Using Someone Else’s Videos in Your Class

--Originally published at FLN Hub – nodes

In November 2015, an independent model showed YouTube received around 500 hours of video content uploaded every minute. There are 1440 minutes in a day, meaning there was roughly 720,000 hours of video every day.

That’s a lot of videos.

Granted, many are of cats, kids, and Barbie Jeep Racing, so it’s not necessarily quality content uploading, but there is a lot of great video available for flipping if you’re not quite ready to make your own yet.

Where to start?

Before looking at how to choose videos, let’s define the goals of using video as an instructional tool (not method) in the first place. Don’t ask yourself, “How do I get rid of lecture?” because it’s too narrow a focus. The intent of using video should be to create space for students to explore ideas with the support of a teacher. Ramsey Musallam says it well: “Good teaching, regardless of discipline, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking.”

Flipping can help accomplish the goals of increasing student interaction with material and using existing videos is an easy way to start that process. When it comes to choosing videos to use with students, I focus on three main things:

  1. What value does a video bring?
  2. How well is the idea presented?
  3. How will the video expand on what is happening in class?

Using videos should supplement, not replace your work in the classroom. Your students have a relationship with you, not a video personality. It is important that you frame using outside content as a supporting factor in the interactive and collaborative work happening in the classroom. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing student trust because it appears that you’re taking the easy way out.

What value does a video bring?

There are situations when a video can help you immediately reclaim some time. Algorithmic processes - solving a problem, correcting grammatical mistakes, putting together a timeline of events - are great starting points. They’re usually short and to the point and they become a self-help library for students. When you’re in the middle of a larger activity, these can be a “first line of defense” when students ask procedural questions. At the same time, you can pay attention to which videos you’re referring to the most and address those in class as a whole.

The value here is that you’re not bogged down answering the same, small question over and over. You’re also not obligated to stop the entire activity. You’ll be teaching students self-reliance by curating helpful instructional videos to get the habit started. Eventually, students will go off and find their own help when they need it.

From another angle, resources are limited. I can’t always provide concrete examples in the classroom. Using videos to bring in those topics and examples is a great way to bridge the gap.

How well is it presented?

Presentation isn’t everything, but it’s important. As you’re vetting content, pay attention to the content, obviously, but also make sure it isn’t mind-numbing to watch. Audio is very important in this case. A video that is clear as crystal but sounds like a drive-through is just as bad as a video you can’t see. Don’t pick the first result in the search, either. Take some time to find a video that fits your need and won’t cause more confusion for you later.

How will it expand on what is happening in class?

Remember, you are the teacher and you set the tone of the course with your students. Any video you choose - instructional or exploratory - should fit in with your day to day work. Be explicit and specific about why you’re assigning a particular video to help students see the big picture. Without making connections for the students, you run the risk of looking lazy and the videos become another assignment, not a helpful tool.

Additionally, if you can’t make a solid connection to the learning process, perhaps a video isn’t the best means. It’s a good self-check to make sure you’re proving engaging and meaningful assignments at all levels of the learning cycle.

Big picture

Online video is here to stay. The amount of content available is staggering both in scale and in potential to positively impact learning behaviors. In the end, starting with existing video can help lay a foundation for using video as a learning tool. The major time commitment on your end is starting to curate those materials. Most video sites have playlists that you can create and customize, so start saving videos you like to build out that library.

You may find, though, that you can’t find one that really hits the issue you’re having. Don’t be afraid to make your own. I’ll repeat: you have the relationship with your students. Making a short video is easier than ever and you can find a number of tutorials online to help you get started.

Focus on enhancing the class time. Use the questions above to guide your thinking as you look for materials. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of my favorites:

Channel Description
Smarter Every Day Mainly physics, some biology and chemistry
Veritasium All sciences, culture of science and inquiry
Bozeman Science Biology, chemistry, nature of science
It's Okay to be Smart PBS Digital Studios, all content

The featured image is titled Audience Full Movie, a flickr photo by Emily Barney shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license


  • Thanks for the article. I use Bozeman Science in my AP Bio class, and the students really like his videos. I also like to mix it up with some Khan Academy. Some students like the detail of Khan, others like the ease and efficiency of Bozmeman. I wonder what people think of giving students choices on the video they prefer?

    • I always give choice. What I find is a starting point – something to get them going. When students come across videos they find helpful, I try to make a point of calling that out as another option. What we end up with is a collection of videos (and other resources) to help with any given topic. It’s much more thorough and diverse than what I could do on my own.

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