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An Examination of Web-based Educational Videos: A Guide for Teachers

Vince Moore
University of North Texas
United States of America
Michael Serfin
University of North Texas
United States of America

Abstract: In recent years, a number of people, companies, and organizations have begun creating short webbased videos aimed at instructing and inspiring students of all ages. This paper includes a brief history of
educational video use and how it can impact a classroom. Several current video productions are explored and
summarized, such as Khan Academy, TED, The Spangler Effect, Vsauce, and Crash Course. Each is then set
against the same criteria to ensure that each is equitably portrayed and compared. It is hoped that this
comparison can point current and future video-using teachers in a more effective direction when it comes to
grabbing attention and educating the target audience in their classrooms.

The educational environment of today is quite different from that of years past. No longer is it adequate to
simply line students desks into rows where they sit silently and ingest information from a teacher who stands at the
front of the room. Education of today has pushed beyond the classroom walls; many students have access to all of
the knowledge in the world, with the Internet and smartphones being the tools to get them what they want to know.
The formats in which this information is stored varies as well: online encyclopedias, informational websites,
educational games, and instructional videos all vie for attention in the booming world of learning available in
cyberspace. One of the facets of online learning that has been gaining more visibility in recent years is the creation
of short, educational videos that are made to be entertaining, inspiring, and interesting. These videos come in a wide
variety of formats and explore an even broader set of topics. Teachers must choose whether to compete with these
educational videos or to embrace them in the classroom. However, this task can prove daunting, as there are an
ever-growing number of videos and video producers flooding the market. It is the goal of the author that this paper
sheds light upon some of the more popular and well-known video series so that teachers can more adequately utilize
this wealth of knowledge in the instruction of students.

A Brief History of Instructional Video Use

Instructional videos have been used since the earliest days of filmstrips and television. Schools in Los
Angeles, CA, were even dabbling with instructional television as early as 1939 (Cuban, 1986). However, for years,
the educational system struggled with how to incorporate this technological medium in the classroom effectively.
Often, video and television programs were used as filler in the classroom. Even after the United States Government
and several private and nonprofit firms had invested over $100 million, video was often used by teachers to, as one
teacher remarked, provide fifteen minutes a week twice a week that I didnt have to plan or teach (Cuban, 1986, p.
48). Although there were several attempts to replace traditional teachers with videos, todays educational thinkers
understand that videos should complement the teachers instruction, not replace it (Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, 2004).
In the 1990s, Bill Nye starred in a PBS show entitled, Bill Nye the Science Guy for five years. Although
the series was relatively short-lived, the episodes can still be found in science classrooms around the world. In
addition to being popular, Bill Nyes show proved to be effective, too. One study showed that the gender gap and
racial divides shrank considerably after viewing the show. Viewers were also able to explain scientific concepts
much more completely than non-viewers (Rockman et al, 1996). Bill Nye embraced the idea that effective

educational video instruction should be informative and entertaining. The episodes proved to be so popular that
Disney (the production company for the show) sold episodes on VHS to schools with suggested lesson plans. His
videos covered a wide variety of topics that aligned with topics a teacher might cover and followed a basic script:
instruction with visual aids of all kinds, a safe-to-try-at-home experiment, a segment with an actual scientist,
interesting facts, and a topic-based song parody. With its catchy theme song, Bill Nye the Science Guy helped usher
in an era where educational videos were met with excitement from the students instead of naps.

Effectiveness of Video Use in Instruction

One reason that teachers clamor for instructional video, no matter how it is being used, is because it can be
very effective at helping students gain knowledge of a particular subject. By viewing videos, students are able to
retain information and comprehend material quicker than without videos (National Teacher Training Institute,
2011). Also, teachers may find it very easy to incorporate videos into lessons because the technology is not
especially novel or overtly threatening. Playing videos--whether from VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming on the
Internet---is a skill that most educators have without giving it a second thought. Videos can give students access to
certain things that otherwise might be unattainable (Simkins, Cole, Tavalin, & Means, 2002). For instance, the
Planet Earth series from the BBC and Discovery can expose students to a wide variety of landscapes and
ecosystems that the students might never experience first-hand. In this manner, videos are able to bring distant
locales into the classrooms, which can be invaluable in giving context to topics covered in class (Durbin, 1995).
While watching a video seems like a passive activity, the brain is actually working to process the visuals, sounds,
and information presented (Mayer, 2001).
As noted by Lachs (as cited in Courts & Tucker, 2012), videos can be used to provide clarity and guidance
with complex topics and can engage students in the learning, but to achieve all of the positive aspects of videos
utilized in classroom settings, the video should first meet some specific criteria. Above all, the information
presented should be accurate; otherwise, any learning that occurs is done for naught. The video should also garner
attention of the students (Ferretti, 2009). It should also remain interesting and visually active. Stagnant videos that
focus on a person speaking directly to the camera tend to lose the efficacy of the video medium because they ignore
the visual component and focus on the words and audio (Hampe, 1999). By incorporating visual and verbal aspects,
the learner creates more meaning with the content being taught (Homer, Plass, & Blake, 2008; Mayer, 2001). The
length of the video is also an important consideration. Students can lose interest in a video if it runs too long, no
matter how intriguing the topic may be (Nelson, 2011).

