Saturday, October 31, 2009

WatchKnow - Helping Educators Find Videos That Students Can Watch to Know More

(Guest post by Jeff Branzburg)

There are many places on the Internet to find and view videos; some are general purpose (like YouTube and Vimeo) some specific to education (such as TeacherTube, SchoolTube, Annenberg, and more). Some are free, some cost. Fairly new in this mix for education is WatchKnow (www.watchknow.com), a nonprofit project of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. WatchKnow has some impressive names behind it, such as Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, and an advisory committee with other well known people like Chris Dede and Larry Lessig.

Here’s how they describe themselves –

What is WatchKnow? Imagine hundreds of thousands of great short videos, and other media, explaining every topic taught to school kids. Imagine them rated and sorted into a giant Directory, making them simple to find. WatchKnow--as in, "You watch, you know"--is a non-profit online community devoted to this goal.

The site currently provides access to over 11,000 educational videos; their goal is to bring that to the hundreds of thousands. They don’t host the videos, they link to them on YouTube, TeacherTube, National Geographic, eHow, Internet Archive, and other hosts.

And they don’t just list any video; they have a media review panel of teachers, librarians, and experts in educational technology, who serve as community moderators and rate videos (their ratings are worth proportionately more than other contributors).

Here’s what I like about WatchKnow –

  • It pulls together videos from a variety of sites. There are a lot of excellent videos that can be used in the classroom all over the Internet. And that’s part of the problem. They are all over the Internet. Sure, you can go to Annenberg, go to the Internet Archive, go to TeacherTube and search. But wouldn't it be better to go to one place, search for a topic, and have results from all? An educational meta-search, vetted by teachers, for videos.
  • It is very easy to search, filter, or drill down. Searching is just like any search – enter a term, click search, and see the results. Filtering can be used to limit results by age (by using a sliding number-line type graphic). Or drill down by clicking subjects, areas, topics, each time zeroing in on what you are looking for.
  • It is a non-profit organization. I have no problem with profit making organizations, but I seem to always lean toward the non-profits (I work for two right now). They have no shareholders to answer to. Just their cause, their purpose in being.
  • Most of the videos have been added by teachers and librarians hired to do so. Professionals doing their jobs.
  • The advisory committee is strong, which helps keep the organization on target.
  • All newly uploaded videos are moderated, so users know there are standards to which they are held. (This reminds me somewhat of NYLearns.org, where resources are all moderated.)
  • It is easy and efficient for teachers to use, as well as visually appealing

On the other hand -

  • With most videos (at least that I saw) from YouTube, many schools would miss a lot. (True, one can use a service such as Zamzar to download them, but that adds a step, besides the questionable legality of doing so).
  • Most of the videos I viewed were lectures on screen, lots of digital chalk and talk. More interesting, innovative videos are needed.
  • There are "only" about 11,000 videos (it’s funny to refer to 11,000 as "only." Before the electronic age no school had that many films, videotapes, or even filmstrips – remember them - but we know there are so many more available online overall. Times change!)

Overall, I think WatchKnow is useful, and will hopefully grow to be more useful over time. Keep an eye on it!

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