Jul 07, 2016

YouTube in the Classroom? You Bet!

You can find just about anything on YouTube. The latest Beyoncé video, funny cats, video game cheats...and a really great education.

Most schools block YouTube, both for bandwidth reasons and understandable concerns about distractions and inappropriate content. However, along with Jay Z and dancing babies, they’re also blocking the world’s largest trove of educational video content. 

Many schools have compromised by allowing YouTube for Schools (a curated channel of educational content) in and keeping wider YouTube content out. However, now that YouTube for Schools has been turned down, many districts are taking another look at their YouTube blocking policies. Here’s why more teachers—and administrators—are embracing YouTube in the classroom, and how they are balancing the benefits and risks. 

YouTube is Where the Content Is

Yes, you can go to TeacherTube or other “school approved” video content sites to find user-created or professional educational videos. But for sheer volume of available free content, nothing beats YouTube. Consider this:



On YouTube, you can follow popular channels like Khan Academy, but you’re not limited to videos from a single provider or distributer. You can find clips from Hamlet acted by the Royal Shakespeare Company along with commentary from the actors. Professionally created animations of black holes and explanations from Steven Hawking. Or all the original Schoolhouse Rockvideos. No matter what you are teaching, from pre-K to college level, someone has already uploaded a video that will help. The bulk of these videos were never indexed for YouTube for Schools, even when it was available—but there are hundreds of thousands of them available, for free, on YouTube as a whole.

Video Helps Students Learn

Video engages students on multiple levels: auditory, visual, and linguistic. Animations and demonstrations of difficult concepts can help to make them easier to understand. Video is also more interesting and engaging for today’s media-savvy learners. 

While video will never replace direct interaction with a teacher, many teachers are weaving video into their classroom instruction. Video can capture students’ attention at the beginning of a lesson, illuminate key points during a lecture, provide supporting detail, and expose students to broader perspectives. 


  • A history teacher uses animated battle maps to illustrate a lecture on the civil war. 
  • A third grade teacher finds a fun animation to introduce a lesson on subject-verb agreement.
  • A biology teacher uses a TED talk to frame a debate on medical ethics. 
  • A Spanish teacher illustrates a cultural lesson with videos of life in different South American cities.   

And teacher-only access is not enough. Now that more schools are moving towards 1:1 or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technology solutions, and more students have devices at home, we are at a point where technology can be leveraged to support innovative learning models as well as a more personalized approach to learning. Video-on-demand, to be consumed at school or at home, will be at the heart of technology-enabled modes of learning. 

In fact, in the flipped classroom model, consuming and reacting to videos may make up the bulk of students’ “homework.” Students in a flipped classroom watch videos at home and complete short assignments or quizzes based on the video material. In-class time is used for teacher-facilitated practice and application, often completed in small cooperative groups. The beauty of this model is that students can rewatch the videos, or rewind and review specific parts, as often as they need to.

As an LMS provider, we see this among eChalk customers. Teachers want to be able to build a library of curated and video content within the LMS that will capture students’ attention and imagination, and allow students to explore content on their own schedule. 

Blocking YouTube is Not Required for CIPA--And May Contribute to the Digital Divide 

Of course, schools want to protect students from unsavory content. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), enacted in 2000, requires schools and libraries to block or filter Internet access to pictures and materials that are “obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors” on school computers and networks in order to maintain federal E-Rate funding. Understandably in the rapidly evolving online world, most schools have erred on the side of caution in interpreting this requirement. 

Many districts have interpreted CIPA to mean that social sites like YouTube and Facebook must be blocked. However, guidance from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and DOE explicitly state that blocking these sites is not required. 

In fact, overzealous blocking may be doing more harm than good. Some experts have expressed concern that restricting access to broad swaths on content on sites like YouTube may be adding to the “digital divide.” While wealthier students almost certainly have access to the full web at home (minus clearly harmful sites restricted by parental controls), school may be the only place where disadvantaged students have regular access to the internet. Overly restrictive blocking policies essentially make these students second-class web citizens, with access only to a severely limited set of online resources. 

Good Policies Are More Effective Than Content Blocking

Today’s kids are savvy, and many of them bring their own devices to school. A Google search of “how to unblock YouTube at school” returns 275,000 results, including this handy tutorial from The Geek Daily. Completely blocking YouTube from the school campus is probably an exercise in futility, especially for high school students. In fact, overly restrictive blocking may encourage students to seek workarounds when a more moderate approach may result in better compliance. Here are some approaches that many schools have found to be helpful when loosening up content restrictions: 

  • Make sure your acceptable use policy is clear, understandable, and consistently discussed and enforced. 
  • Train students in good digital citizenship, and make it part of your school value system. 
  • Consider using recommended controls from Google to limit, but not block, access to YouTube videos. Google provides ways to limit YouTube access to a broad range of appropriate content by configuring DNS on the network so that YouTube is in “Moderate Restricted” mode. 

In the classroom, teachers are learning to adapt their classroom management strategies to the realities of technology-enhanced learning. Recommendations from veteran teachers include:  

  • Keep lessons engaging and interactive so students stay on task. 
  • Consider adopting real-time monitoring software like Apple Remote Desktop to keep an eye on what students are doing during independent work time. 

Classroom management with technology, including YouTube, certainly brings its own challenges. However, it’s not a fundamentally different problem than the one teachers have always faced. For many teachers, the benefits of accessing YouTube’s bounty of educational content is worth dealing with its potential for distraction. 

After all, it beats the alternative: