There were choruses of cheers when YouTube announced the official launch of its YouTube for Schools feature today. Google began piloting the program earlier this fall, offering a way for schools to access video content deemed "educational" via a special portal. Now any school can sign up for YouTube for Schools, whether you're a Google Apps for Education user or not.
YouTube for Schools redirects video traffic, making it possible for schools that block YouTube to unblock the Youtube.com/education subdomain.,
Giving students access to just a portion of YouTube has become necessary due to CIPA-related concerns about restricting children's access to "inappropriate material" while using school Internet resources. Or framed another way, there are videos on YouTube that some people deem inappropriate. And at many schools, YouTube is blocked entirely.
Google frames its blog announcement about distraction as well as inappropriateness. No cute cat or music videos, says Google. But there is a library of hundreds of thousands of educational videos (those are Google's numbers), including those already listed on YouTube EDU and content from over 600 media partners -- Smithsonian, Khan Academy, and TED, to name a few.
The new program is a big win for schools that have been grappling with filtering issues. (See: MindShift's awesome coverage of this topic this year.) Blocking YouTube Writ Large does mean no cat videos, true. It means no Justin Bieber videos. But it also means no OK Go. No clips from Tahrir Square. No Khan Academy. No videos from NASA. It means no video shot by students or teachers themselves and uploaded to the easiest and most ubiquitous video-sharing site on the Internet. #FAIL.
YouTube for Schools does solve (some of) the concerns that (some) schools still have about (some) user-generated videos. As such the new program can offer reassurances to schools that the videos it allows are all "appropriate"; they're all pre-screened. YouTube for Schools doesn't point to Related Videos outside the system, and YouTube's infamous comments have also been expunged.
No doubt, Google has had to do something to address the filtering issue, particularly as educational videos have become more ubiquitous (and Khan Academy more renowned). Google's philanthropic arm has helped fund Khan Academy and the company has embraced the idea of educational video production, kicking off another YouTube endeavor earlier this year called YouTube for Teachers. That program helps teachers learn to make videos and to use videos in their classrooms.
All this is for naught if YouTube remains blocked at schools.
But creating a separate and special channel for approved, appropriate educational content does raise some questions. I mean, what is wrong with cat videos, for crying out loud?! Seriously though: is this about media partnerships? (Google has forged quite with YouTube this year, most recently with Disney and Pixar.) And what counts as "educational" video? What counts as "appropriate"? Who gets their content approved as such? And how can teachers and students make their own videos available?
Google says that there will be opportunities to expand what's in the program's catalog, and videos and playlists added at youtube.com/teachers will be reviewed by the YouTube Edu team before being added to YouTube for Schools. Teachers will also be able to request that specific videos are authorized for their schools' accounts through their IT administrator. (LOL. Sorry.)