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Modern technologies are shaping modern society.  The way in which young people function in today’s society is not the same as it was for the last generation.  What it means to be literate today involves reading and writing, like before, but it now also involves much more.  YouTube forms a substantial part of modern technology and society.  While it is a simple, easy to use and popular application, there are several necessary skills and literacies that must be taken into consideration for it to be used effectively.

To be able to understand the literacies of the 21st century and the effects of modern technologies on education, we must first look at the Internet.

“Technologically. Philosophically. Socially. I… believe [the internet] is the biggest technological event since the capture of fire in terms of what it will do to the basic look and feel of being a human being.” (Barlow cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2006, p. 35)

In particular we should consider Web 2.0, the most current version of the Internet.  Web 2.0 is web sites that demonstrate some or all of a set of principles and practices (O’Reilly, 2005).  The first principle is “the Web as platform” (O’Reilly, 2005), which refers to the Internet as a service provider.  Web 2.0 as a platform means that people can now use the Web to do things that in the past required purchasing and uploading software.  The second principle is “harnessing collective intelligence” (O’Reilly, 2005).  It is very simple for lay people to add content to the Internet and create websites.  This content can then be accessed by other users who may link it to their own content or websites.  Being able to publish content empowers individuals and allows them to become successful and influential at little or no cost to themselves.  The third principle is data (O’Reilly, 2005).  There is an abundance of data and information easily accessible on the Web.  Users can copy, move, alter, remix and link data (Alexander, 2008).  To sum up, Web 2.0 focuses on “services and enabling” (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006).  Cohen (2007) describes it as user-driven, participatory and personalised, going on to state it encourages conversation, collaboration and sharing.

The emergence of new technologies is bringing with it a new set of values and a new way of looking at the world. This has essentially created a split amongst populations where people are now divided into those who view the world as unchanged and as such continue like they always have done (Newcomers), and those who realise that the world is different to what it was not long ago and as a result have changed their frame of mind (Insiders) (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006).

“The world is being changed in some fairly fundamental ways as a result of people imagining and exploring how using new technology can become part of making the world … different from how it presently is” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006, p. 34).

Web 2.0 is a product of the Insiders’ mentally, as we can see from the shared characteristics.  This mindset views production as an enabling service as well as a tool for mediating and relating, and focuses on non-finite participation.  The focus is on collective intelligence and expertise and authority are distributed and collective.  Space is open, continuous and fluid and there is no stable textual order (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006).  These are features of both the Insider mindset as well as Web 2.0.

The highly interactive nature of the Internet and Web 2.0 sites means a lot of different skills and literacies are required to comprehend, manipulate and produce content. Visual literacy is very relevant when discussing computers and Internet technology.  It encompasses images, both still and moving, as well as things like icons.  The International Visual Literacy Association explained when they first coined the term in 1969 that visual literacy includes not only the visual elements, but being able to perform those in conjunction with other sensory skills (as cited in Slyvester & Greenidge, Dec 2009 – Jan 2010).  This then extends the meaning of visual literacy to include watching films with sound, narration or music.

Critical literacy is an important literacy that should be explicitly taught in schools.  It is formed on the assumption that no text can be produced objectively.  That is to say that all texts, in all forms are constructed by a person who has a certain age, race, gender, social background, political ideologies and so on, and these factors influence the author’s point of view.

“Critical literacy practices … involve the interrogation of texts to uncover the ideologies operating in them; they also involve the interrogation of the relationships among texts, readers, and the wider society in which ideologies are embedded.” (Fairclough, 1992; Freebody, Luke & Gilbert, 1991 as cited in Birr Moje, Peyton Young, Readence, & Moore, 2000)

Due to the massive amount of information available on the Web and the varied authors, it is important we differentiate the information based on the author.

Media literacy can be described as an ‘umbrella’ literacy as it is quite a broad literacy and incorporates a lot of varied skills.  Media literacy includes the skills needed

“to access, evaluate, and create messages in written and oral language, graphics and moving images, and audio and music.  In addition, media literacy requires the composer of multiple texts to select graphics, moving images, narration, music that complement the multimedia project” (Slyvester & Greenidge, Dec 2009 – Jan 2010).

