Why YouTube Videos Will Never Replace Teachers

Teachers are often thought of as the problem with schools, so replacing them with videos can seem like an easy solution.

The "flipped classroom"—which switches the order of classroom instruction and homework—is the latest education craze. Instead of receiving in-class lectures from a teacher, students watch a video lesson on YouTube. The next day, they head to school and do homework under the teacher's supervision. Flipped classroom advocates say the model is more effective because students have their teachers and peers with them to give them feedback when they encounter problems with homework.

But there's a major flaw in this innovative model: the nation still has a tremendous digital divide. Uruguay ranks ahead of the United States in laptop distribution. Maine is the only state to make a significant investment toward ensuring all students even have the computer technology they'd need to watch videos at home. And even giving students laptops doesn't mean they can access the internet at home. With poverty skyrocketing, some families simply can't afford it. True, Chicago partnered with Comcast to give give internet access to low-income families this year, but that kind of effort is still the exception.

Good teachers don't spend in-class time giving old-school, boring lectures while students passively sit at their desks, trying to avoid falling asleep. Savvy educators know lectures aren't a recipe for student success, and they mix up their approaches accordingly—sharing a small amount of information in an interactive, engaging manner, while incorporating multimedia and discovery-based approaches.

The other element left out of the flipped classroom discussion is that watching a video is no more active or engaging than reading a textbook. And what happens when a high school student is assigned videos from all six of her classes? Do we really expect students to watch two or three hours of videos at night?

And while the flipped model emphasizes doing homework in an environment where students can seek help, practicing solo is designed to be a skills check, not students' first exposure to the material. If students don't yet understand a concept, they shouldn't have it assigned as homework. Of course, it would be easier for teachers to adjust instruction to meet individual students' needs if budget cuts hadn't created larger class sizes and axed teacher assistant positions from schools.

That's not to say that using videos to supplement teaching is a bad idea. Teachers are already identifying students that need extra help and using videos, podcasts, and other media to meet academic needs. But just as someone can go to a library every day and never learn how to read, students need someone to facilitate their learning: a teacher.

At a time when teachers are often thought of as the problem in schools, replacing them with videos may seem like an easy solution. But if a student has a question about a lesson, a video can't give her an answer. And, as many times as I've watched my own kids practice concepts with videos or other learning tools, I've never heard them say they loved them. The teachers who've made a difference in their lives are beloved. And that's enough to convince me they'll never be replaced by YouTube.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user RTLibrary


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