Meet The Avengers of YouTube education

As a rapid response to school and university closures, some of the platform’s biggest learning celebrities have set up The StudyTube Project.

When schools closed across the UK, Jack Edwards and his fellow educational YouTubers decided something needed to be done. They’d seen their universities shift to online tuition as the UK began to shut down as coronavirus spread. Edwards – a fresh-faced Durham University student who posts about life on campus – is part of the studytube” community on YouTube and has nearly 200,000 subscribers. He was concerned about his audience (ranging from school children to university students), so he sent out a message to a group chat he shared with his fellow studytubers. 

Edwards told them that he felt lost and confused, so he couldn’t imagine how his followers were feeling. It felt criminal to sit back and do nothing when we have that audience of people willing to learn and who love the escape education can give them,” he says.

So Edwards had an idea: to pool their resources and efforts in a joint channel that he and his peers would contribute to. Within an hour of him posting the message, the artwork was made, the channel was registered, and a rota was being drawn up. The StudyTube Project was born.

We responded so fast,” says Vee Kativhu, a Zimbabwe-born, UK-raised studytuber and Oxford University undergraduate, who has 120,000 subscribers. People kept saying in the comments that we responded quicker than the government. I found that funny at first, but then realised we did.”

Across YouTube and Instagram, 18 of the biggest studytubers from across the UK – who are all normally competing for followers – are working together to post a YouTube video every day at 6pm that offers a taster of a new subject matter or opportunity for learning. The diverse range of creators, most of whom are still studying at university, show the way in which the UK leads the way in educational content on YouTube. The first three episodes have covered an introduction to British Sign Language by Edwards, sexuality and gender in Ancient Greece and Rome, presented by Kativhu, and an introduction to the dash punctuation mark, hosted by Ruby Granger, an Exeter University student who has 430,000 subscribers. 

The group are also teaming up to create livestreams on Instagram to offer a sense of community and continuity. This is a channel to keep you busy, keep you learning or even just to give you somewhere to escape to!” they exclaim in their bio. 

StudyTube is built on the fact that young people are all experiencing education, whether school or university, and quite often the people who tell us about these things are professional academics and teachers,” says Edwards. There’s a sense of distance there.” Young people talking about what they’re going through with their education is more valuable, reckons Edwards – and while schools and universities are closed or part-closed, the YouTubers want to step in.

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The speed at which this project was mobilised is impressive in itself and also a testament to the young people involved,” says Brandon Relph, an entrepreneur and youth specialist. This shows the real power of digital – and how it can be done correctly – but also the power of my generation working together to action on issues that are important to them. It fills me with pride. Our hope is that institutions like the BBC and other broadcasters can learn from this – and we hope to help the understanding and facilitation of both traditional and digital worlds.”

The tightness of this study-centric community is what’s helped get the project off the ground, says Kativhu. I think because we’re such a small corner of the internet in that we’re not in the beauty world and the fashion world, where there’s massive players and have only been around a few years, we’re such a small, close group.” The studytuber corner of YouTube aims to support students by offering them practical advice as well as augmenting their learning in the classroom and lecture theatres, and now that everyone is forcibly learning from home, they’re coming into their own. 

The 18 studytubers involved in the project decided that their resources and skills would be better pooled together than overlapping and producing individual content for audiences who are already confused and concerned. The night before the school closures were announced, all of us got hundreds of messages from students saying, What do I do? I’m panicking’,” explains Kativhu. We felt overwhelmed, but we have all these students looking up to us. Even though I’m very scared for my own studies, I have to remain positive because there are thousands of students relying on me right now.”

The group’s videos are not a replacement for actual courses, but instead acting as a TED Talk-esque taster of the subject matter. I think people are looking for somewhere to stimulate their brains,” Edwards explains. The idea is that every night, students across the world can dip in and find something they’re interested in, before moving into more in-depth research on the subject.

It felt a bit like The Avengers where it was everybody coming together at once in the time of need,” says Edwards. I was making a lot of phone calls, reaching out to a lot of people – some people I’d never spoken to before but who I knew the community could benefit from.” The notion was that strength in numbers would provide something sustainable — important given the likelihood that we’re going to be under this new norm for several months at least. 

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Logistically, we organised our group to make sure it’s not a strain,” says Kativhu. I only film a video every 18 days. We can do this consistently without feeling the strain for the next three or four months,” she adds. She’s also in charge of collating highlights and managing DMs on the StudyTube Project’s Instagram profile. We all just made time – plus, we’re all stuck in the house,” jokes Edwards. It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”

Others are in charge of managing requests from brands who want to support the initiative – any money made from advertising displayed against the channel will go to charities supporting frontline workers tackling the coronavirus. I think this whole situation that’s impacting the world is something where we just have to club together and be there for one another, and give each other spaces where people can chill out and feel comfortable and feel like someone is there and cares for them,” says Edwards. 

And it’s not just benefitting their followers — those involved are also seeing the benefits. In a weird way I think it’s keeping us sane,” says Edwards. We’re all creative people by nature, and so it just satisfies that need to create and be doing something with our time. It satisfies that need for us as well.”


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