YouTube as a Research Tool

Well, here it is, everyone. This is my final blog post that will deal directly with assigned readings for my course on technology in education. Following this, I need only post a journal review to my blog and from there on, all content is left up to me entirely. I wish I could say that I had a very interesting topic to talk about today, and perhaps bits and pieces of it still are, but I was not very enthralled with the topic as it relates to education. That topic is crowdsourcing. To be fair, I am extremely interested in the idea of crowdsourcing as a way to fund the production of someone’s brilliant creation. I have participated in Kickstarter drives in the past and I think some of the products that have come along as a result of monetary crowdsourcing have been great. Using crowdsourcing for educational purposes, however, is going to take a lot more convincing on the part of researchers. The literature I read dealt with crowdsourcing for survey research, social media as a research environment, and finally, the topic for today’s post, YouTube as a Research Tool.

The paper by Konijn et. al. (2013) contains three separate studies that used YouTube as the primary research tool. I will not discuss the later two studies too much, as I feel it could have been done without using YouTube. These particular studies merely claimed to be using YouTube as a measurement tool for gauging adolescents’ preferences for certain types of media and their reactions to it. I do not believe it was YouTube acting as the measurement tool, however. YouTube, in this instance, acted as the source of the media. The measurement tool was a five point Likert scale that asked how interested the individual was in watching a video based on a brief description. Following the viewing of the clip, the same participant then indicated, on the same five point scale, how appropriate they thought the behavior shown in the video was. This could have been done with clips from a TV news station or videos from any number of websites. It certainly is not research that would have been impossible without YouTube as the medium (pp. 3-5).

The only study that could be said to, perhaps, be exclusive to YouTube, or at least social media, is the research that dealt with the effects of peer feedback on body perception. The research had the authors create content on YouTube that involved showing girls of various body types. Before showing the content to the female participants in the study, the researchers posted comments meant to mimic those found on YouTube. These comments were posted under fake profiles. In some instances, the comments claimed that an extremely thin girl was underweight while in others it claimed that she was of a normal weight. The researchers then studied the effects of these comments on the body perceptions of the female participants via a questionnaire that was filled out after viewing the content and accompanying comments (pp. 1-3).

Looking at this study, it is hard to not feel that this could have easily been done using a clip posted to Facebook with accompanying comments. Thus, I will say that this really is a matter of social media as a research tool and not YouTube by itself. There really would be no significant difference between doing this research on Facebook and doing it on YouTube except, perhaps, that YouTube tracks the number of times content has been viewed. The two websites both have “likes,” although Facebook lacks “dislikes, and they both utilize comment and sharing functions.

I am in agreement with the researchers in using fabricated comments for the purpose of this research rather than let actual YouTube users comment freely. Anyone that has ever used YouTube knows that the comments section of any video quickly sees the appearance of a commenter who will berate not only the media shown, but will begin harassing other commenters. This usually involves quite a disproportionate amount of profanity, vulgarity, and hate speech. I could not see such an authentic YouTube environment contributing to research in any way unless the study is on the average amount of comments posted before someone makes a negative comment or verbally attacks another commenter.

Ultimately, I really only see YouTube as viable for research that revolves around the effects of peer feedback. Other than the first study mentioned by Konijn, the research did not really need social media at all. Unless sites such as YouTube become more heavily moderated and comment sections somehow miraculously become home to only positive comments and constructive criticism, I cannot see wading through the filth being worthwhile. Researchers will have to continue to fabricate content and comments to include the type of input they want to be seen by research participants, but again, the type of research that can be done using social media seems, at present, extremely limited. Best to leave YouTube as a means of introducing and expanding upon topics in the classroom and not as a tool for research.

Konijn, E., Veldhuis, J., & Plaisier, S. (2013). Youtube as a research tool – three approaches. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking (X)X, 1-7. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0357