YouTube and Twitter: Video content and social media as educational tools – round up of FORUM session from Chemistry’s Professor David Smith

The catchy title for this afternoon’s lunchtime workshop, “iTube, YouTube, WeTube and the (T)wittering Academic” certainly seems to have caught people’s imagination, evidenced by the packed seminar room of academics and support staff from across the institution. Perhaps Professor David Smith’s recent nomination for the Times Higher’s most innovative teacher award also had something to do with the noticeable spike in interest.

The session was split into two, pretty much equal halves focussing on YouTube and Twitter respectively though the point was made from the outset that both topics addressed the issue of building and maintaining communities; within a cohort, amongst prospective students, across the sector…

YouTube – Professor Dave YouTube channel

Professor Dave YouTube ChannelDavid’s use of YouTube stemmed from a desire to provide support materials for current Undergraduate students while at the same time, extending the reach of the outreach activities that the department of Chemistry have traditionally engaged in. While face to face sessions for schools can be a great way of reaching some students in self-selecting (and mainly independent) schools, outreach through a  globally public platform such as YouTube really helps to get the message out to the places that other initiatives cannot reach.

David’s videos tend to follow the formula of introducing a topic within Chemistry, providing us with the context and some understanding of why this topic is important to our everyday lives and why we should care, before moving onto the real Chemistry stuff through supporting tutorials. The end results are truly engaging videos that would be both accessible to A level students who want to stretch themselves or get an insight into what University might be able to offer them, as well as being very useful extension or revision materials for his current UG students, extending the scope of the lecture. David’s delivery style, both in person and on video, is highly personable, very relaxed and extremely watchable and it is this, I feel, that is one of the major factors for of his online popularity (nearly 325,000 views and counting at time of writing). Another significant factor is how theoretical content is contextualised in everyday or high profile issues, from the Amazing moelcules of cooking a curry, to the Chemistry behind the headlines of the recent Methedrone “legal high” drugs scare.

David’s use of video does not stop at  providing entertaining explanations that make you want to learn more; he is also interested in using the medium to develop and test students’ higher order learning. Students are invited in first year to create videos as part of their sumative assessment (an alternative assessment form is also offered) to research and creatively explain topics within the course. This innovative alternative to the standard essay that they might normally be asked to complete, has produced some excellent and truly weird and wonderful results in the two years that is has been running (2011 students / 2012 students), with very positive student feedback (although it is noted that although this can be highly rewarding, it can also tend to be harder and more time consuming for students than more traditional alternatives).

Twitter @professor_dave

Prof David Smith presentingDavid’s use of Twitter has been aimed primarily at information sharing and profile development within the sector though he did highlight a few direct applications for learning and teaching, such as establishing twitter tags for a specific modules and using Twitter as a primary channel for students to ask questions. However it was accepted that using Twitter with students could raise as many questions as it could potentially resolve and his current use seems to be primarily focussed on networking with colleagues from across the sector.

David highlighted the effectiveness of being able to draw on the expertise of an extended community through Twitter when he asked a question looking for tips on using twitter as an academic, He received over 100 replies in an afternoon from his “followers” and others interested in the topic and was able to feed this first hand experience into a staff development session he was preparing. He has documented the experience through Storify.

The presentation element of the session concluded with David observing that Social Media has the capacity to allow academics to build academic communities with students, other researchers and the wider general public through YouTube and Twitter amongst others. Starting up is easier than you think and as long as you have something to interesting to say and have a rationale for saying it then there is little stopping people from reap[ing the benefits that are to be had.

The E-Learning Development Team offer training in entry level video production and / or editing. Please get in touch to discuss how we can help and access to equipment.


Replay recording of seminar (presentation only, Q&A has not been published)

iTube Seminar – PowerPoint slides

From Crazy Chemists to Engaged Learners through Education, Nature Chemistry 3, 681-684 (2011) David K. Smith

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