In the age of new media, characterized by digital content and the Internet, it may appear to some that an era of unprecedented novelty is at hand, meaning that new media really is new. Certainly YouTube[TM] with its video-sharing capabilities is new, first appearing in 2005 (YouTube, 2009b). However, the novelty of the Web 2.0 video-sharing phenomenon is in some respects only partial. When tracing the historical roots of YouTube[TM] and the growing spectrum of online video services, it soon becomes apparent that certain aspects of this manifestation of new media can be traced back to much older forms of motion picture technology. For example, video is created using a sequence of moving images regardless of whether it is stored online or on a film reel. This corresponds to the idea of media renewability, which suggests that fundamental attributes of media as a vehicle for communication are renewed, or reintroduced in similar forms of media invented over time (Peters, 2009).
Discussions about motion picture technologies (i.e. film and video) in education have an extensive history, which tend to exhibit their own form of renewal as certain themes are revisited a multiplicity of times through the years. The historical literature reveals that the evolution of motion picture technology inspires some to strongly support it based on its intrinsic advantages as a visual medium, while others engage in debate regarding the actual educational benefits (Saettler, 2004). The practical necessity of obtaining adequate equipment and access to good educational film is another issue that has surfaced repeatedly over the decades (Cuban, 1986; Saettler, 2004). These are themes that not only persist, but also impact the current manifestation of online video and video sharing found on sites like YouTube. However, previous historical accounts of educational motion picture technologies written after the creation of the Web fall short of discussing how online video adds to the historical record (See Molenda, 2008; Reiser, 2001; Saettler, 2004).
This article traces the historical roots of YouTube[TM] and online video to better understand its place within the history of educational motion picture technologies. The information is organized thematically rather than chronologically so that the parallels from past to present are more clearly demonstrated. First, the current state of online video is discussed to establish what is presently occurring with YouTube[TM] and online video. The next three sections explore the following themes: (1) the intrinsic advantages of motion picture technologies, (2) differing opinions about the benefits of film and video, and (3) access and equipment issues. Each of these three sections reviews the historical literature and draws connections from past to present. The final section is a conclusion where the potential future of online video is discussed.
Given the magnitude of the literature in the field of film and video, it was necessary to limit the scope of analysis. Within the boundaries of the article, we explore the educational use of motion pictures, meant in its literal sense. Next, the article accounts for only those motion pictures found in prerecorded (not live) film or video. Finally, because of constraints on accessing articles in languages other than English, and due to the fact that both motion picture and online retrieval innovations enjoyed their greatest growth in the United States, this article focuses on the context of North American education.
The Current State of Online Video
In recent years, the growth of online video production and viewing has been meteoric. According to Nielsen Online (2009), during the years spanning from 2003 to 2009 the online video audience grew 339% and the amount of time spent viewing video online grew 1,905%. Much of the growth in online video can be attributed to YouTube, which is currently ranked as the third most popular website according to Web traffic statistics from Alexa (2009). In March 2009, it was announced that YouTube[TM] had surpassed 100 million U.S. viewers for the first time (comScore, 2009). In addition to a substantial viewing audience, YouTube[TM] receives a steady stream of new video content uploaded from computers and mobile phones around the world. As of May 2009 video was being uploaded at the rate 20 hours of video per minute (YouTube, 2009e).
It is evident that online video has permeated the Internet and become popular among its users. What may seem less apparent is how this phenomenon applies to serious academic endeavors. The 2008 Horizon Report, a collaborative publication of the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, listed several key technologies likely to be adopted for use in academic institutions. It was predicted that grassroots video, produced with inexpensive equipment and distributed through video-sharing sites like YouTube, would be adopted by academic institutions within one year. In fact, this prediction has already begun to come true. In March 2009, YouTube[TM] EDU, located at http://www.youtube.com/edu, was launched as a central hub for videos from leading college and university partners. At the time YouTube[TM] EDU was established, there were over 20,000 videos and 200 full courses offered for free through the site (YouTube, 2009d). In addition to YouTube[TM] EDU, it is possible to find many YouTube[TM] user sites, called channels, which contain content with potential educational value. It is beyond the scope of this article to list every possible YouTube[TM] channel containing educational videos, but a selection of examples is provided in Appendix A to illustrate this point. Additional examples of channels and individual videos can be found by searching the YouTube[TM] site.
Beyond YouTube, a spectrum of video sites have emerged that serve educational or specialized academic interests. For example, SciVee, which is located at http://www.scivee.tv, supports an online community of scientists who share and discuss research with video and audio enhancements. Another site called TeacherTube, located at http://teachertube.com, was created to host and share instructional videos deemed safe and appropriate for K-12 classroom use. In addition to SciVee and TeacherTube, there are numerous other sites containing free online video that may be tapped into for various instructional purposes. A selected list of examples, organized by topic, is provided in Appendix B.
If online video can be thought of as another form of educational motion picture, then the advantages it brings as a visual medium are likely to parallel those of earlier forms of similar technology. An examination of the history of educational film and video reveals that numerous similarities do indeed exist. The next section provides a brief history of North American educational motion picture from silent film to YouTube[TM] that focuses on the theme of intrinsic advantages that have long been associated with film and video.
The Intrinsic Advantages of Motion Picture Technologies
The invention of motion picture technologies in the late 1800s ushered in a wave of enthusiasm for the new visual medium. The first public glimpses of the wonder of moving pictures occurred in public exhibitions during this time period. For example, the Kinetoscope, a device for individual viewing of motion pictures, was publically demonstrated at Edison laboratories in 1889, and a motion picture projection system called the Vitascope was exhibited in 1894 by inventors Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins (Saettler, 2004). It was not long before the educational possibilities became apparent and the motion picture entered the classroom. The earliest use of classroom film in the U.S. is believed to have occurred in the Rochester, New York, public school system in 1910 (Saettler, 2004). At that time silent films provided educators with a new mechanism for making instruction more concrete, realistic, and visual. Through film, students could see faraway lands, visit dangerous places, and witness natural phenomena while seated in the classroom. Film provided a dynamic representational format that allowed teachers to bring the world to their students in a manner not possible through textbooks and blackboards. Thomas Edison, one of the inventors of motion picture technology, stated, "The moving object on the screen, the closest possible approximation to reality, is almost the same as bringing that object itself before the child or taking the child to that object" ("Edison on educationals," 1919, p. 47). A similar sentiment was echoed by the authors of one of the first teaching manuals for educational film:
The cinema has disclosed a whole new world for observation and study. It has brought the miracles and wonders of nature to the pupil, has shown him the microscopic life of the ocean, life in the arctic and antarctic regions, how a plant unfolds, how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly and many of the long hidden mysteries and secrets of Mother Earth. (Ellis & Thornborough, 1923, p. 5)
The arrival of the educational motion picture sparked considerable excitement because of what it could do to augment classroom instruction. Publications disseminating thoughts about the new medium and its role within education began to appear in the early 1900s. One of these, The Educational Screen, began publishing in 1922. It was an independent magazine that supplied educators with a steady stream of intellectual critique, instructional ideas, and news regarding visual education and educational film. Over time, it merged with several related publications and soon became the primary source of information about audiovisual media (Saettler, 2004). At the time of this writing, the first volume of The Educational Screen, and subsequent volumes published from 1922 through 1962 may be found in digitized form on the Internet Archive website at http://www.archive.org. These volumes illustrate much about the opinions, controversies, instructional practice, available film titles, and equipment sold to schools during the first few decades of the educational film. The advantages of motion pictures for teaching were frequently written about in The Educational Screen. For example, the educational advantages of slow motion film were …