A Look at Current Educational Videos

With the spread of high-speed internet and faster computing, teachers (and students) now have access to a
plethora of online options for educational video content. Just a few years ago, obtaining instructional videos cost
schools a great deal of money, but that is rapidly changing. There are still several professional companies creating
their own proprietary content, but the Internet has become home to a large group of people and organizations that
aim to spread knowledge for no fee. A cursory search of YouTube will bring forth a library of videos on any given
topic that would rival the greatest university video holdings.
How does a teacher navigate this array of videos effectively? The author has examined video content from
a number of popular and noteworthy producers of educational multimedia and has summarized their holdings. Each
series is described with the following descriptors: 1) name, 2) location of videos, 3) number of available videos, 4)
topics covered, 5)appropriate grade levels, 6) average length of video, 7) format of video, and a brief overview of
overall information and entertainment factors. Each section will finish with other items of interest. The appropriate
grade level has been roughly estimated by the author based on the style, vocabulary, and topics presented in each
video series.
It must be stated that the author has not viewed every video offered by the following suppliers; there are
hundreds of hours in existence, and most are constantly adding to their holdings. These video producers are also by
no means the only effective or classroom-friendly web-based video sites. It is hoped that by exposing teachers and
future teachers to these video collections, they will see the validity of utilizing them in the learning environment and
will continue to seek out other online sources as well.

Khan Academy
Number of Videos: Thousands
Topics: Math, Science, Arts and Humanities, Computing, Test Prep, and partner-created content
Grade Levels: All levels
Average Length: Varies based on topic and intended audience
Format: Screen-capture lessons with voice over
Other Notes: Khan Academy is a not-for-profit educational organization that receives a great deal of funding from
various foundations and companies, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carlos Slim Foundation,
Google, and AT&T. They are massively expanding their library by adding user-created translations in a number of
languages. Khan Academy also includes assessments with many of their lessons and topics.
TED Talks
Number of Videos: Over 2000, some curated into playlists for a variety of interests
Topics: Inspirational, Innovation, Education, Technology, Design
Grade Levels: Middle School and above; some TED-Ed offerings may be appropriate for Elementary
Average Length: Varies from a few minutes to over 20 minutes
Format: Filmed live presentations from TED conferences
Other Notes: TED stands for Technology, Education, and Design. TED talks are presentations given at TEDsanctioned events, such TED, TEDGlobal, TEDWomen, TEDYouth, and TEDx local events. They also maintain
TED-Ed which supplies lessons and educational ideas to teachers. They recently added TED-Ed clubs for groups of
students to create their own presentations in the style of a TED talk.
Number of Videos: hundreds across three Vsauce channels
Topics: extremely varied; based on questions such as Why are things creepy? or Is Mario really evil?
Grade Levels: All levels
Average Length: varies from a few minutes to half hour
Format: predominantly a very active talking head with graphics interspersed often
Other Notes: Vsauce is built on questions that intrigue viewers. There are three channels, each with its own host,
that have hundreds of videos each. Each channel has its own unique content and topics, as well. Their YouTube
channels have over 14 million subscribers and their videos have been viewed over 1 billion times. They also host
WeSauce which showcases a variety of videos from users.
The Spangler Effect
Number of Videos: Over 150
Topics: Science and experiments
Grade Levels: All levels
Average Length: around 10 to 15 minutes
Format: explanation and demonstration of science experiments
Other Notes: Steve Spangler is a noted scientist who regularly appears on The Ellen Show and other television
outlets. He owns a science materials company that specializes in providing teachers with materials to perform
experiments in the classroom. His videos mainly show various interesting experiments that excite students. For
instance, he was the first to perform and post a video using Diet Coke and Mentos to create a chemical reaction.
Sixty Symbols
Number of Videos: Originally 60, now almost 100
Topics: Physics and Astronomy
Grade Levels: High School and up
Average Length: Between 5 and 15 minutes
Format: Mostly hand-held camera with interaction with demonstrations and graphics

