Tuesday, March 1, 2011

YouTube Safety Mode

Recently YouTube became available for use by teachers in our school district.  It has been blocked for many years for a variety of reasons – there are comments and usernames that are inappropriate for classrooms, language within the videos cannot be edited, etc. 

We trust that teachers will continue to screen videos for inappropriate content before displaying videos as part of their classroom activities, and never allow kids to pull up random videos in front of the class without first screening them.  However, there are some ways that teachers can make the rest of the viewing experience a little more palatable in the classroom environment.  Over the next few weeks I’ll offer up some brief tips on how to “tweak” YouTube for classroom use.

YouTube Safety Mode

Even YouTube realizes that some things are not appropriate for kids and classrooms, so they’ve developed this little-known filtering feature for use within their site.  Watch the demo to learn more:


How To Make It Work

Just scroll all the way to the very bottom of any video page on YouTube, find the words Safety Mode and click the word OFF. Then click the ON button and click SAVE. 
If you have a Google Account or a YouTube account (both are free), you can save this setting so it is always on when you visit YouTube. Follow the directions above, but instead of clicking Save, click Save and lock Safety Mode on this browser.
Either of these will filter search results.  In this mode, ALL COMMENTS ARE HIDDEN by default.  If you choose to view them, objectionable comments are replaced with asterisks (*). It also screens the “Suggested” and “Featured” videos, etc.
I’ve tried it with a few videos and it seems to work fairly well.  Of course, no filter is ever perfect, but this is a quick way to screen out some of the less-that-appropriate material when showing YouTube videos for classroom purposes.

The Down-Side

  • It does not seem to screen out inappropriate words in other users’ screen names.
  • If you teach a subject like Health, Anatomy, or certain Biology and Science topics, you may have a tougher time finding videos that apply to those more “sensitive topics,” like reproduction or sex ed, etc., Simple fix, scroll down to the bottom of the page again and turn Safety Mode OFF.  However, remember that you’ll need to screen the video and associated comments more carefully.  Don’t forget to turn Safety Mode back on again after your “sensitive topic” lesson is over, especially if you share your classroom.
  • It does a fairly good job of screening out its list of inappropriate keywords, but if users apply non-standard spellings (or simply misspell) inappropriate words, those can slip through the filter.
  • It relies on users ratings of comments (somewhat) to decide on what is or is not appropriate to display.  Help out the YouTube community by giving your thumbs-up or thumbs-down to videos and comments as your time allows.  When you’re searching, use the “Flag as Inappropriate” or Flag as Spam” when you run across something that shouldn’t be shown in your classroom.
  • If you don’t have a Google or YouTube account, it may or may not not work the next time you log in to YouTube, especially if you restart your computer between classes and certainly if you move to a different machine. Simple fix: get a Google account, log in, and click “Keep me logged in.’

The Verdict

Okay, so it’s not completely perfect, but it’s a good place to start.  By hiding all of the comments, a lot of the inappropriate & unnecessary “noise” is completely hidden by default.  Besides, I don’t really see why a teacher would need to share other users’ random comments as part of a lesson, anyway.  A few videos by users with inappropriate screen names might still show up in the “Suggestions” column on the right-hand side of the window, but inappropriate words are much less likely to appear there and much more likely to appear in users’ comments. 

Although it’s not a guarantee for an always-appropriate viewing experience, this is a quick way for a teacher who only shows a few occasional YouTube videos to classes for educational purposes to screen out a majority of inappropriate printed language & content.

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