What Do I Teach That A YouTube Video Can’t?

(Thanks to my friend Bryant Russ, Bible teacher at Lansing (MI) Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)

What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?

YouTubeThis question has been on my mind since last week when I learned more about the universe in three days of watching educational Internet videos than I had in four years of high school science classes.  No joke.  I made a list of all the things I wanted to know about science—everything from what is a molecule? to Is time really relative?—and hit the web.  Sites such as Coursera.com, TedEd, ITunes U, and Minute Physics on YouTube provided engaging, comprehensive, and understandable lessons that led me through each one of my questions and offered new ones to continue my online education.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that all this was free?

So back to the question: What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?  This question is important to me because I’d like to know that I couldn’t be replaced by a computer.  Unfortunately, after close inspection I’ve found that much of what I’m doing, and much of what most teachers are doing, can be done—and often better—by the Internet.  If this is the case, why shouldn’t I be replaced by a screen?

Twenty years ago it was the job of a teacher to relay information to the students.  Teach them charts, methods, dates, important people and events.  But has the role of a teacher changed now that students could pass just about every quiz and test we give them if allowed to use their phones?  Has the Internet altered the game?  If the world has changed, and significantly, since this educational structure was conceived, shouldn’t we start considering what we teach that a Youtube video can’t before we’re all swapped out for iPads?

I’m not suggesting teachers abandon relaying information and giving instruction, but perhaps it’s time to shift the focus of education.  Let me propose two things a teacher can do—and must do—to become irreplaceable.

1.  Teachers can inspire interest, ignite curiosity, and kindle a love of learning in students. I would go so far as to suggest this is the primary role of a twenty-first century teacher.  If your students read what they’re supposed to read, answer what they’re supposed to answer, and memorize what they’re supposed to memorize, but do not continue to learn your subject when the year is over then you have failed them—regardless of their report card grades.  Your job is to get them interested.  Why?  Think about it.  If they have an interest in your subject, whether you’re teaching literature or biology, they will continue to learn about it outside the classroom (i.e. more learning will happen) and at a significantly higher level of engagement (i.e. better learning will happen).  You might not be as necessary for the relaying of information as were teachers twenty years ago, but you are just as important for sparking interest in the students so that they will seek multiple available resources for attaining the information.  How can you do this?

  • Demonstrate interest, curiosity, and a love of learning.  If you’re not interested, curious, or in love with learning, please stop teaching.  As a wise mentor teacher once told me, “You teach who you are more than you teach your subject.”
  • Ask big, important questions.  So often I find myself giving answers to questions that students couldn’t care less about.  If they don’t care about the question, why would they care about the answer?  We must be giving students questions—and big ones!  Let your natural curiosity (see bullet 1) help guide what you do in class to the point that your students feel invited into a search for the answers to their important questions.
  • Avoid using grades as motivation or a threat (“If you do this you’ll get an ‘A’” and “If you don’t do this your grade will suffer”).  This is like putting the wrong kind of gas into a car.  I get so annoyed when a student asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” or “Do I have to know this?” or “How many points is this worth?” and yet, I have to admit it’s our fault.  We create these grade-obsessed creatures and almost always destroy natural interest in a subject when we use assessment for something it was never intended to be.  (I can say with confidence that I am more eager and excited to learn than I have ever been in my life.  I told my wife this; she said, “Too bad this didn’t happen about 15 years ago.”  I replied, “15 years ago I was much too busy with school to be excited about learning.”)

2.  Teachers can initiate and facilitate creativity in students.  Put simply, our students shouldn’t just be learning stuff; they should be making stuff.  I have never been more proud as a teacher than when my students make something (or make something happen) that they are excited about and invested in.  In fact, I recently challenged my students with a project that demanded interest, investment, and hard work…then I let them go.  To my surprise, not only did just about every single student get a ‘A’, but they worked so much harder (and learned so much more) than if they had simply been asked to regurgitate what they had memorized on a test.  Our students are itching to do something; to make something.  Unfortunately, it’s much easier to give a test than to offer and assist an opportunity to be creative.  The irony is that when given the opportunity to do something significant it is often the unengaged, ADD kid who surprises you with something great.  So many of our students are itching to just do something!  Not only does this promote a higher level of learning (what is the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy again?) but it allows young men and women to have a purpose for coming to school.  The creative person is the most valuable asset in today’s changing world, so shouldn’t we be focused on making creators?

While I am completely aware of the challenges of actually being this kind of teacher in a classroom filled with 25 rambunctious teenagers, I am totally committed to moving in this direction in order to distinguish myself from a machine that could otherwise do my job.


Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, discernment, leadership, resources, staff development, student outcomes

6 responses to “What Do I Teach That A YouTube Video Can’t?

  1. Diane

    So true…your students must love to come to class!! God job!!

  2. Amanda Reese

    Thanks for sharing, Bryant! I would agree that students made in the image of the Creator should be learning through creating. But more than that, students should be sharing and publishing their work. What is creation without an audience? How can we provide opportunities for students to create real products with real applications and real audiences?

    • Great point, Mandy. Having a real application to what we create/write/produce makes all the difference, especially for a generation that is itching for something important to do! I believe the big draw behind first-person video games (games such as Call of Duty that recorded over 68 thousand YEARS of gameplay in the last few years) is that they offer a “purpose” for young people. In the game they become an important character that has a crucial role to play. The incredible popularity of such games shows that even an artificial purpose is more valuable to a young person than an insignificant reality. What if we were to channel this restlessness and desire for purpose by actually offering ways to meet needs around the world in the name of Jesus?

      • reeseamandas

        Bryant, I love the Kingdom of God Fair you put together. This is a great way to expose our students to the needs around the world as well as spark their interests, passions, and creativity. I would love to talk to you about a few ideas I have for involving middle school students next year! Thanks for engaging in important dialogue–I am blessed to work alongside you!

  3. Great stuff. This fits very well with an approach I heard described at a recent CUE (Computer-using Educators) Conference here in California. Ramsey Musallam calls it the Explore-Flip-Apply model (http://www.cyclesoflearning.com/files/38160d33feb8aa0c0f531ef6368dbd71-85.php), and in that method, teachers create an itch in the kids that spurs them on to hypothesis, discovery, and engagement with the subject. Keep up the good work!

  4. weathertation

    This post reminds me of a post by Dan Meyer I recently read (http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?p=16355). In that post he adds this warning: it is our jobs as teachers to promote like crazy the things we do that the internet cannot. People like Bill Gates and Tom VanderArk want everything to scale, and we know as teachers that the best things about school do not scale. We need to use YouTube and everything else that we have to promote all the things that YouTube cannot do but teachers can. This is part of our job now, wether we like it or not. It is also a particularly important point for Christian school teachers working hard to instill faithfulness in their students, something that YouTube is woefully bad at.

    I also think every teacher in the world needs to read your paragraph about grades. I would add to it the motivation, “you will need to know this next year or at the next level.” We need to reconnect kids with learning for the sake of bettering themselves and joining new communities of learners.

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