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Virginia Journal of Education


Roll the Video, Make the
Transition to Technicolor

Glen Bull and Bernard Robin

Robert Klose teaches marine biology in Maine. Despite his love for the subject, in a recent column in the Christian Science Monitor, he noted that until recently he never fully succeeded in doing it justice:

“Nothing I say can do justice to these beautiful creations in their natural habitats. Yes, I can pass around some sharks' teeth, allow my students to handle a dried-out sponge, and let them take a gander at a small octopus preserved in a block of clear plastic. But there's a clear lack of dynamism here.”

This changed almost by accident when his son introduced him to YouTube. Klose was a reluctant convert, resisting at first, commenting that he didn’t want to watch “old rock bands.” However, YouTube (and other video sites) have a nearly infinite variety of video on almost any conceivable topic, including, “jellyfish with bioluminescent tentacles, octopi on the prowl, a scallop that swam like a set of animated dentures, sea cucumbers snuffling in the muck, flying fish soaring over the waves.”

Klose waited with great anticipation for an opportunity to use the clips in class. The result more than met his expectations. “The effect was magical. The blue ocean ebbed and flowed before us as myriad sea creatures swam, crawled, and flew about. I stood alongside the screen, narrating the action, occasionally pausing a video clip to point out this or that detail that illuminated my students' notes. … The ‘wows’ and ‘whoas’ from the class confirmed for me that I had struck gold.”

Klose describes the result as resembling the transition to Technicolor in the “Wizard of Oz.” The full description, well worth reading, is available here:

There are several noteworthy aspects of the transformation of his teaching. One is that it took place from the outside in. Often schools and universities are generators of knowledge that transform society. In this instance, a social and technical revolution in the world outside the classroom transformed his course.

It is also notable that Klose describes his course as dry prior to incorporation of media. Technical evangelists have been predicting that media would transform teaching ever since Edison popularized film more than a century ago. So, what’s different about the present that allowed Klose to make this conceptual leap?

Older analog technologies such as celluloid film were fixed and unchangeable. In contrast, a digital video posted on the Internet may easily be revised, re-edited, and re-posted. Digital media are dynamic rather than static. The distinction is so important that we have begun using the term Dynamic Media to refer to their use. The dynamic quality of digital media goes beyond the ability to revise and remix. The fluid nature of digital media allows them to be easily shared.

If you would like to incorporate video clips into your classes, there is one hurdle to consider - most schools block YouTube and similar sites, and with good reason. There is a great deal of content on the web that is not appropriate for children or school use. For that reason, you may have to identify appropriate video clips relevant to your teaching at home, or at some other site away from school.

Once you have identified relevant content, there is the matter of getting it into your class. Fortunately, there are a number of different software applications that can be used to download streaming video clips from the web. Once you have downloaded the file, you can transfer it to your laptop, a CD, or a thumb drive. One benefit of capturing the content in this way is that you will be able to present relevant video clips to your class even when Internet access is uneven.

Media Converter ( is one of the more widely used tools for downloading media from YouTube and similar sites. To take advantage of it, copy the URL of the video you wish to download. Then go to the Media Converter web site and check the button labeled “Convert a video directly from various portals.” Paste in the URL you copied to begin the process.

You will also need to specify the video format to use when the clip is downloaded. The QuickTime MOV format usually plays well on both PCs and Macintosh computers. After specifying the format, you can follow the remaining on-screen instructions to download the video clip and save it to your computer. You can repeat the process to collect as many video clips from the site as you want for use in your class.

Downloading video clips in this way confers another benefit by allowing you to edit them with software such as MovieMaker (a free application available for PCs) or iMovie (on Macs). If you (or your students) revise them and add enhancements, you can even repost them to the web for others to use.

Bull is co-director of the Curry Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the University of Virginia. Robin is a professor of instructional technology at the University of Houston.



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