Other Notes: Sixty Symbols is hosted by the University of Nottingham in England. They originally created 60
videos, but later received grant money to produce more. Their videos are for upper level students, but some could
be entertaining to younger audiences. The team behind Sixty Symbols also works on Numberphile (videos about
numbers and mathematics) and Periodic Videos (chemistry experiments).
Smarter Every Day
Number of Videos: Over 140
Topics: Mostly science related
Grade Levels: Middle School and up, some have more mature content
Average Length: Between 5 and 15 minutes
Format: first-person camera with demonstrations and graphics
Other Notes: Smarter Every Day explores a wide variety of topics from a scientific standpoint; for example, one
vido shows hummingbirds eating out of the hosts mouth while another is about breaking glass filmed at 130,000
frames per second.
Crash Course
Number of Videos: Hundreds
Topics: Originally just history and humanities, expanding into science
Grade Levels: All levels
Average Length: Between 5 and 15 minutes; Kids programming is less than 5 minutes
Format: Heavily filled with graphics and animation, interspersed with talking head
Other Notes: Crash Course was started by two brothers, but they have been partnered with PBS and Khan Academy
for several years. Their videos have a very high production quality.
The Brain Scoop
Number of Videos: More than 130
Topics: Mostly science and animals, some travel, some paleontology
Grade Levels: Middle school and up
Average Length: Between 5 and 15 minutes
Format: Some talking head, some graphics, some corresponding video footage
Other Notes: The Brain Scoop is hosted by Emily Graslie, who got her start in YouTube education from the Green
brothers of Crash Course. She works for Chicagos Field Museum, who funds and produces the videos. Emily
Graslies humor, vast knowledge, and ease make her an excellent host and an excellent role model to inspire young
girls to go into science courses and careers.
Soul Pancake
Number of Videos: Well over 100
Topics: Mostly inspirational in nature
Grade Levels: All levels
Average Length: Usually under 5 minutes
Format: Varied
Other Notes: The channel was created by actor Rainn Wilson as a creative space and has been supported by OWN
Television, MTV, Coca-Cola, and a number of other entities. Among their most popular videos are the Kid
President series with a young child wearing a suit speaking eloquently about a variety of topics. The videos are
infused with humor, but some videos may not be entirely suitable for younger students.

As stated before, this is not an exhaustive list of online video providers. It is, however, a good first-look at
the types of content that is available for teachers. Each of these video production groups provides content that can

benefit teachers in the classroom in a variety of ways. Whether being used as an attention-grabber to introduce a
new topic or as a way of reteaching a complex unit of study, videos are highly effective at engaging brains through
the use of multimedia. The ease of implementing these videos in todays classrooms makes them ideal for most
educators. And school administrators will love the fact that all of these videos are free of charge!
Most of the creators mentioned in this paper began posting their original videos on YouTube. YouTube
has provided anyone with an internet connection with a publishing service for original content. That means that any
person can create something that goes out into the ether and could potential become viral, being shared with
thousands or millions of people. A side effect of using these videos in the classroom is that by sharing these videos
with students, it could ignite an interest in a student to begin creating videos or his/her own. With cellular and tablet
technology, filming and editing videos has become increasingly user (and budget) friendly.

Intended Audience
This paper is targeted at practicing K-12 teachers that are interested in using videos in their classrooms in
an effective manner. Future K-12 teachers, content knowledge experts, and video creators could also benefit from
reading this paper.

Presentation Format
The research described here will be presented by showing examples of the highlighted video sources from
the internet with a facilitated discussion with audience members about the positive and negative aspects of each.
The discussion will also include practical applications of the videos presented, backed by evidence of effectiveness
from the research.

With each successive generation, schools and teachers try to find the most effective instructional practices--both in garnering student attention and in achieving learning results. For several decades, using educational videos
in classroom has been one of the methods that has been used time and time again. Research has shown that videos
and multimedia can be very helpful in teaching students a variety of content. Todays videos often do not come
from a disc or a tape, but instead beam over the internet via YouTube or other websites. With the growth of
YouTube and the ease of digital media creation that is pervasive in todays world, the arena of educationally-minded
videos has exploded. While that is great, it also means that the market is flooded with choices. Hopefully, that
choice has been made a little more manageable with this paper. And, by shedding a light on some of the more
popular and useful sources on the internet, it is hoped that readers will utilize this method and put these videos into
service into classrooms. And perhaps, after viewing several videos, a few students will try their hand at creating
their own. Maybe the next Salmon Khan or Kid President is in your classroom, just waiting for the right inspiration.

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