A student in a New Jersey high school recently filmed a shouting and visibly angry teacher forcing a student to stand for the National Anthem by yanking his chair from under him. The clip was posted on several Internet sites, and garnered support and criticism. A student in Minnesota posted a film about the poor condition of bathrooms in his high school, complete with interviews. "The students tend to abuse the facilities, so I make use of staff restrooms whenever I can," said one teacher. Such do-it-yourself online video brings compelling reality to teaching and learning, but also presents escalating new challenges for school districts.
Video clips are now easy to upload to the Internet, thanks to new Web-based video file sharing services such as Blinx, Dailymotion, Putfile and YouTube. The power of online video is available to most districts, and students and staff are using films for countless applications. For example, the St. Louis Public Schools in Missouri posted presentations by candidates running for the school board; the Orange Unified School District in California posted a special performance by the middle school honor band at a local university; and the Colonial School District in Pennsylvania used online video to show how interactive whiteboards were used in the schools.
Videos can be uploaded to one or more of the host sites for use by anyone at any time, integrated into district Web pages, added to other sites such as MySpace.com, and downloaded to portable devices, including the video iPod. YouTube has become an Internet phenomenon showing a staggering 30 million videos a day on every conceivable topic, and adding more than 30,000 videos daily.
The ease of uploading video to the Internet is also causing an explosive growth of video-centered Web logs called videoblogs, vblogs or vlogs, for posting personal news, information and commentary. Vblogs are now information sources in every content area, such as Rocketboom in New York that covers daily stories from news and the arts to the quirky Internet culture. Similarly, the Full Disclosure vblog in California reports on controversial topics including allegations of school corruption.
Online video is a potent communications medium schools need to tap. To illustrate, the Web site of the Council Rock School District in Pennsylvania provides a staff development resource page about blogs and vblogs, Central High School in Minnesota includes a section on its Web site for student films, and the Martin Luther King Jr. School in New Jersey claims that its "Atlantic City Rough Cuts" is "the world's first elementary school video blog." You will find additional examples by searching on phrases such as "school videoblog" at a video host site or in a blog directory such as Blogger.com.
But the ease of uploading video and the overwhelming numbers of online clips present huge problems for schools since offensive and even grossly pornographic content can get online before site owners have a chance to isolate or delete such films. Some host sites offer free access to so-called mature content, some ask users to click a button to "certify" they are of legal age and others require token registration. Locally identifiable content also makes it easier for cyberstalkers to harass children and teenagers. While online video brings substantial benefits to schools, it has never been more crucial for educators to be well-informed, establish clear school policies and closely supervise its use.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.