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YouTube demonstrates educational impact

April 26, 2016

The talented people behind the Crash Course episodes on gaming.

Mat Powers, back left, and Informatics graduate Brandon Brungard, right, work with YouTube figure Andre Meadows, seated, to make episodes that highlight the power of gaming. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MATHEW POWERS

Innovative technology that provides online alternatives to higher education is being tested this spring in an independent project that includes an IUPUI faculty member and several alumni, all from the School of Informatics and Computing.

Media Arts and Sciences lecturer Mathew A. Powers is working for EcoGeek LLC, the company run by renowned Indianapolis author John Green and his brother Hank. The project provides a YouTube channel that takes lectures and research from Powers' traditional class, Game On: A History of Video Games, and introduces a whole new audience to them via the Greens' YouTube channel Crash Course.

Powers is working with several IUPUI alumni -- Brandon Brungard, Stan Muller and Jenn King -- to turn what was a classroom course on the impact of games in society into 20 episodes on one of the channels established by the Greens. The first two episodes each topped 200,000 views.

Powers said the fast pace of YouTube content creation is challenging and different from typical lecture prep. But he believes that such content, able to reach thousands -- maybe even millions -- of viewers, could provide "the next big thing" for colleges, which usually fit just a fraction of that audience in a classroom.

"Gaming and watching videos is a big part of the way this generation learns," said Powers, who was hired by the Greens to write for the online series. "It's part of the way they think and perceive the world around them."

Many faculty, especially younger members, are curious about how this type of content might change higher education.

"None of us knows what this means for colleges and universities," Powers said. "But I've known for a long time that to be relevant to the students in our classrooms, I have to compete with YouTube and other online elements. That's just our reality now."

He gives full credit to the Greens for their desire to explore YouTube's potential.

"They are really determined to build an educational element into their channels," Powers said. "Given that Crash Course is a channel that has more than four million subscribers, it's obvious that they are on to something."

The company supports dozens of employees in both Indiana and Montana.

He said John Green, the author of "The Fault in Our Stars," and his series with Hank -- the Vlog Brothers -- are major players in the YouTube universe. In addition to the gaming channel that Crash Course offers, other topics on the channel provide educational content on physics, economics and science, among others.

"They are meant to educate, but they are also fun and engaging," Powers said. "They have tapped into something significant here."

Powers said it's exciting to work on something that can reach even a portion of those four million subscribers signed up for the Greens' channels, and that YouTube star Andre Meadows of Black-Nerd-Comedy hosts the program.

Best of all, it has allowed Informatics alumni to play key roles in what could be a new type of "edutainment," as Powers calls it. "We have very talented graduates from our school, and it is great to see them show what they can do. This is exactly the kind of thing we've been striving for in Informatics."

Check out the first episode of Crash Course: Games.

Meadows has become the face on Crash Course: Games.

Meadows showed his passion for gaming during one of the episodes.

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