Google Offers Free University Lectures Through YouTube EDU

YouTube is no longer the home to only viral videos and favorite TV show clips. With the launch of YouTube EDU ( in March, Google has made available, for free, more than 200 full courses from 100 universities and colleges. Schools participating in YouTube EDU include MIT, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley. Colleges and universities that offer their courses through YouTube EDU allow for a more accessible environment for both students and non-students.

YouTube EDU comes on the heels of another academic video site, Academic Earth, which is described as “a Hulu for education.”

Upon visiting YouTube EDU, a viewer has the option to see “Most Viewed” videos available on the front page, or click on “Directory” to find a specific college or university’s channel. Available videos include regular class lectures, lectures by special guests, sporting events, and even promotional videos.

UC Berkeley was YouTube’s first partner in offering academic courses on the Website. In October of 2007, the University announced it would make available for free to the public both entire course lectures and special events on YouTube. The University previously in 2001 launched, which delivered course and event content, podcasts, and streaming video. 

In an October 2007 press release, Christina Maslach, UC Berekely’s vice provost for undergraduate education, explained, “UC Berekely on YouTube will provide a public window into university life — academics, events, and athletics — which will build on our rich tradition of open educational content for the larger community.” In the same press release, Ben Hubbard, manager of webcast.berkeley, discussed the benefits of YouTube EDU. Courses available through open-source video will help widen the audience for the material to students and “lifelong learners.”

YouTube EDU also offers people without access to higher education a taste of what it is like to attend a particular college or university and could prove an excellent recruiting tool in the future. It may spur someone on towards higher education or at least just offer a chance at personal enlightenment.

I spoke with Hubbard, part of Berkeley’s Educational Technology Services, about Berkeley’s own history with open-source video and how the University uses YouTube EDU.

What is the background on Berkeley’s involvement in putting open-source video of courses on the Internet? Did it start in 2001 with webcast.berkeley?
The true origins of what we’ve been doing go all the way back to 1995 and a project called the Berkeley Internet Broadcast System. It was the brainchild of a professor in computer science department who was part of a research center called the Berkeley Multimedia Research Center. And he had this vision of basically recording his classes in some automated way that was easy to him and publishing them to the Internet so that his students could watch them and review them as a study resource.

He was looking at technologies out there, and of course he was a computer science professor, so he decided to leverage computers to be able to automate a lot of the processes of starting and stopping the recordings and actually transferring the files up to a place where people could access them online. It actually grew to be really popular among the students, and there were several other faculty members that wanted to be able to do it.

As more and more interest sort of built up around this idea of taking classes and putting them up online for the students, I think he realized it wasn’t something that he and his research center wanted to be in the business of. I think they were interested in the research part of it but not necessarily the services part of it as being central service for the whole campus. He worked closely with division of undergraduate education and vice provost, which is now the division of teaching and learning, to transfer that technology over to Educational Technology Services around 2001. And we launched around fall of that year as webcast.berkeley.

And that’s how we came about. And to come back to that idea of being open with his content, I’m not really sure if it was an accident or whether it was on purpose, I don’t really know that for a fact, but I think that’s one of the gifts that Larry Rowe gave to us. Aside from just the general idea of how to approach this problem and some of the logistics, some of the technological hurdles that he helped us overcome initially. Whether it was on purpose or whether it was not on purpose, he never put it up in a way that only students would ever be able to get access to it. I think that’s one of the gifts he gave to this program that lives on today in the fact that we’re completely freely and publicly available in what we publish. It’s been really rewarding and a real value to the University and the public at large, who are comprised of lifelong learners from around the globe.

Who does Berkeley see as their target audience with YouTube EDU?
Our primary audience is first and foremost our students. What we really do all of our course casting for is for the students as a study resource, and that’s on webcast.berkeley. So that’s really where we serve our student audience.

Now, we also have the idea of campus events and broadcast a lot of campus events. We provide turnkey production services to the campus to be able to videotape, process, and publish these events.

As far as YouTube, it’s just an extension of our reach.

So we’re freely and publicly available at webcast.berkeley itself, and we’ve had a lot of viewers come there, and a lot of people from around the world know about it. But what we’re doing at YouTube is just extending the reach of that content to another platform that gets literally millions and millions of people each day.

What do you see happening in the future with Berkeley’s involvement in open-source video? Do you see an evolution is the utilization of it?
It is about continuing to utilize it as a window into the intellectual activities of University California Berkeley. And I think there’s no better way to connect with what UC Berkeley is. I mean when you think of it as an institution, it’s a great research institution, it’s in the top five, and I think almost all of its graduate programs — it’s really well expected internationally.

When you watch a Cal football game, and you see the 30-second spot that the institution runs, that’s a great ad. It really gives you a sense of what we’re all about, but it doesn’t really connect you directly to what UC Berkeley is, in a sense. I think there’s no better way than to provide this window of access into everything we’re doing as a University. That runs the gamut from courses on integrative biology to events about the economic meltdown. We’ve got a ton of great content up there, and people around the world who tune in to UC Berkeley on YouTube just have this great opportunity connect. Really it serves to make a closer and more tangible connection with what UC Berkeley is, I think, as an institution.

Do you have anything else we should know about YouTube EDU and UC Berkeley?
I just want to be clear that I wasn’t putting down the 30-second spot that they run during the football commercials. There’s a place for that, and it really is valuable, but you really couldn’t fit a whole course in that, but that’s kind of the point. This is just a way that users can dig into what UC Berkeley is all about it.

Do you see these videos as a recruiting tool?
I don’t view it directly that way, but I have heard directly from students that they use it that way. We’ve had students not only wanting to look at coming to UC Berkeley, and saying, “Wow, look at this, I get an advance look at what it’s like to sit in a classroom there.” You get students that are currently enrolled and are looking ahead, and they’re evaluating two different professors who are teaching the same class that’s on webcast and trying to decide between them.

As far as a study resource, the benefits are invaluable there, I think. You can focus more as a student on learning rather than assessment because without it, you’re truly in that moment of trying to capture everything in this analog world as it’s streaming by — it’s very linear. When you talk about moving this content online and making it available for review, you can really go back and look at things you didn’t understand the first time or didn’t catch the first time.

I think one last point — I think that this really goes a long ways towards supporting diversity. As a campus, we really value diversity, and we’re an incredibly diverse community here. We have students that are non-native English speakers and instructors that are non-native English speakers. And that can actually present some unique issues in the classroom experience if you have a hard time understanding what the instructor’s saying for one reason or another, you can actually go back and review that until you get it. This is a platform that can support that kind of diversity on campus as well.

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