From Silent Film to YouTube[TM]: Tracing the Historical Roots of Motion Picture Technologies in Education

By Snelson, Chareen; Perkins, Ross A. | Journal of Visual Literacy, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

From Silent Film to YouTube[TM]: Tracing the Historical Roots of Motion Picture Technologies in Education


Snelson, Chareen, Perkins, Ross A., Journal of Visual Literacy


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). …

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