Students Create Online Video Lessons, Win Cash Prizes

Peer-to-peer learning community ready for takeoff.

For almost a year now, students across the globe have been winning cash prizes in Open Source High’s monthly contests for creating and submitting engaging video lessons, teaching their favorite academic subjects. We have received submissions ranging from sketch comedy and animations to battle raps and puppet shows.

Our goal is to build an evolving database of student-made video lessons that cover an entire high school curriculum. The mission is grand, achievable, and already under way.gravity 375
A student is dragged across a playground by an invisible force during his demonstration of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.

When SVN offered me the opportunity to write an article, I was thrilled for this chance to spread the word about our mission to 18,000 video production teachers. Then came the challenge of deciding what to write.

Admittedly, I can’t claim to be an experienced video production teacher. I hadn’t even filmed or edited a video until 2014. What could I possibly have to offer you?

I come to you, humbly bearing a gift of limitless and contagious passion.

In my opinion, passion is a far more valuable teaching tool than any mechanical skill. As evidence of this, Open Source High has been able to inspire and motivate students to create engaging educational masterpieces beyond my imagination (and technical abilities).

I hope my story will prove to have an equally powerful impact on your students.

My vision for a peer-to-peer teaching community powered by student-made videos occurred three years ago when I witnessed a perfect storm being generated by Khan Academy, the Comedy Central program “Tosh.0,” and the social news site Reddit.

Khan Academy showed me the power of video lessons. Reddit showed me the power of an active online community, generating content and filtering for relevancy and quality. Daniel Tosh’s “Tosh.0” showed me the eagerness of young people to create powerful video content to win his Viewer Video of the Week contests.

While I am an avid stand-up comedian, I have yet to build the fan base of Tosh. Without such star power, how could I inspire students to create fun, educational videos?

hamilton 375
A student tells the story behind the face on the ten dollar bill: Alexander Hamilton.
I decided to make my own series of videos teaching Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. I wanted to try to show students 1) I’m cool and 2) there are endless creative ways to convey knowledge.

I first created a spoof of the sci-fi movie “The Matrix.” In my spoof, the main character was experiencing the phenomenon of gravity for the first time. In my second video, I created a spoof of “Tosh.0” and used a reel of YouTube bloopers to explain different facts about gravity.

I had put together four additional videos, including a physics-themed news broadcast with Ron Burgundy (from the movie “Anchorman”) and an entrepreneurial adventure to the physics-themed “Shark Tank.”

In creating this video series, I did my best to put myself in the shoes of teenagers who might feel overwhelmed with the challenge of making their first YouTube video. I started from scratch with zero film experience and a tight budget.

Just like a teenager would do, I learned video production by watching tutorial videos on YouTube that teenagers produced. I bought a lens kit for my smart phone, a decent microphone, and a monthly subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. Then, I began to write scripts and buy costumes. I persuaded my family and friends to help with acting, holding cameras, and editing.

Finally, after about five months, we had finished the video series. Were the videos perfect? No. But at long last, we had createdOSHScreenShot 375A screen shot of the Open Source High video library organized by subject, topic, and rating. something out of nothing. While exporting and uploading the finished videos to YouTube, I felt exhilarated and terrified at the same time.

Now that we had made a series of sample videos, how exactly would we invite students to make their own?

I was fortunate in high school to have participated in some engineering competitions, which gave me the idea of running video contests. To encourage quality over quantity, Open Source High set a two-minute maximum time limit. We crowdfunded prize money through an Indiegogo campaign and spread word of our video contest to mailing lists, message boards, Facebook, Twitter ... anywhere we could.

For our first contest, we received 13 entries covering the physics topic of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation ... and the peer-to-peer teaching revolution officially began.

As of December 1, Open Source High now has more than 100 videos in its database. We have expanded beyond physics to include math, history, and other science subjects. We are on our way to building the student-made curriculum we set out to build.

After interviewing students who have participated in our video contests, I have learned one important thing: The best videos have come from students enrolled in video production classes. This surprised me, as my high school did not have video production classes when I was growing up.

I now know that in order for Open Source High to thrive, I need to recruit as many video production teachers as possible to join in our exciting mission. I formally, genuinely, and earnestly extend to you an invitation to join our peer-to-peer teaching revolution.

I can’t wait to see what your students create.


Flannery 200Jim Flannery is the founder of Open Source High: the online school where students are the teachers. You can find out more about OSH by clicking here.


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