The website that gave us viral videos of skateboarding cats also has the potential to give us a powerful platform to help transform education.

In preparation for an Education Summit last month at YouTube headquarters, event organizers asked all attendees to read the article entitled “How Do We Transform Our Schools?” by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn. This article, written in 2008, explains how online learning was then exhibiting itself as a disruptive innovation in the education world, and foretells how it will evolve to change that world in the years after. The authors predicted that a website with user-generated educational materials would emerge and help turn the online education space into a “facilitated user network.” Users on this site would “gradually link together various modules to form more comprehensive classes, and then end users [would] pull this content, rather than have school systems push it to them from on high.”

Enter YouTube EDU – a pretty spot-on manifestation of Christensen and Horn’s predictions.

The online video content giant has created a platform specifically for education – a user-driven resource to find, create and share educational content. Educators are starting, from the ground up, to use this resource in the classroom, and it is evolving along a trajectory that seems to match Christensen and Horn’s projections.

And it turns out that the YouTube EDU folks really understand the need to focus on student outcomes, which means that indeed, it’s about a lot more than Justin Beiber music videos and Gangnam Style covers.

On October 18 and 19 I attended the YouTube EDU Education Summit at YouTube headquarters here in the Bay Area. The event was an empowering gathering of educators who recognize the potential of digital tools to transform the classroom. It was exciting to be amongst so many individuals who understand the power of video’s scalability and computers’ adaptability to provide better learning environments for students. It was even more exciting to hear the YouTubeEDU team continually emphasize a focus on the long-term goal of bolstering student achievement and recognize their work is only a means to that end.

The event began by the founders of YouTube EDU discussing candidly where they see this resource going in the future, and how it can help revolutionize learning. The creators filled the attendees in on plans to improve features on the site to allow for greater access, more valuable connections, easier curation by teachers, and more robust abilities to enhance and personalize students’ learning.

After an opening keynote by Michael Horn, the Summit also included presentations by Anant Agarwal, founder of edX; Steve Spangler, founder of the super popular “Spangler Science” videos; Richard Culatta from the US Department of Education; Sir Ken Robinson and Sal Khan. (I have to admit I was quite starstruck.) The basic themes that came across in these presentations were:
1. The education system really, really needs to change. We are all agreed there.
2. YouTube EDU can help by providing a resource that has significant power to engage students, empower teachers and provide tools for personalization.
3. There are many challenges, but they are far outweighed by the opportunities.

These presentations were valuable because they established the commonality of attendees’ goals and visions. The agreement at the event about the potential of digital learning to transform the monolithic system now in place to one that is student-centric created a strong energy and motivation to combine forces. And the real magic happened as attendees discussed how to work together make things happen with their shared visions.

Attendees were split into breakout groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities of YouTube EDU. The facilitators of these conversations, leaders at YouTube, were eager to hear feedback and suggestions for leveraging this resource. Their openness to constructive criticism made it apparent to me that YouTube is truly eager to use its brand and resources to further the positive impact of digital learning. I was pleased that the discussion I participated in continually gravitated toward a focus on student outcomes.

Attendees were enthusiastic about providing YouTube EDU with helpful feedback and collaborating with each other to improve their work within their own spheres. Additionally, there was a call to all work together as a united team to help dispel concerns and break down barriers. Event organizers offered to keep everyone in touch through various means and it seemed that all attendees left empowered to work together.

I’m really excited to see how this collaboration will help leverage YouTube EDU and push it toward greater fulfillment of Christensen and Horn’s predictions of a robust user-facilitated network. Yes, I hope for a powerful revolution stemming from this gathering. And I guess I have all those viral videos to thank for starting it all – so hats off to skateboarding cats.


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