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Seeking Science on YouTube

When I began thinking about this blog post, I initially intended to reveal and review a list of the science YouTube channels that I watch. I soon realized that it would be better if I were to tell you how I find what I want to watch so that you too could create your own personalized edutainment subscription list.

I have a huge appreciation for the YouTubers who put out content for us on a regular basis. For many of us, YouTube has become an important source of information as well as our media of choice for education and entertainment – also known as edutainment.

The very first YouTube video, uploaded on April 23, 2005, was an 18-second clip from the San Diego Zoo describing elephants. YouTube began with a science show! I don’t recall the first time I watched a YouTube video, but in February 2010, I created my own channel to post a video in response to the challenge ‘Where Bio Began’ issued by Genome Alberta’s director of corporate communications, Mike Spear. In September 2010, I posted the first episode of Gerry’s Gene Scene (GGS) where I talked about the breaking news of the sequencing of the wheat, apple, and ant genomes. In that video, I related gene sequencing to such topics as food security, celiac disease, epigenetics, and aging. When I posted that video in 2010, there were approximately 24 hours of video being posted per minute. Now, in 2020, there are over 500 hours/minute of video posted and almost 5 billion video views daily.

By the time I got to Gerry’s Gene Scene 21, I quit numbering and began using more descriptive titles. If I had kept up the numbering, my most recent video would have been GGS 58. I learned a lot of editing skills such as the so-called ‘Ken Burns effect’ as I was creating the latest video and it was my first use of a home-made green screen. In all, it took me almost a month to create this video and the final 6 GB folder contained 419 files in 70 sub-folders. By the time I rendered the final product, I wondered if my computer was going to explode. Yes, indeed I have a huge appreciation for those regular YouTubers and I know why many of the channels I have followed have slowed down or ceased production.

One set of the GGS videos became a playlist originally inspired by an email question. Some grandparents emailed to tell me they were frustrated helping their grandson study high school genetics. Creation of the playlist was very similar in process to setting up a scope and sequence of lesson plans. In E-learning speak, each video is a ‘reusable learning object’ or RLO and I have discussed this in detail in a previous blog post (link below). It is satisfying to know that some teachers are using these videos in their ‘lockdown’ lessons. I can usually tell by an uptick in the viewer activity when my videos are helping some students – or is it their grandparents trying to keep up?
                                                   > A Genetics Explainer - playlist <

When using YouTube or any other social media, I always consider the risks and benefits regarding the collection of my personal data. We are told that probably all our apps and programs are collecting big data about us regardless of the precautions we take. I have found that when viewing YouTube I can give up some information so that I can take advantage of their big data to tailor my viewing to what I like. Here is how it works: if I view a video while signed into my YouTube account, I can put a ‘like’ on the videos that appeal to me. Now, the next time I sign in, YouTube will recommend to me videos that are similar in topic. In this way, I have been able to find many channels that offer the type of science content that I really do like. If you are not signed in when you view the videos, the recommendations are basically just a random list of what is popular right now. Additionally, in the past few years, YouTube creators are able to use what are called ‘endscreens’ that can direct the viewer to the most relevant video. This certainly works best for those signed in on YouTube. I did mention above that over 500 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Without YouTube making suggestions based on my viewing habits, I would probably never find the top content that appeals to me.

The other biggest security/privacy concern is that advertisers will tailor their advertisement to you. This can also be considered an advantage. On television, you get whatever ads are aimed at the general audience for that program or channel. For example, some stations have endless commercials advising me to ‘just not fall’ and even more annoying products displayed on my TV while watching the supper news. With YouTube, I have controlled the settings for the type of advertisements to see. I have found that by allowing them to ‘make the ads more relevant’ to me, I see more interesting commercials that I can at least tolerate. Turn that setting off and there is the possibility you will be seeing advertisements for toilet paper or septic tank decloggers. With the settings on, you are sometimes given the opportunity to indicate your dislike of an advertisement and you will not see it again. If only I could do that on my TV as well!

Where to start looking at YouTube channels? Here are four science museum channels to investigate. Once you start watching, other suggestions will be personalized for you.

   American Museum of Natural History
   Harvard Museum of Natural History
   Natural History Museum
   Science Museum

Other Links of Interest:
   YouTube Statistics 2020
   Making plans for the next school year? Think RLO
   The first YouTube video

Seeking Science on YouTube

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