Finding a Needle in the Digital Haystack Known as YouTube

Finding a Needle in the Digital Haystack Known as YouTube

Finding a good egg on YouTube isn't as hard as you think.

I searched my desk and dug through files hoping to find the perfect idea for my first “real” blog post.  There’s so much I want to write about and it’s really difficult deciding where to start.  Sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back, so I’ve decided to revisit a session I presented during the Fall 2011 pre-class week called “YouTube in YourClass” which focused on ways to best use YouTube in the classroom (traditional and online).  The workshop covered establishing an account, creating a channel, configuring playlists, and uploading original content, but the topic that generated the most interest was how to get past the cat videos and find material appropriate to your class.  So, without further adieu, I present to you some of my preferred techniques for finding a needle in the digital haystack known as YouTube…

Check out YouTube EDU. YouTube EDU is a repository of lectures, educational videos, and even entire courses from colleges and universities around the country and the world including (but not even remotely limited to) Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Cambridge, UCLA, Harvard, Yale, and more.  If you’re looking for a “guest lecturer” to shed light on a particular topic, this might be a great place to look!  The best part is that all the videos in YouTube EDU are submitted and maintained by the educational institutions, so you won’t have to wade through scads of unrelated videos to find something that will work in your class.

Subscribe to channels!  If there’s a resource that you know consistently puts out great material, why not subscribe to their channel?   Lots of organizations and individuals maintain some spectacular channels that are constantly updated with high quality videos.  Some of my personal favorites include TED, edutopia, and the Library of Congress, but don’t let my tastes influence you.

Search Smarter.  This is really the big one.  YouTube relies entirely on its users to assign appropriate titles, keywords and categories to the materials they upload, but sometimes this information isn’t exactly descriptive and can sometimes be downright deceptive!  Although these tips won’t help you find materials that aren’t properly titled, indexed, and categorized, they will help you weed out some of the unwanted results.

  1. Use quotation marks to search for exact phrases:
    Searching for “Like a Rolling Stone” will return videos which contain those four words in that order.  So, instead of having every Rolling Stones video and every cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone”, you’ll only get videos which have “Like a Rolling Stone” listed in their title or description.
  2. Use + or – to require or prohibit words in the results:
    The + operator tells YouTube that the word MUST be included in the results while the – operator tells YouTube that the term CAN NOT be in the results.  Let’s say I want to look for Bob Dylan videos, but I don’t want to see any videos relating to Dylan Thomas in my results.  A search wherein ALL results contain the word “Bob” but none of the results contain the word “Thomas” would look something like this…
    Dylan +Bob -Thomas

  3. Use intitle: to search through video titles only:
    Here’s a lesser-known trick that can yield some great results.  By default, YouTube searches for matches in both the title and keyword fields.  To eliminate searches through keywords, and to only retrieve videos which contain your search string in the title, simply put intitle: at the start of your search. So, to search only for videos with “Like a Rolling Stone” in the title, I’d do the following search…
    intitle:Like a Rolling Stone  <<<<< ——— NOTE: There is NO SPACE between the colon following intitle and the search string. 
  4. COMBINE 1, 2, and 3 as needed:
    Now it gets really cool!  You can combine these search techniques and get even better results.  If I want to get videos of Bob Dylan singing “Like a Rolling Stone” but don’t want to
    get any cover versions of the song, I could use the following search…
    intitle:+Dylan “Like a Rolling Stone” -cover

Give these techniques a shot the next time you’re digging through YouTube for a video clip to use in your course.

As always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.

~Rodney

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