07/06/2011 06:26 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2011

YouTube Moves From Cats Playing Piano to Classrooms

YouTube is no longer just for smoking toddlers, cats playing piano, skateboarding dogs and "Don't Tase Me, Bro!"

In the past few years, YouTube and Google videos has become a helpful teaching tool.

I have taught Journalism at Temple University and Journalism and Sports Ethics at Arcadia University as an Adjunct Professor for the past seven years. One of my greatest challenges is to keep the students engaged and interested. This is an especially big challenge in one of my courses that runs for three hours. For the most part, the students' attention spans max out at around 20 minutes, so it helps to engage them in different types of learning activities, such as lectures, group discussions and exercises. Now, I have the ability to play short educational videos.

While I was aware of the YouTube social phenomenon, I only associated it with the wacky viral videos that were featured as comic relief on nightly news shows. My recent conversations with many other faculty members indicate that many other professors were unaware of YouTube as a teaching tool. However, in the middle of this past spring semester, I discovered the educational value of YouTube and Google Videos by accident.

During the semester, I found many valuable videos online that I played for my classes. Some ranged from comical, such as a Schoolhouse Rock style song parody on defamation and a short portion of a television program episode that parodied youth sports, to more serious topics, such as lectures on how to break into magazine writing, how to create a website and a 10 minute round table discussion of experts debating the pros and cons of Title IX in college sports. The reaction of my students to these videos was unanimously positive.

What's great about these videos is that they can be accessed quickly and spontaneously. In one class, I was discussing press conferences when a student mentioned the famous Allen Iverson "practice" press conference. To my surprise, two-thirds of the class were unfamiliar with the video, so I typed in a Google video search and accessed the press conference within 30 seconds.

The launch of the video-sharing website YouTube in 2005 created an easy way for people to post videos online. While most of the videos are still posted by individuals, YouTube has content posted by media corporations that have partnership agreements with YouTube. In November 2006, YouTube was purchased by Google and now operates as a subsidiary of Google. YouTube EDU features videos on many topics from many universities. According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, nearly 450 universities worldwide, including around 390 in the U.S. and Canada, have established a channel through YouTube EDU, including over 63,000 hours of video content, which includes class lectures. Just recently, YouTube launched a project called YouTube Town Hall, which features United States Senators and Representatives debating current and important issues.

Teachers in K-12 schools are also using online educational videos. The Discovery Channel has launched United Streaming, which offers educational videos geared towards K-12 students. The website WatchKnow has posted over 20,000 educational videos in over 3,000 categories.

While the potential benefits of using Youtube/Google videos are enormous, there are some pitfalls to be wary of.

Obviously, teachers, especially those in K-12, need to be careful about the content in the YouTube videos that they show classes. In the future, it's inevitable that a few teachers will be fired, suspended or reprimanded for showing their class a YouTube video that contains inappropriate sexual or violent content or has graphic language.

To prevent this, many school districts nationwide have implemented policies regarding their teachers and students engaging in the educational use of Social Network tools, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Still, more K-12 schools, as well as universities, should establish policies and guidelines to give their teachers an idea of what type of videos are permissible or impermissible to show to their classes. Naturally, universities would have a lot more leeway. There are also potential issues regarding Copyright and Fair Use that should be defined.

Despite potential pitfalls, these videos are a great educational resource.

The revolution is being televised. Using YouTube and Google Videos are a great way of making the digital natives less restless.