As such, it is a complex literacy, but one that is crucial if one is to be a literate member of the 21st century.

With the slogan ‘broadcast yourself,’ YouTube encompasses the principles of Web 2.0 applications, the Insider mindset and the new literacies. “YouTube is a video-sharing website on which users can upload, share, and view videos” (YouTube).  Users can comment on videos and subscribe to other users’ channels, receiving notifications via email when a new video has been uploaded by that user.  YouTube videos can be viewed on the YouTube website but can also be embedded on other websites, allowing users to take content and add it to their own personal website, to their social networking site, or to send it to friends.  This description of YouTube allows us to see the three principles of Web 2.0 earlier mentioned, YouTube is a platform, it harnesses collective intelligence and it contains a massive amount of data that is controlled and manipulated by it’s users.  It also encourages sharing, conversation and collaboration.  In relation to the Insider frame of mind, YouTube is an enabling service that can be used for mediating and relating.  All users are experts and the authority is collective and evenly distributed, “the wide range of topics covered by YouTube has turned video sharing into one of the most important parts of Internet culture” (YouTube).  The space is open and continuous and there is no structure, allowing the films to take whatever form the user desires.  Participation has no limits, although users may choose to disallow comments on a video if they wish.  The sense of community and collegiality on YouTube is overwhelming.  Users are very open with sharing videos of interest, and the number of ‘how to’ videos on all manner of subjects shows a sense of social responsibility.  As Time published in 2006 (YouTube) Web 2.0, which includes YouTube, enables “community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.”

With such a dynamic application comes a variety of literacies such as those afore mentioned.  As a video sharing website, visual literacy is obvious. YouTube videos may be moving images, still images, or written word and may be accompanied with dialogue, music, or other aural input.  Students must have an appropriate level of visual literacy to efficiently work with YouTube.

Due to the communal nature of video sharing, critical literacy is necessary.  Uploaded videos come from a variety of different political, cultural and educational backgrounds.  While this can be a fantastic resource, students must understand the author’s subjective point of view.  A report commissioned by the British Library (as cited in Considine, Horton, & Moorman, 2009) showed while young people can access the information available to them on the Internet they have trouble processing it, stating they spend little time “evaluating information either for relevance, accuracy or authority.”  As Considine, Horton, and Moorman (2009) explain, “without the ability to question, analyse, and authenticate information found online, in print, or any media format, … [young people] are open to manipulation and misinformation.”  For example, when looking at Islam, one can find a multitude of videos that promote racism, terrorism and violence from extreme Muslims, but there is also a vast amount of videos from Muslims promoting peace and equality, advising the general public of the dangers of extremists, and pleading for people to not place all Muslims in the same boat as Muslim terrorists.  If a student was to view only a video from the extremist Muslim they would indeed have a very lopsided and ill informed understanding of Islam.  This kind of misinformation breeds hatred, racism and violence, but it is preventable by teaching critical literacy.  Due to the easy nature of accessing information on the Internet and the infinite amount of information available, students must have the skills to be able to understand what they are reading or viewing, and understand the intentions and backgrounds of the authors, so that they may become well informed in different points of views before reaching their own.

Returning to a more physical literacy, media literacy also requires attention in the classroom. Considine, Horton, and Moorman (2009, p. 474) give two reasons for the importance of explicit media instruction.  The first being that students who “can easily comprehend and master the meaning of printed texts may not be equally adept at comprehending images, sound, or multimedia texts.”  Secondly, as students have different strengths, combining visual and aural enriches instruction.  Students and teachers alike need to be media literate to navigate, but especially to create and upload videos.  In creating a film, one is usually required to initially write a script, or storyline of some kind.  The author must then select images, or film something before editing it, where they may add music or narration.  To view videos, one must have the skills to comprehend the visual and aural components of the film.  Finally, to create a comment and evaluate and comprehend other comments, one must be literate in reading, writing and rhetoric.  Media literacy, and therefore YouTube, is a great way to engage students who have never known a world without the Internet.  It recognises the pleasure and skills students get from the Web and modern technologies outside of the classroom and “values their exposure to popular culture texts as an important part of who they are as individuals” (Considine, Horton, & Moorman, 2009, p. 475).  It is also consistent with adolescent literacy by providing students with the opportunity to “examine, explore, critique and defend their media tastes and preferences” (Brozo, 2002; Newkirk, 2002; Pitcher et al., 2007 as cited in Considine, Horton, & Moorman, 2009).

