Reports of the YouTube Effect Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

There has been some thoughtful response to yesterday's piece in Inside Higher Ed following up on discussion in various places about videos of teachers on YouTube. In the voice of Renetto: Hey all youz YouTubers, listen up!

Collin Brooke has a provocative policy clause on re-broadcasting (though I'm not sure this would do much for mooning incidents, :) ), Alex Reid has a well worded clarification/restatement given the flattening of the debate stemming from the IHE piece, and Clay Spinuzzi has a discussion regarding the control of representations.

In an unfolding online discussion like this one, with so many soundings in so many places, it's very tempting to restate, clarify, and restate again in the effort to be heard ever more clearly. If I were to do that, I'd emphasize again how very few professors are represented on YouTube and how very many K-12 teachers are, and then repeat a discussion of how many more issues (mainly of public humiliation) those K-12 teachers face in the ways they are represented. By steering the discussion of teacher-YouTube-videos to the representation of the professoriate, we miss a larger set of sentiments and beliefs informing the videos of K-12 teachers.

But (having just said that) I want to emphasize something else:

Critique and evaluation of instruction on YouTube is only part of a larger trend of similar web-based efforts to relocate the evaluation of instructors away from institutionally sanctioned systems of evaluation.

At the University of Washington, for instance, students signing up for a course can view course evaluations for their instructors in the online course evaluation catalog. (When I taught at UW, this data was open to the public; now it's available to students, alums, and anyone with a UW netid.) First point of reference.

If you're at UW and want to see if your instructor is attractive, or least has been rated as such, you can go to ratemyprofessors.com/hotProfs.html. Second point of reference.

Another place where instruction gets represented is on Facebook, a site where groups have been known to form in organized action against an instructor, program, college, or institution. At the University of Illinois, where I now teach, simply searching for the keywords "department sucks" on Facebook reveals a number of condemnatory reviews of departments and instructors. Third point of reference.

This is to say that reports of the YouTube effect have been greatly exaggerated, at least in terms of how videos of teachers on YouTube are being construed as a significantly new form of representation and evaluation. Sure video is powerful, even more powerful than words in some cases, but students have been creating web texts of various kinds for some time now to variously rip on their professors. Homepages like the ones hauled in by that last link form a fourth point of reference.

Instead of thinking of ways to wipe out teacher-YouTube-videos with policies, rules, and the sponsorship of electronic illiteracy (really: wouldn't that be the most effective way to keep our students from representing us online?), I think we and they would benefit more from a thorough examination of the attitudes that inform both the clandestine documentation of our labor, the bodily objectification of female instructors, and the violence/humiliation perpetrated against teachers for entertainment.

This is why, in my post titled Let's Play Humiliate Teacher I told the story of an Assistant Professor I work with who became the subject of a bingo-ish game about her and her teaching. This game emerges from a set of attitudes and positioning of teacher and student that are being expressed not only on YouTube, but much more broadly in the classrooms where we work.


  1. I should probably add a smiley or two to my post--because of all my server difficulty, I wasn't in the mood to add much detail.

    But it did occur to me that policies like my little fantasy one would technically outlaw note-taking as well as you-Tubing, which is partly why they can never really work. It's not that we don't want our students to "represent" us and our courses; we just want to have control over it so that it's done in approved fashion.

    Your 2nd to last paragraph is dead on. Trying to outlaw these kinds of expressions will only encourage them...


  2. Gotcha. Note-taking and taping lectures, both long-standing practices.

    (I'll match your server difficulties with a dead-but-still-quietly-squeaking Mac taking up space on my office desk. :( )

  3. Well said! (squeak!)

  4. email from "the tech guys" reads: "The hard drive on the iMac is dead." Arrrggggkkkkkppppgpgppg!

  5. I'm late in responding to this, but I like this post. In particular, the class issues informing the humiliation of teachers (which are suggested by your posts) are a potent topic for further research.

    Aside from the treatment of faculty and teachers as service workers, an attitude reinforced by the crap working conditions and unreasonably poor compensation, one might also consider the broader disregard for education of many college students in relation to class.

    For example, a common notion is that anti-intellectualism is a function of working class resentment of middle class privilege. Yet, in my experience, it has been entirely middle class students who display this attitude while working class students till value education (perhaps mistakenly) for what it can offer them socially.

  6. This gives me a lot to think about, bp -- thanks!