Harnessing the Power of YouTube for Distributed Cognition

I’ve been learning a lot about knowledge communities – including Reciprocal Teaching – (Ann Brown, Anne Marie Palincsar), collaborative knowledge construction (Marlene Scardamalia, Carl Bereiter), and distributed learning (Yvonne Rogers, Michael Cole & Yrjo Engestrom).  However, when I think of “the tubes” (i.e. YouTube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube) and all the learning opportunities they have to offer via traditional transmission instructional strategies – the very strategies we are desperately trying to steer away from – I find myself at a crossroads.  The examples of YouTube learning below have absolutely ZERO aspects of community knowledge creation other than YouTube’s role as video tutorial repository.  Granted, YouTube does allow for the posting of comments for each video, but I have yet to see this feature being used in a way that remotely resembles a community discourse with the goal of deeper understanding.  What follows are some examples of the learning power of YouTube.

Khan Academy
Not sure if anyone has heard of the Khan Academy?  Salman Khan, who quit his job in finance, runs this non-profit educational organization out of a closet in his home.  He regularly creates tutorial videos about an astounding number of science and math topics, and posts them to YouTube.  Here’s a chemistry video about the atom, proton, neutron, and electron:

Common Craft
Then there’s Common Craft, who makes wonderful videos to explain various technologies (e.g. wikis, blogs, augmented reality, etc.).  Here’s Common Craft’s YouTube channel.  Their latest video is about augmented reality:

My 8-Year-Old Nephew
Just to illustrate my classmate, Maria’s, point about the power and appeal of YouTube, I’d like to use my 8-year-old nephew as an example.  Aside from a few ukelele classes he got at his after school program, he has taught himself how to play the ukelele and the guitar by surfing YouTube.  YouTube has fed his motivation to learn both these instruments so much, that he now creates his own ukelele songs (sometimes with accompanying lyrics).  He also gets his parents to take him to local open mic events at least once a week so that he can perform his music.  Furthermore, he gets his mom to video-record his performances so that they can be uploaded to YouTube.  Makes me wonder what he’ll do at age 10.  Here’s my nephew’s YouTube channel if you’re interested.  My favourite song is “I Don’t Know” – hysterical!!!

YouTube for Knowledge Communities & Distributed Cognition?
Contrary to everything I’m learning in graduate school about learning, YouTube, for the most part delivers knowledge in the most pedagogically traditional way.  There is no knowledge community discourse, no distributed cognition, no acknowledgement/accommodation of individual learning styles…it is simply transmission teaching in a digital medium!  Yet, it’s undeniable that such instructional YouTube videos have learning value.  So how might we better use YouTube to enhance learning, promote distributed cognition, and foster knowledge communities?

My first thought is to make better use of the YouTube’s commenting functionality, and use this as a community discussion forum.  However, I think it is better to establish an online learning environment on some other platform, and refer to specific YouTube video resources as the need arises.  This way, the instructor has more tools to work with, in terms of creating an effective online learning environment.  Furthermore, the instructor and participants (through their virtual social presence) may have a clearer picture of how the community’s cognition is distributed and therefore take reasonable actions in their responses to focus on topics/directions that suit the group’s needs.

Case Study Approach
A more concrete strategy to ensure distributed cognition and distributed problem solving within a knowledge community would be to design a specific and authentic problem to be solved by the group as a whole.  Some of my classmates have suggested the case-study method to achieve this.

Knowledge Community & Inquiry (KCI)
Another framework that comes to mind is Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI).  The theoretical tradition of classrooms as knowledge communities (Brown & Campione, 1996; Scardamaila & Bereiter, 1999; Hakkarainen, 2004), engages students with a sense of “collective cognitive responsibility” for continuous community knowledge advancement (Scardamalia, 2002).  KCI is a recent effort within this tradition espoused by James D. Slotta and his colleagues (e.g., Slotta & Peters, 2008; Peters & Slotta, 2010). KCI engages the students and teacher as a knowledge community, building a cooperative “knowledge base” that serves as a resource in scaffolded inquiry activities designed to target specific learning goals.  I believe KCI can be a powerful approach to focusing a knowledge community’s distributed cognition on the collaborative inquiry and problem solving.