YouTube “harnesses the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom.  Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred” (YouTube).  This statement, published in Time, highlights the need for skilled dialectic.  Students must learn how to appropriately respond to an idea or comment they disagree with, likewise to project an opinion of their own, as well as to ensure they are not easily influenced by other people’s comments.  Dialectic is a “progressive educator” (Kastely as cited in Wallin & Jackson, 2009, p. 383) that contributes to the “maturing of one another” (Burke as cited in Wallin & Jackson, 2009, p. 383).  Students can learn a lot from calmly and intelligently discussing or exchanging comments with another with whom they disagree.  It opens their minds, makes them understand other points of view and allows them to rise above their own opinion, in some cases reconciling differences (Wallin & Jackson, 2009).

“If there is a crisis in today’s schools, [it’s] students’ perception that school is boring and largely irrelevant to preparation for life outside school” (Howe & Strauss, 2006; National School Boards Association, 2007; Prensky, 2008 as cited in Considine, Horton, & Moorman, 2009, p. 473).   YouTube is a big part of popular culture and a platform with which most students are very familiar.  As Lawrence, McNeal, and Yildiz (2009) explain, bringing students’ out of school knowledge and experiences into the classroom can help meet in-school expectations and prepare them for real life expectations in the workplace.  Using YouTube and other new technologies can be the bridge between the outside world and the classroom, and can be the dangling carrot that gets students’ attention and engagement for teachers to teach necessary content, skills and curriculum.  Whilst this is both the answer and the challenge for today’s teachers, it is a necessity if we are to prepare students for life in the 21st century (Prensky, 2001 as cited in Considine, Horton, & Moorman, 2009, p. 473).  YouTube and modern technologies are not replacing the curricula and content of old, rather they are additional and necessary tools to access and manipulate that information.  They can also act as an additional text type.

A negative side of YouTube is how it can be used as a tool for bullying and promoting violence.  “Almost since its inception, people have used YouTube to post videos of violent acts” (Margolis, 2008).  Similarly, YouTube and other Web 2.0 applications give people a platform for public bullying.  An infamous example of this is the “Star Wars Kid” (Luce-Kapler, Sumara, & Iftody, 2010), a 15-year-old boy from Canada whose personal film was found by his peers and posted on the Internet without his knowledge or permission.  Eighteen months after it was posted the film had been viewed 76 million times.  The endless public ridicule resulted in the boy being admitted to a psychiatric ward.  YouTube is a powerful tool, and like other kinds of power, needs to be used responsibly.  Teaching critical thinking and dialectic are both steps towards the responsible use of YouTube and other Web 2.0 applications, but “perhaps the best we can do is to educate ourselves and our students in ‘ethical know-how’” (Luce-Kapler, Sumara, & Iftody, 2010, p. 539).  In this modern society where data can be instantly made public and accessed by billions of people, ethics is more than ever a crucial part of education.

In the YouTube video I produced I tried to incorporate the characteristics and features presented here.  Simply by creating the film and posting it to YouTube I have employed all the literacies mentioned above, that is media literacy, critical literacy, visual literacy and the literacy of reading and writing.  To research my film, I used reading, critical, media and visual literacy.  To create the film I used writing, media and visual literacy, and to post the video I used media literacy.  I have now successfully become a participant and member of Web 2.0.  My video has put information on a public platform for others to view, share and use as they see fit.  People I have never met before are able to comment on my video, giving feedback that is public.  If they desire, people may now subscribe to my channel and will be notified each time I upload a new video.  I even put a link to my video on my Facebook page to show family and friends what I have been working on.

