Stillwater schools unblock YouTube at elementary level

Stillwater Area Schools have unblocked YouTube access for students and teachers at the elementary level. (Photo courtesy of Stillwater Area Schools)
Stillwater Area Schools have unblocked YouTube access for students and teachers at the elementary level. (Photo courtesy of Stillwater Area Schools)

Until recently, Internet filters at Stillwater School District elementary schools blocked YouTube access. On Jan. 20, that changed.

Now students and teachers can use the video hosting website freely as part of daily instruction and school work.

Stillwater Area Schools spokesperson Carissa Keister said the district routinely unblocks websites when it deems them useful for instruction, but YouTube is a larger, better-known site than most sites unblocked in the past.

According to Jeff Brazee, coordinator of educational innovation and technology, the move was driven by feedback from teachers and principals who said it would help improve the classroom experience.

“YouTube is one of the resources that contains billions of opportunities for learning,” Brazee said.

Elementary-level technology innovation coach Wayne Feller agrees.

“We have so many opportunities to provide perspective on so many different areas,” Feller said. “A teacher can very rapidly produce multiple perspectives and views on questions students have.”

Heather Wells, another technology innovation coach for elementary schools in the district, said YouTube also offers teachers a platform to easily publish and share their work globally and to benefit from others who have done so.

Teachers and principals already had access to YouTube, but they had to go through the hassle of using a code to override the filter each time.

“Having access to YouTube and other resources is one less barrier for teachers,” Wells said.

Reactions to the change from teachers have been positive, Brazee said. To illustrate, he read one of the comments he received by email: “Yay! Thank you. This will help the sixth grade immensely.”

Kelly Schell, chairperson of the parent-teacher organization at Lily Lake Elementary in Stillwater, agreed that easy access to YouTube is helpful to teachers, but she has some concerns about student access. Schell works as a case manager for Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916.

“I myself am a teacher and used to teach art at Lily Lake,” she said. “I use YouTube frequently to show educational videos to accompany my lessons.”

In her opinion, however, student access poses some risks.

As students interact with technology, the Stillwater School District says it hopes to teach them how to be good "digital citizens." (Photo courtesy of Stillwater Area Schools)
As students interact with technology, the Stillwater School District says it hopes to teach them how to be good “digital citizens.” (Photo courtesy of Stillwater Area Schools)

“My only concern regarding YouTube access would be if it isn’t monitored closely with certain students and some inappropriate or inaccurate information (or) video gets into the hands of little minds who do not know how to process such information. All tools need to be used appropriately and should be controlled by teachers. Access for kids should be blocked or monitored by staff. Although I will say that YouTube is pretty good about keeping really inappropriate things off its site.”

Brazee said that, as with other Internet access, parents can rest assured their children are well supervised when using YouTube. He doesn’t believe there’s reason to worry about the change.

“This is not the wild, wild west,” he said. “It’s still supervised completely.”

Feller agreed, saying that monitoring what students are viewing is nothing new.

“Even before the digital age, good teachers have been monitoring not only the content but … how students are using their time … (and) how students are using any kind of resource,” he said.

As for YouTube, Feller and Wells think the district is actually a little late unblocking YouTube at the elementary level. An informal survey of other districts showed that many made the move before Stillwater Area Schools.

But overall the district is ahead of the curve on using technology in learning, Feller and Wells say.

“YouTube is a small part of the big picture,” Feller said.

The big picture he referred to was the idea of blended learning, in which teachers and students combine live, face-to-face interaction with other means of learning as they become useful. The goal is to improve student performance and also teach “digital citizenship.”

“Teaching young people how to use these resources responsibly is part of our responsibility,” Feller said.

In a fast-changing world, he said, students already have access to tools such as YouTube at home, and to be competitive in the workforce, they’ll need to use technology well. In Feller’s opinion, bringing technology into the classroom is positive, because it lets teachers serve as adult guides who help young people navigate the digital world safely and effectively.

“If our young people are provided with a basis for right and wrong and … what it means to be respectful … this, we think, will have great positive consequences for the future,” Feller said.

But Feller predicts that districts late in embracing technology will be in danger of quickly becoming irrelevant.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]