Free Television

Lately, I have surprised myself by watching more television programs online. As a long time film buff and child of television, I like a big screen. I decried watching video on small devices like mobile devices. Lawrence of Arabia on an iPhone? Ridiculous. 

Where's Lawrence?

My son gave me the first two seasons of 30 Rock on DVD for Christmas. He was surprised that I had never watched it and just knew I would like it. He was right. I have consuming episodes in small portions (not a 30 Rock marathon weekend which is just more of what is wrong with American consumption). I had avoided watching the current season because I wanted to catch up in the story arcs. Then I discovered that new episodes are available on

What Hulu offers won't be a substitute for those DVDs, and it can only include "up to five trailing episodes of the current season for a limited time."  What I'm using the service for is catching up on missed episodes. If I was more media-crazed at home, I could set things up to show them on a bigger screen than my laptop, but I have surprised myself. I'm okay with watching it on the laptop. 30 Rock is not Lawrence of Arabia and that's part of it.

Hulu also offers other shows past and present. I can even set up a queue that will save and remind me of episodes that are available. So, there's House and Fringe, but I also found classics that I loved like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and shows that might not be classics but that I'm curious to revisit (Night Gallery and Time Tunnel) or that people keep telling me to try (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

Hulu also offers clips and other content (like tonight's first address to Congress by President Obama) and I can also embed many of the offerings. is another big site. recently pulled its videos from and is removing their content from another site called Boxee. CNet owns and it was pretty boring when I first looked at it. But CBS bought CNet last year, and the site is turning into a Hulu type of video portal.

So, Hulu was early to start and seems to have more streaming videos from more shows, but the competitors are lining up. seems to be moving towards more emphasis on the social aspects of watching online videos as a way to distinguish their service. Of course, networks also offer some of this content on their own sites.

There is money to be made through advertising, though it certainly isn't what these networks are used to getting. According to AdAge, was getting 10% of the ad revenue from views that originated from and can probably negotiate its own content deals now.

Academic Earth

Sometimes it's hard to categorize a blog post. Take this one today. My first thought was that it was about MEDIA, but then I thought it could be eLEARNING or even OPEN EVERYTHING. First thought, best thought. I went with media. So what subject straddles these categories?

It is called Academic Earth and it's a collection of recorded lectures from a number of different universities in the United States. It is media and it is open and it could definitely be used for eLearning.

So far it offers lectures from Yale, MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. They are all schools that have offered similar materials before (in some instances, the same material) on their own sites, in iTunes U and on YouTube.

So, what's different here? Academic Earth allows you to search across the school by university, subject, top rated professor, top rated lecture, and top rated courses. Being able to search and rate content from multiple sources is what makes this different from using a university site or their YouTube channel.

But I have to say, I have been sampling lectures from iTunes U and other sites since they launched and one thing that has made an impression on me is how boring some really well known profs from big name schools are in front of a class. No naming names, but there are a good number of lectures available on these sites that really do not make me want to be in the actual class.

That also includes the generally unedited nature of lecture captures - profs discussing grades & assignment and administrivia for 5 minutes before the lecture, lousy audio, questions you can't hear - and, as always, someone reading their bad PowerPoint slides isn't any better at an Ivy League school.

Can you help us sort through what's out there? Have you watched or used with your students a lecture or series from iTunes U, YouTube or Academic Earth that you highly recommend?

Snag Films

I just discovered the site that let's you watch full-length documentary films for free.

They have a library of over 200 documentaries which you can browse by topic or by titles from A-Z. There is a widget for every film, which is what they consider to be snagging a film.

The first one I watched (and will now take off my NetFlix rental list) was SUPER SIZE ME. That's Morgan Spurlock's look at the American obesity epidemic. He interviews experts nationwide and then put himself on a “McDonald’s only” diet for thirty days straight. This is a Sundance award-winning feature that is entertaining, frightening and informative.

Not that this site is designed for educational media use (there are commercial breaks), but you could use that particular film to talk about corporate responsibility, nutritional education, health issues, school lunch programs and other issues.

You can also put films on the web. You can embed a widget on your web site, which they call "opening a virtual movie theater" and become a "Filmanthropist" (since you are donating your pixels and supporting independent films). When you click on "info" on any widget, you learn more about that film and a related charity you can also support.

The End of Educational Media

Perhaps this post should have preceded my post about "Bringing Back Video to the Classroom," but it came to me as I was writing that earlier one.

I started teaching in the 1970's in a junior high school. I taught English and a course called "Film & Video."  The latter was a course that was half film appreciation and half film/video production.

I had a great time teaching it and students seemed to enjoy it. It grew so popular at one point that I was teaching eight half year sections of that and only one English class, so the principal put a cap on enrollments.

When I started the course we had three Super 8 film cameras, cut & splice film editors and a half-inch reel-to-reel Sony TCV-2010 video tape recorder. (A VTR before there were VCRs.) The blank tapes were about $35. You looked at the monitor to see what your were recording (no viewfinder on the camera). Incredibly crude compared with today's technology, but incredibly magical back then.

My second year we got a Sony Portapak where you could sling the VTR part on a strap over your shoulder and go mobile. Everyone wanted to leave the classroom to record.

We used the Super 8 film cameras to make two minute (one roll of film) animated films.

We did an abbreviated history of film from the first silent films, through classics of the 40s-60s. The county had a huge lending library of 16mm films that I could borrow - Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Nosferatu, Citizen Kane... 

Yes, students would groan early in the course at "another black & white movie" but I also recall classes drained at the end of On the Waterfront who would compare the film favorably in their journals to the current Rocky films. M*A*S*H was a very popular TV series, but even the fans in my class were wowed by the original film.

We studied editing, lighting, camera angles. We knew what people in the credits like a gaffer, a grip and a Foley artist actually did for a living.

There were teachers all over the building using films and later videos (when VHS took hold) in their lessons. (I admit I was a little smug about what was then my own Media 2.0 course - not just students as consumers of media, but as creators.)

If you were a teacher in that period from the 60s through most of the 1980s, you just had to know how to thread a 16mm projector and fix a loop to get past torn sprockets.  Kids who would have been computer nerds if there were computers were on the AVA squad (audio visual aids) delivering and fixing projectors, record players, overhead and filmstrip projectors and cassette recorders.

But something happened when the computers hit the classrooms. Media seemed to disappear. And it wasn't as simple as saying that teachers were doing the same things digitally.

Yes, we traded our VHS copy of Romeo & Juliet or The Outsiders for a DVD eventually, but classes were not making animated films, mini-documentaries, audio recordings - and recording podcasts was 20 years away.

Right now at my college, I'm trying to get faculty that I work with on writing courses to use video, and there is very little interest. They have access to streaming media (with resources like FMG and Intelecom) and media supplied by their textbook publishers that they can slice, dice, bookmark and annotate. They can have students view the video on their own from home (something I would have loved to have done in 1975). They have media creation tools available on the computers in their rooms. But no one wants to use it. Too much material to cover to have time to show things. Not enough time to learn how to use it to produce media.

I'm not involved in K-12 classrooms as I was in the past, but the teachers I do talk to say that they too are using less media in class.

Is it the end of educational media?

Norbert Elliot and I claimed it was the "End of the Essay" in a podcast series back in 2007, but we are still teaching the five-paragraph essay in our classes.

Frogs and other amphibians are disappearing.  The honeybees are disappearing.  I think educational media is dying out too, and I can't figure out why.