In my film I gave practical classroom ideas for teachers on how to use YouTube in two ways, one was explicitly discussing them in the final cartoon scene and the other was by using them myself.  The animated conversation of ideas was to highlight the importance of using it to engage students and to use it as a tool to extend current curricula.  Giving practical uses to accompany the theory is important, as it gives teachers the tools to successfully implement technology in their classes.  Newcomers in particular, who are not as familiar or comfortable with using new technologies in classrooms, may understand the theory behind it all, may understand the need to do something, but may be at a loss as to know how.  For this group, using technology can be very daunting, but through my video I hope to have demonstrated how simple and straight forward it can be.  I also tried to show that while the technology is new, the principles we need to teach are not: rhetoric, respectful debate, ethics, and critical literacy.  None of these are new and they are skills that Newcomers would have comfortably previously taught.  Whilst educators should be teaching students how to navigate a search engine or YouTube site, it is arguably more important students learn the traditional literacies and skills to accompany the new technologies.  As Insiders and a generation that have grown up with technology, most students will be able to navigate the new technologies themselves without outside instruction, but they cannot teach themselves the literacies and skills behind it.  At a time when some educators are concerned the emergence of new technologies will erase the need for teachers, one must keep that in thought in mind.

In using different styles to create my video I demonstrated some possible classroom YouTube video styles.  I used a mixture of still images and graphics, music, narration, digital stories, blogging, cartoons and written text.  To create the film I used the iMovie application which came as standard softward on my MacBook Pro.  Ironically, in creating a video to upload to YouTube, on the subject of YouTube, I used YouTube a lot as a research tool.  I knew what I wanted to do in my video, but did not know how to do it and found YouTube to be an immensely helpful resource.  I watched tutorials on how to take screen shots, how to film my screen, how to download YouTube videos and save them to my computer, then how to take the screen shots and videos and manipulate them in iMovie.

Still images were used for a visual while my recorded voice played explained concepts.  I also created a digital story, which required me to firstly write a storyboard then select images and appropriate background music. While this remains a video, for the viewer it requires reading the text, viewing the images and listening to the music.

To create the cartoon scenes I used two different websites.  These applications are extremely easy to use, and would be a really fun and engaging tool for so many different classroom tasks.  Again, it first requires writing a script, giving particular attention to spelling and punctuation.  These two elements are of key focus here as the voice will pronounce whatever is written, including spelling mistakes.  Punctuation is just as important for the same reason.  If there is a comma the voice will pause slightly afterwards and it uses full stops and question marks to guide intonation.  This would be a great tool for students as a spelling and punctuation task.

I also filmed myself talking as an attempt at a blog-style video.  No special effects were used in this section to demonstrate the simplicity behind this style.

By giving examples of the kinds of videos that are available on YouTube I hoped to give teachers a background of what it is used for, as well as more possible ideas on how to use it in the classroom.  Most of the different genres of films could be reproduced as classroom projects, and the less appropriate ones like violence, bullying and naming and shaming could form the basis for classes on ethics and other important social issues.

Due to it’s popularity in modern culture, YouTube can be used to engage and motivate students.  Educators can enrich their curricula by adding YouTube as text or as a tool.  Because YouTube shares the same principles as Web 2.0 it is also a great gateway to teach the current literacies and skills required to responsibly navigate and participate online and with other new technologies.


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Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning (2nd Edition). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Lawrence, S. A., McNeal, K., & Yildiz, M. N. (2009). Summer Program Helps Adolescents Merge Technology, Popular Culture, Reading and Writing for Academic Purposes. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , 52 (6), 483 – 494.

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Wallin, J., & Jackson, B. (2009). Rediscovering the“Back-and-Forthness”of Rhetoric in the Age of YouTube. College Composition and Communication , 61 (2), W374-W396.

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