By Mason Martinez
As a high school senior, I was desperate. The graduation clock was ticking down and after three attempts, I still hadn’t passed my Global Regents, a standardized exam required to graduate in New York State. I struggled to retain dull information from dusty textbooks. Large blocks of text made it difficult to identify and prioritize the most important pieces of information. It wasn’t until my teacher played us an 11-minute video by Youtuber and author John Green, that history finally started to make sense. I was introduced to Green’s Crash Course series, which taught lessons from the fall of the Roman empire to the Mongols to Imperialism. By watching a number of these lively, occasionally funny, and animated video essays, I was able to retain the information that I had previously struggled with. After five months of prepping this way, I turned my score of 44 into an 84.
The popularity of the video essay is undeniable.Youtubers like Wisecrack’s Thug Notes, Khan Academy, Numerphile, or John Green get millions of views. Part of their success has to do with the amount of time it takes to consume the selected media. While viewers don’t get to engage in the same atmosphere that comes with in-person learning, video essays provide a needed framework to make what we read digestible.
Video essays’ presentation and the limited time that people have work hand-in-hand in delivering an attractive option. One of my biggest struggles with remembering global history was that there was too much to recall and no way to remember it all. The idea that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ helps fuel the demand for video essays. The more visuals we receive in the knowledge we consume, the quicker we are able to comprehend it. Video essays allowed me to draw on main ideas by listening to the lecture while simultaneously helping me remember specific movements or historical icons that were depicted on screen. Youtube channels such as Khan Academy or Thug Notes show that, when framed correctly, there is a large market for educational content.
Video essays are not the end all be all when it comes to learning. In a high school or college setting, assigned reading is the primary method of gaining new information. But I do think video essays should supplement traditional ways of learning. Digital Natives, starting with Gen-Z, are accustomed to digitalized worlds. There is still great value in reading, but we require a different way of learning and retaining that information.
However, teachers can’t verify the credibility of videos the way they can with textbooks. They may also worry that these videos might be used as a replacement for reading the primary text. But as I see it, this is no different from Sparknotes; teachers adjusted to that trend by designing assessments that tested for careful reading and comprehension. If publishers put out educational content that is cited and curriculum-oriented with the same kind of relatability of popular Youtube channels, they would do well. Now is the time.
At Scattered Books, a local bookstore, the owner and staff understand the importance of resources like these, especially for middle school and high school students. They are currently trying to implement their own online library where they can take popular literature, summarize and analyze the plot into something tangible for younger audiences in under 5 minutes. In addition, they plan on offering topics for academic papers, so viewers are able to conceptualize different themes in the books.
More often than not, independent creators are producing higher quality videos compared to larger corporations like Sparknotes, whose video animations are dated and their narrator monotone. By establishing an atmosphere that is fast and engaging, this form of independent content attracts a larger audience. The more creators come together to reinvent the way people consume and retain knowledge, the more accessible information becomes.
Photo courtesy of the School Nutrition Association of Arizona.