On YouTube, No Enrollment Caps

University of California at Berkeley expands the public reach of its courses in a new video portal with complete lectures, ready to be streamed.
October 4, 2007

When the University of California at Berkeley creates an official presence on YouTube, has citizen media been co-opted by The Man? Or does it herald greater freedom of information?

One thing's for sure: Now that the university has begun placing entire course lectures on the video sharing Web site, class will never be interrupted by a protest -- or a nap -- again.

Berkeley has always been on the leading edge of what it calls the "open-source video movement," launching a video streaming portal in 2001 and participating in the initial launch this year of Apple's iTunes U, which offers free downloadable audio and video podcasts of lectures. The university announced on Wednesday that select courses, as well as some special events and lectures, would now be posted on Berkeley's YouTube portal, free of charge and available to anyone with an Internet connection.

While Berkeley's offerings on iTunes U are mostly available only for listening, and while its videos on its existing, proprietary webcast.berkeley portal are confined to the Real format, YouTube opens streaming course content to virtually anyone with typical bandwidth and a Web browser. As a potentially lucrative bonus, the content is also searchable -- meaning potentially available to a much wider audience.

"It’s really great as a public university to be able to make this stuff available to the world," said Ben Hubbard, the co-manager of webcast.berkeley.

Right now, there are eight courses on YouTube -- that is, every lecture of the semester is ready to stream -- with selections like Physics for Future Presidents and Introduction to Nonviolence. The latter course appears to be little more than the student's-eye view of a talking head; in the former, the camera zooms in to the blackboard or the professor's hands during a demonstration, or out to take in the entire lecture hall.

Even a static image of a lecturing professor can be true to life, and Berkeley hopes that not only will people throughout the world benefit from learning on their own, but that students will use the videos as a studying resource (especially if they dozed off during the actual taping). In the run-up to midterms and finals, for example, Hubbard said there's an uptick in hits to webcast.berkeley.

At the moment, the number of courses available on YouTube is limited, but Hubbard says the intent is to build on the selection, with at least three more planned before the end of the year. Content originates on webcast.berkeley, which has some 44 to 49 courses a semester, and the idea is to automate the conversion of videos on that Web site so that YouTube's offerings will be in sync with the university's own portal.

While other universities have pages set up on YouTube, Berkeley says it is the first to upload full courses for public consumption. But the main change is the method of delivery, since many institutions already offer course materials and some access to lectures online. The move to streaming video echoes the trend of universities embracing as many online platforms as possible in order to connect with students or potential students, including iTunes, social networking, blogs, YouTube and in-house portals.

Each has its strengths. Podcasts can be stored on a computer and downloaded to an iPod, while YouTube videos can be viewed on any platform and shared with friends.

Initial comments on the YouTube portal are positive: "I'm a former computer science grad student from the UK and I found these lectures were a fantastic way to enjoy education with no pressure of a mid term paper," wrote one user.

Said another: "I wish this was available when I was attending Cal. I would have avoided the difficult professors!"

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