Youtube. Friend or foe in higher ed?

An recent off-hand remark by an IT collegue at CQUniversity got me thinking about youtube. In passing they mentioned that youtube traffic represents a large portion of the data crossing our internet links which, of course, the university has to pay for and this cost is huge to say the least. I’d recently come across some research where the researchers did some in depth analysis of the types of youtube videos that were being accessed in a University environment and the result was, to me, somewhat of a surprise with video categories such as comedy, entertainment and music alone making up nearly 60% of the traffic measured (Gill 2007). With terabytes of youtube traffic crossing our internet links every year the cost of youtube to the organization is substantial and our IT department is to be commended by not reacting in a way that other organizations have, by banning youtube traffic all together as indicated in this Wall Street Journal article. The following paragraph from Wikipedia suggests that the problem is only going to escalate.

“In August 2006, The Wall Street Journal published an article revealing that YouTube was hosting about 6.1 million videos (requiring about 45 terabytes of storage space), and had about 500,000 user accounts.[5] As of April 9, 2008, a YouTube search returns about 83.4 million videos and 3.75 million user channels.[6][7] As of Q1 2008, YouTube is not profitable, with its revenues being noted as “immaterial” by Google in a regulatory filing.[4] Its bandwidth costs are estimated at approximately $1 million a day.[4] It is estimated that in 2007, YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in 2000, and that around 13 hours of video are uploaded every minute.[8][9][10]

Given the unprecedented popularity of youtube it would seem logical to leverage that popularity in order to better engage the students with their university courses. Student engagement is an important part of teaching and learning in higher education and according to some research  by Illinois State University there are three critical factors influencing student engagement. They are:

  • enrollment in classes using technology;
  • ability to deal with other students; and
  • satisfaction with grade compensation.

( Farmer-Dougan 2008 )

Given the obvious popularity of youtube and the importance of engaging students in new and interesting ways how can we, and why would we utilize youtube in a higher education setting? I suggest the why is simply because it’s easy to use, free and popular. Some might say trendy. How to use it is a more complex question in that it really depends on the context of the course and the inventiveness of the instructor. What I find strange is that we have this new and popular method of delivering content and a university such as UC Berkely chooses to reproduce the existing paradigm. An example of old wine in new skins.

as opposed to

So we have a new medium that is hugely popular, easy to use and is likely to be familiar with our student cohort. Sounds great but there are some drawbacks such as copyright, bandwidth etc or perhaps the students perceive youtube to be for entertainment and don’t really want our intrusion into their space. It will be interesting to see how the youtube/university relationship evolves over the coming years.

Valeri Farmer-Dougan, K. M. (2008). “Examining Student Engagement at Illinois State University: An exploratory Investigation.”   Retrieved 25/8/2008, from

Phillipa Gill, M. A., Zongpeng Li, Anirban Mahanti (2007) YouTube traffic characterization: A view from the edge.  Volume,  DOI:


One thought on “Youtube. Friend or foe in higher ed?”

  1. Hi Colin.
    This sets out your point beautifully.
    Maybe over the coming years we might be able to merge the perception of learning with that of entertainment?

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