The YouTuber Experience

Hey folks,

It’s been a month since my last update, and by now I thought I’d be sitting here with a big grin enjoying all the results of my work on creating a kids-oriented edutainment channel on YouTube where I could post videos about skills based activities we don’t have time for learning in our inquiry-based school curriculum. By now I’d thought to have plenty of kids subscribed, a wide mixture of different maker projects featured, and all of them tying into units, lessons, themes or digital citizenship in some manner.

NOPE.

Well, not quite. Check out my humble beginnings over here at “MattMakes on YouTube“.

There is a lot more to consider for this project than I’d originally thought. In the beginning, I watched content from YouTubers my students were into. I tried to learn what it was that made them engaging and interesting to kids, and at first thought, “hey I can do better than that!”. A lot of their commentary was inane and silly, and I wanted there to be at least the occasional nugget of learning in between bouts of maniacal laughter and superfluous language. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch, but I had a lot to learn about YouTube culture, audience, and the technology involved.

Research

As evidenced throughout my past two COETAIL courses, I’d been learning a lot about working with video. I’ve taken a few courses through a free trial on the excellent how-to website skillshare.com (free months of premium classes for both of us if you sign up through that link!), learning the basics of Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. I also watched a lot of YouTube advice for new YouTubers, even some content that was created through my local Cambodian Google Educators Group:

Community involvement

Audience

There’s nothing like feedback from an authentic audience. I threw a question out to the Twitterverse to see if my PLN had some suggestions:

And they did!

Twitter shoutout
But it was only a drop in the bucket of information I needed. When your audience is kids, no amount of research into blog posts, news articles, or even other adult YouTubers can tell you the whole story… you’ve got to go to the source. So I asked permission to survey the G1-G5 kids at my school. Here are the questions I’ve asked 327 kids:

  1. Do you have your own YouTube account?
  2. How do you like to watch? (Devices)
  3. What are your favourite kinds of videos? (choose from extensive list)
  4. How often/how long do you watch?
  5. Do you publish your own videos?
  6. Who are your favourite YouTubers?

I’ll post the results here once they’re in. Here’s a sneak peak:
How often
I particularly like the last question, as I’ve started to realize there is a lot of inappropriate content being consumed by kids, and that adults (parents and teachers both) are largely oblivious to the influence and impact some of these YouTube entertainers have on their audience. This is causing a shift in my immediate goals as a YouTube educator/entertainer, more on that in the Status Report! at the end.

Culture

There is a unique culture surrounding YouTube, one that I’m only beginning to understand. Content creators form communities, and support each other with shares, likes and shout-outs. Kids are very concerned (dare I say “too concerned“) about statistics such as “likes” and “subscriptions”. Slang, drama, and collaborations are common among popular channels. Copyright issues abound, including copyright trolls claiming your content is under their ownership. I’ve never had a better example to teach creative credit and copyright before this experience (more on this below). There are expectations of certain functions and language to be used within videos. If I had to help someone understand the YouTube culture experience in one sentence it would be: “Dive in, sink or swim”. Publishing on YouTube as an educator and entertainer is something very public, and so you need to resign yourself to the fact that your learning and growth are also very public. Your failures are public. It’s a lot to adjust to when your critics are tugging on your arm in the school hallway to suggest ways to make your videos better, but it’s an amazing way to learn.

It’s left me wondering though, if so many of our kids are learning this way, and so few teachers and parents understand this culture or know which creators they are watching, are we missing an opportunity here? Are we letting them down?

Technical Challenges

Aside from the camera/microphone/video editor combo necessary to start creating, there are lots of tricks to making your YouTube videos more dynamic, interactive, and engaging. I’m still working on that, but there are two main issues that I underestimated when I started planning this project. Regional account restrictions, and copyright bots.

I’m launching my channels from Cambodia, a country where Google does not have an official business presence and so Google Apps deployments here lack some features. One of those is the ability to have a YouTube channel with that account. You can still create YouTube accounts using any private email address, but students at our school can’t like/subscribe/comment/publish or curate content using their school email address and google account. This is a big problem when you want to provide regular content to a user base of kids who most likely do not have another account other than the one used at school. It \impacts the number of subscriptions and local success of the channel, and creates barriers to student access that result in many email links to individual videos as a workaround. Not really happy about this, but nothing much I can do about it other than work around it.

Copyright bots are everywhere! Within minutes of posting my videos I inevitably receive copyright claims on my content, disputing my ownership to music or images included in my video. Since I’m creating everything myself, using short clips under “fair use”, or citing royalty free or copyright free content, it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately the bots don’t know that! They recognize snippets of my content as belonging to someone else and file copyright claims automatically, allowing them to disable features of my videos (such as mobile viewing) or monetize them with advertisements unless you successfully dispute the claim with YouTube. So far I’ve always been successful, but there is something “dirty” feeling about a company you don’t know placing ads on your video without your permission. It’s also annoying and time consuming.

Status Report!

The new information I have about culture, technical restrictions, and student watching preferences has put a spotlight on the need to better understand YouTube as a cultural phenomenon as much as a potential learning tool. This has put a bit of a spin on my project, as I’ve decided to split into two channels, one for adults and one for kids. Although my focus for this project was on creating educational, entertaining content in a “YouTuber” style for kids to extend learning beyond classroom lessons, I think that I can better achieve that by reaching out to our community and trying to help parents and teachers better understand this phenomenon. My next video will be aimed at that audience in a “YouTube for parents” video. Following that, I’m shifting the content I’d planned for some of the upcoming videos to be better integrated with the content students are learning in school… less green screen and video tips, more coding. Time to make a virtual pet using Scratch!

Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your comments below. Best of luck to any COETAILers out there in the last stages of your final projects!

-M

 

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