Well, there goes the afternoon… Photo by flickr user topgold.

Today’s guest post comes from Daniel Sims. He’s a freshman at Columbia University. You can read more of his writing over at his blog, Habitation Intention. I like this guest post.

YouTube has been marked as a plague in the undergraduate community. It has a never ending stream of people hurting themselves, cats doing funny things, people singing on a webcam, catchy songs and other distractions keep students from their purpose (to provide cheap labor for a professor’s study).

Jokes aside, YouTube does waste a lot of time. However, it can be useful. You can watch lectures, post your own lessons or stay motivated with YouTube.


Instead of watching another cat falling off a fence, why not watch videos that reinforces what you covered in lecture. Since YouTube videos are limited to about ten minutes, many YouTube professors have to make their lessons concise, yet, to keep the number of views high, very clear. This is perfect for following up an ambiguous lecture. For example, maybe you did follow how the professor derived the Power Rule in a calculus class, but, if you watch a YouTube lesson right after, you can cut though any ambiguity you find in lecture.

But why sit through class confused? Watching a YouTube lesson right before a lecture will help you follow the professor’s explanations, because you will see how his proofs and arguments lead into the application. This is as simple as showing up to class ten minutes early and typing in the topic of the lecture from your syllabus into the YouTube search bar.

But, even if you go to lecture and prepare before hand, problem sets and essays will always have questions that confuse you. You usually struggle for hours, trying to solve one problem. Now, with the power of YouTube, you can conquer any problem in your way. If you spend more then thirty minutes on a problem with no progress, stop. Look at something other then your laptop screen for five minutes or day dream for the same amount of time, then review the lesson with a YouTube video on the topic you are struggling with. Often, harder questions require knowledge of a little detail, and the YouTube video will help you remember those small details.


Why remain a passive user of YouTube? Why not add your own content to YouTube while preparing for your exams. You can lecture on your classes like the people you are watching. But, lecturing on YouTube requires for more work then setting up a camera and hitting record. You will have to compile your notes, prepare example problems and, because of social pressures, make sure your content is correct. Not only will these preparations prepare you for your exams, but posting a video will allow for feedback through the comments. If you are lucky, you will even have questions that you can answer. Please note, for this to be most effective, you will need to do this as soon as you can to allow for the most time for feedback before your exams.


During finals season, the sky seems to be permanently gray. The campus seems to be extremely quiet, you can even hear the sounds of pencils and turning pages in the frat house on Friday night. You can cut the tension with a chainsaw. Many students turn to falling cats for relief, you can use YouTube to relax in a productive way.

Let’s say you want to be a doctor and cure cancer, then you can watch video clips relating to finding the cure. If you want to work for NASA, you can watch videos of shuttle launches. If you want to be a mathematician, watch interviews with the top people in the math field. While watching these videos, you will remember your passion even in the most stressful times; these videos will remind you why you are going to college and give you the strength to keep studying.


So, do not block YouTube yet. If used responsibly, in combination with good notes, YouTube can supercharge your studies. Stay motivated and reinforce your lessons instead of watching a cat chasing a laser. You might even find this method so effective that you will check out TeacherTube and MIT OpenCourseWare for more content.