Tim Lorang Blog

The Search for Intelligent Video

Posted by Timothy Lorang on Fri, Oct 01, 2010 @ 06:01 PM

Dealing with educational video on the internet is difficult because there is no order. For many this is one of the endearing traits of the internet unless say, you’re a high school science teacher trying to find resources for her advanced students or someone who wants to find out about Mayan Culture but doesn’t want to deal with the end of the world in 2012. Unlike a library where all the books are catalogued and a trained librarian can help you find what you want the internet can try the patience of even a skilled web surfer. Brad Wheeler, The VP of IT and CIO for Indiana University covered this whole question of verifiable content on the internet very well in an article last year for EDUCAUSE Review, “In Search of Certitude.This is an important issue and until it is addressed the internet will not be an important resource for educators, researchers or anyone trying to find factual content.

This is certainly not new. It has been one of the main criticisms of the internet. As Wheeler illustrates in the article, at one time, when you wanted information, you went to a certified source of knowledge, such as an encyclopedia or someone who knew where to look, such as librarian, to help you find what you were looking for. This was time consuming but there was a level of certitude that the information was correct. The internet replaced time and certitude with speed and abundance. You can now find a lot of information very fast but you really do not know if the information is correct.

The current situation for on-line educational video is very similar. As Marta Kagan states in her popular slide show: What the F**K is Social Media: One Year Later, thirteen hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and 100 million videos are viewed every day. That’s a lot of video and finding what you need is a challenging chore. Just a simple search through YouTube’s Education Channel for Mayan Culture brought back over 38 hundred results. I didn’t even have time to scroll them all never mind conducting any type of through or rational search. In contrast when I searched the Seattle Public Library for books on Mayan Culture I got back 300 results and they were sub-categorized into subject areas such as art, languages, hieroglyphics, history and fiction. If I needed further help I could call the librarian. On the down side there were only 4 videos, one was with Dora the Explorer and another featured Dennis the Menace.

Back on YouTube the 38 hundred results are intimidating and it only gets worse as you delve into the titles. The top result presents Lost Civilization – Maya – 1 of 6. It looks to be a well produced documentary produced by Joel Westbrook and written by Jason Williams. It has a 5 star rating and has been viewed well over 56,500 times. It seems very well produced and informative. The length however is only about eight minutes and you quickly figure out that this is part of a larger documentary. Short videos have been, until recently, one of the drawbacks of YouTube. But there is really no other information about the video. When you follow the link you end up at a web site that asks the question: Is the world really going to end on December 12, 2012? It seems that Westbrook’s and Williams’ documentary has been high jacked by some quacks. Can we trust the video? 

Another 5 star search result is Secrets of the Mayan Underworld: Ancient Traditions.This is another short but well produced documentary that was well branded from BBC Worldwide. Following the link brought me to BBC Worldwide’s YouTube Channel that immediately launched into a video about hurricanes. I couldn’t find the Mayan documentary on the BBC site; or rather I couldn’t find the place to look for the documentary. They did have 95 Doctor Who videos so I may be going back.

Back with my 3,800 Mayan Culture search results I found a number of documentary snippets with no information or citations. Many seemingly good programs are linked to sites about aliens and crop circles. I even found a segment of the 1973 pseudo documentary; In Search of Ancient Astronauts entitled Gods of 2012. Of course Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto has a number of appearances as does Chris Rock’s new comedy Good Hair, apparently because Maya Angelou is in it. The point is that you have to go through a lot of work to find quality programs and even then you really don’t know who made them, if the information is correct or if the content is there with the owner’s permission.

There are a number of sites that are addressing this issue by vetting the programs in some way. Sites that are dedicated to presenting video programs from educational institutions such as UCTV or UChannel are good examples. YouTube has addressed the issue by giving educational institutions their own space in YouTube called YouTube.EDU. A search there for Mayan Culture brings up one lecture from Villanova University called The Collapse of the Ancient Maya: Interpretations of the Past and Preserving the Future, by Richard M. Leventhal, Ph.D. a professor of anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. The hour long lecture with washed out slides is of very poor technical quality but at least you know Professor Leventhal will not start a discussion on alien space visitors. ITunesU has been the center of Universities sharing video on-line and making them available for podcasting for some time. But searching for content there is a pain in the neck. Try looking up “Mayan.”

There are a number of sites that do try to aggregate and vet educational and informational videos. In his blog Open Culture, Dan Colman provides a very good list of sites that feature what he calls “Intelligent Video.” Here you will find academic web sites like ResearchChannel or sites dedicated to certain subjects like The Science Network. Colman even attempts to bring order to YouTube with his Intelligent YouTube Video Collections. There are blogs too, like Sandra Kiume’s CHannelN that reviews and presents videos about the brain and behavioral sciences. At sites run by academic institutions or media aggregators with some type of controlled submission process from academic institutions, you can be fairly confident that the material at least represents the view of an academic employed at that institution and that it has reached some minimal level of scholarship. Otherwise the institution would not allow its name to be attached to the program. In the name of scholarship and freedom of speech Universities are loath to impose censorship or controls on their faculty but very few radicals with unsupported convictions become university professors. On the other hand, programs from non-university sites become harder to validate. And as we’ve seen in our brief YouTube excursion a lot of folks have no problem usurping other peoples work to promote their outlandish claims. Considering the poor quality of so much academic video it really would not be hard at all to fake an educational video.

In conclusion the enormous amount of video available on the internet has not made it easier to find content. Nor can it be certified once found. Brad Wheeler, in his article “In Search of Certitude,” suggested a solution that combined the speed and abundance of the internet with the thorough vetting process of a librarian. Until then the potential for disseminating video content on the internet is seriously limited.

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