like making Thai green curry or putting in new headlights in my 2007 Hyundai Sonata. This is where I think parents can really use YouTube to the fullest. Depending on the age of the learner, help them discover a skill they want to learn and then watch videos on that skill, practice the skill, and then encourage them to even make their own instructional video.”
Too Much Screen Time?
The final consideration for many parents may be whether, even as educational lessons, is there a point when it is best to turn off the screen.
“The question should not be, is now the time to increase screen time to help kids learn, but rather what do online spaces afford my child’s learning – in other words, how might online spaces work to support the inquiry questions of my child,” suggested Vasquez.
“With instruction going online, we have to increase screen time for children, but a trusted adult should monitor the screen time,” added Parker.
“If using material on YouTube as a supplement to readings or other lessons, there does not necessarily need to be a large increase in screen time in order for children to benefit from the video content,” said Driscoll. “Much of what is available on YouTube-from educational institutions, museums, and individuals, can be viewed as brief clips.”
In the end, it should be about balance, said Crocco. “If YouTube is used in a more self-directed way where it supports them developing a skill like cooking Irish stew for dinner that night or building something, then it can be a great learning resource. Then afterward, balance that screen time with going for a walk, playing a board game, or writing postcards to grandparents.”