We gave all our incoming freshmen Flip Cams this past fall. These are very small digital camcorders. They are small enough to be carried all the time, ridiculously easy to use (no cables, and basic software is already installed right on the camera itself, and using AA batteries), and the video quality is quite acceptable, especially for YouTube.

My thought was that these would be useful for the walking tours, interviews, and other elements of the neighborhood websites our students produce for our Seminar Two (”The Peopling of New York”). But I didn’t foresee all the many uses they would actually serve. Students used them for videos in Seminar One (”The Arts in New York”), and some (sophomores) borrowed and used them for PSA’s they created as projects for Seminar Three (”Science and Technology in New York”). Others are even asking for them for Seminar Four (”Planning the Future of New York City”). Our students and faculty in the alternative spring break service learning program (in New Orleans–”The City that Care Forgot”) are using them to document that work, and a student working on an independent research project on Obama’s first 100 days has one, too.

And in this year’s Snapshot NYC event, students had the chance to create an entirely new type of project, “re-curating” the photo exhibit (of their own photos) that we had posted in the building.

Much of this is available on our YouTube Channel, so it’s searchable in YouTube, it can be seen by the multitudes of the public, commented on, made into favorites and followed.

And then at this year’s Yield Event for our newly-admitted students, I met a student who asked me if we would be giving the flip cams to freshmen again in the fall. When I told him we planned to, he said he was glad and said “you know, all the kids in my high school know about Macaulay because of those flip cams.” It seems that those YouTube videos are being seen by all kinds of audiences, including our own prospective students. As others have noted, YouTube these days is not just for funny cat videos–although the appeal of those is undeniable!–it’s also a first-choice research tool, especially for young people.

But there’s more than that. I had been thinking about “student stories” for our re-designed website, as well as videos of faculty and tech fellows and even staff. But I had been thinking “Oy, what a chore to have to film all these and edit them and post them.”

I was thinking in the old way. The students not only have flip cams, they use flip cams. And they post and share what they make with those flip cams. There don’t have to be (at least not all the time) centralized or official producers anymore, because they/we are all producers.

This is what students are showing us–with the flip cams, with the eportfolios, with so much that we do. We give them support and tools, and they use those tools and that support to produce.

What they produce might be rougher or less polished, or it might not be. But it’s theirs and it’s what they’re used to, and there’s a multiplier value, or several of them. They can produce things that we never expected, that we wouldn’t have thought of, that might be much better than what we thought of. And they get to learn from the producing, so the actual process of documenting their learning is another type of learning activity. And they get to learn from the sharing, too, when they interact and become engaged with a larger wider audience.