U.S. Teacher Appreciation Week: YouTube educators reflect on their days in the classroom
According to the recent report The State of the Creator Economy prepared by Oxford Economics, 96% of US teachers who use YouTube stated they use content from the platform in their lessons.”
Editor's note: Some creator responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Today starts Teacher Appreciation Week in the U.S., celebrating teachers and recognizing their lasting contributions. With that in mind, while YouTube is widely used by students as a resource for supplementing academic studies, we’ve seen how important video is for teachers, too.
According to the recent report The State of the Creator Economy prepared by Oxford Economics, 96% of U.S. teachers who use YouTube stated they use content from the platform in their lessons. Video can be a helpful learning aid — whether that’s to visualize a concept, bring a historic artifact to life, reinforce learning, or grab a student's attention.
In celebration of the impact teachers have made, we connected with a handful of YouTube educational content creators, also known as “EduTubers,” and asked them to reflect on their days as classroom teachers.
“YouTube was still kind of the Wild West,” Kimberly Hatch Harrison recalls from her time as a California high school science teacher over 10 years ago. “There wasn’t a lot of educational content specifically produced for YouTube — there were mostly recorded classroom lectures that were hard to see or hear properly. It was also really hard to find certain topics, especially for more advanced math and science subjects.” This challenge spurred the idea for Socratica, which makes high-quality educational videos on math, science, computer programming and more. As Kimberly explains, “My students loved YouTube! So I spent a lot of time looking for videos I could use in class or have them watch for extra credit. Eventually, I realized if I wanted something specific, I should make it myself.”
She was not the only one.
Across the country in Florida, high school math teacher Brian McLogan was setting up a tripod and camera and recording his whiteboard problem walk-throughs. He would upload these videos and put them into playlists for his students for when they missed class, needed more examples, or wanted a quick refresher before a test. This was the genesis of his channel, which now offers over 12,000 short, to-the-point math tutorials.
Simultaneously, at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, programming professor Dan Shiffman thought similarly. “YouTube started as a place for me to document and archive lecture material for my courses. There were so many times in class that I would get stuck with a bug that I couldn’t fix or asked a question that I couldn’t answer, so I’d wander back to my office, take a moment to rest and reflect, and attempt a ‘do-over’.” These “do-overs” were videos he would then send to his students and were the start of Dan’s channel. The Coding Train has now grown into a community welcoming beginner programmers and tech-curious individuals to learn to express themselves with code.
Since then, educational content on YouTube has grown immensely, and its use within the classroom more widespread and intentional. Though these EduTubers have stepped away from the in-school environment, the transition has provided them with unique perspectives on how YouTube may fit into a modern-day classroom.
Former science teacher Brianna Rapini explains that one of the many obstacles classroom teachers face is time. “There’s so often a misconception that teaching equals content delivery, but teaching in the classroom consists of so much more than that.” She adds that channels like hers, Amoeba Sisters, as well as other YouTube videos, including educational Shorts, “can provide a foundation for content delivery, which frees up time for teachers to focus on other essential classroom components: discussions, hands-on experiences, and more!” Brianna and her sister Sarina, the other half of the Amoeba Sisters duo, aim to achieve just that through their use of illustrations and memorable cartoons to teach biology concepts.
While these EduTubers have been able to reach and develop new audiences of students and teachers on YouTube, they all agree that there are elements of their old classrooms that they will always treasure.”
In addition to the benefits YouTube videos can provide teachers, Kimberly points out that each classroom is made up of students with different needs. “Not every student needs to hear three different explanations of the quadratic equation, but some kids will really benefit from that.” To that end, Brianna offers that educational YouTube videos can be a constructive way to provide individualized assistance with missed questions on previous assessments. "If students have a list of videos they can view based on the specific questions they missed, it can be personalized to what they need and when they need it.”
While these EduTubers have been able to reach and develop new audiences of students and teachers on YouTube, they all agree that there are elements of their old classrooms that they will always treasure. They all agree with Brianna that, “The energy of being in a classroom is hard to replicate.” Dan adds, “Nothing can replace the care and support that a teacher offers in the local community of the classroom." Kim especially embraced the creativity and quick experimentation that a physical learning space offers, saying “It was the most fun in the world to think up new ways of explaining biology and chemistry and immediately test it out in the classroom. Working with the students was just the best.” And they also share nostalgia for past experiences at school. As Brian notes, “My time in the classroom was a true joy for me, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else.”