September 2010

How YouTube Is Changing the Way Science Is Learned

 

With digital cameras, computers and smart phones in hand, science gurus are taking advantage of YouTube by posting videos that illustrate techniques as simple as casting an agarose gel to methods as complicated as antibody purification. (Titled "YouTube: Broadcasting Your Technique? How YouTube Is Changing the Way Science Is Learned" in print version.)

 

Sci.Comm---YoutubeWe are fortunate to live in a time where there is no limit to the knowledge that is readily accessible. A simple search through the most popular websites can unleash vast amounts of information on any given subject. One such site is YouTube. Founded in 2005 by three former employees of the PayPal division of eBay, YouTube serves as a video-sharing website, which allows users to upload and view videos ranging from music videos to sports clips to family events.

YouTube users have taken sharing science one step further by literally broadcasting laboratory techniques. With digital cameras, computers and smart phones in hand, science gurus are taking advantage of this website by posting videos that illustrate techniques as simple as casting an agarose gel to methods as complicated as antibody purification. YouTube is now virtually changing the way science is presented, taught and learned in classrooms and labs everywhere.

A New Dimension in Learning

Five years ago, the scientific community probably had no idea how “YouTube” and “laboratory techniques” could end up in the same sentence. However, utilizing YouTube to post videos offers a new dimension in learning. The strength of these videos is that they allow the person in the video to demonstrate, verbatim, how a specified technique is performed, including all of the little details we often overlook when using a written protocol.

Utilizing such avenues of exposure makes science an open forum, allowing groups that have developed certain techniques to easily share them with interested colleagues. Viewers can pause, rewind or restart the videos as needed to further familiarize themselves with the techniques. With the convenience that laptops and cell phones offer, these videos easily can be viewed anywhere from the comfort of a couch to a busy airport to the lab. One literally can prepare for the next experiment without carrying around a bulky lab notebook filled with protocols.

Teaching Tools

Scrolling through these videos, one notices that research labs are not the only ones taking advantage of YouTube. University teaching laboratories also have realized the benefits of this form of media. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has long tried to make all curricula available online through its OpenCourseWare initiative. OpenCourseWare is now readily available through MIT’s channel on YouTube. The channel features MIT’s “digital lab techniques manual,” which guides entire lab lessons.

 

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