Friday, May 27, 2016

Teach.tv - A hypothetical education-based live-streaming sister site to Twitch.tv

This logo sucks. Dammit Jim, I'm a writer, not a graphic designer!
Since this post was written, I actually attempted to stream a Japanese lesson to Twitch. Check it out!
I have an idea for a website and I think it's a pretty good one. Consider the popularity of both Twitch.tv, a gaming (and, more recently, music and art) focused live-streaming service, and TED.com's TED Talks, a collection of thought-provoking and informational lectures. Both of these popular websites are free to use. Now consider the combination of these ideas into a website dedicated to live streaming lectures, lessons, and tutorials - that's the idea behind "Teach.tv".

Keep in mind that this concept is largely based on Twitch.tv's model and was originally conceptualized as an Education category for Twitch, which I shared to Reddit on May 22nd, 2016. My ideas have evolved a bit since then to include many features that don't currently exist on Twitch, but I still believe that the concept would work best as a sister site to Twitch in order to maintain a large user base. Having it as a separate, but linked, streaming site would also maintain Twitch's primarily game-focused image and keep this new, unrelated, flood of content out of the way of people who aren't interested, but also within easy reach of those who are. As of now, educational content in this format is not allowed on Twitch, as it is not game-related, nor is it permitted in the Creative or Music categories.

Advantages Over Pre-Recorded Content

If you aren't familiar with Twitch.tv, you may be wondering what advantage live-streaming may have over pre-recorded videos for instructional methods. The primary advantage is the same as the advantage of actually attending a class: live interactivity between the student and teacher. Like Twitch, Teach.tv would have a chat room displayed alongside the video stream which could be used by viewers to discuss the content among themselves and to directly ask questions to the teacher (or, perhaps, a teacher's aide).

Another advantage is one that follows from the ability to communicate live with the teacher and other students: an incentive to watch. A major hurdle for learning is always procrastination, but because live chat would only be available while the stream is live, viewers would have an incentive to watch now rather than later. If a video is pre-recorded, it is available to view at any time (and make no mistake, Teach.tv would also archive past lessons for convenience), but when a video is always available without a time-based incentive like chatting, the viewer may put off watching it into the indefinite future. Because of this ability to talk with other viewers and the teacher, I believe that more viewers would come to watch and learn live than if they were to do it alone.

The Workings of Chat, Questions, and Past Lessons

Like Twitch.tv, Teach.tv would have an option to save previously streamed lessons so that viewers would be able to catch up on anything they missed. Also like Twitch, the viewers' chat messages would also be saved and shown alongside the past broadcast so that any response by the teacher to something said in chat would have context for future viewers.

That's all well and good, but what if viewers start watching in the middle of a live broadcast or haven't watched previous lessons? Won't they clutter up the chat and distract the teacher by repeatedly asking the same questions? Indeed. This is why there would be an additional text submission field below the chat box to officially ask the teacher a question. Before submitting, the student would be shown suggested questions that have already been asked. This would be achieved by automatically searching for identical words in previous questions, and by showing questions that have been asked in the past thirty seconds or so. The answers that were provided for previously asked questions would also be shown, either via a linked timestamp to the point in the broadcast when the question was previously asked and marked as answered (oh hey, Twitch just added "Clips" which would do just this!), or in text provided by the teacher or an authorized teacher's aide / chat moderator. Options would be available for teachers and aides to manually hide or display frequently asked questions, as well as to mark them as answered or "will answer later".

For particularly popular streams, there may be too many viewers and too many questions to handle. While teachers may still opt to handle the questions in the normal way, they could also choose to prioritize questions from viewers based on: 1. whether a viewer has viewed previous streams of theirs, 2. how long a viewer has been present in the current stream, 3. whether the student is on a manually created "trusted students" list, and/or 4. whether the viewer has purchased a subscription to that teacher's channel or Teach.tv's site-wide subscription service. (I'll go into subscriptions more later, but the important thing is that Teach.tv would still be free to use for both teachers and students.)

General Site Organization and Features

Teach.tv Directory & Home Page
Organization would be essential so that viewers could find what they're looking for and discover new content. As such, Teach.tv's main page would show a handful of popular lessons that are currently streaming as well as a list of categories and sub-categories for different topics. Returning members would see a portion of these popular lessons tailored to fit topics that they may choose to follow, as well as a section for live and recently recorded broadcasts from specific teachers that they followed. Members would be able to customize their home page according to their preference by choosing to hide suggested teachers and only show teachers they follow, if they wish.

As with real life tutors, teachers on Teach.tv would mostly gain an audience by word of mouth. However, since streams with a lot of viewers are typically shown first, it may be difficult for newer channels to take off. To make up for this, there'd also be a section that predominantly shows channels that just began their stream, whether they're popular already or not - after all, watching a lesson from the beginning is ideal.
(Click to enlarge concept design)
(Image sources, Twitch.tv and ReligionForBreakfast)
Lesson Categories
I probably should have detailed this earlier in the article, but Teach.tv would include a huge variety of topics. Obviously, there'd be your typical school subjects like math, history, science, foreign languages, and all the subsets of those, but teachers would also be able to stream tutorials for more technical skills like vehicle repair, playing musical instruments, or even plumbing. [If a plumbing streamer didn't dress as Mario for every lesson, I'd be disappointed.] Other potential categories could be exercise, with stretches and work outs led by the streamer, religion, with sub-categories for academic explanations of religions and for, possibly, streamed church services and group Bible studies (or the equivalent from other, non-Christian religions), or even tips on how to StreamBig on Twitch. For subjects that are prone to heated arguments or trolling, or just to maintain a private, smaller chat size, streamers may wish to make their channel unlisted and only viewable by those who have a direct link to it. However, public streams would be highly encouraged and unlisted streams would be unable to be monetized because of this. Because of the huge potential for different topics, I'm not willing to detail or claim to know exactly what would and wouldn't work for Teach.tv at this point, but having seen the ingenuity of streamers on Twitch (TwitchPlaysPokemon and TMR's NESMania come to mind) and vloggers on YouTube, I can only begin to imagine the interesting topics and teaching methods that people would come up with to stream.

File Uploads
A useful feature for a learning and teaching site like this would be the ability to upload related files before or after a lesson so that students could follow along with lesson plans or have diagrams, formulas, vocabulary lists, etc. on hand while watching. Due to the potential for abusing this feature, file upload would probably have to be limited to verified/partnered teachers. It might also be helpful for teachers to be able to allow for their students to upload files in the case of them being hardcore enough to actually want to grade tests or homework or something. This also would likely be limited to a teacher's trusted or subscribed students, and people who uploaded illegal or pornographic content could easily be banned from making future uploads.

Teacher Credibility & Reviews
One issue that comes from receiving instruction from anyone, whether in real life or on the internet, is knowing whether the teacher and their information is reputable. As in every situation offline and online, viewers would be encouraged to use common sense and to do their own research to confirm the validity of lessons being taught. However, since streaming to Teach.tv would be freely available to anyone, teachers would be able and encouraged to add verified credentials (e.g. college diploma, relevant job experience, native languages spoken) to their profile in order to prove their credibility, at least somewhat.

Viewers would also be able rate and review teachers. Due to the potential for abusing the system by submitting large numbers of positive or negative reviews, a teacher's rating would not influence their visibility on the site (or, at least it wouldn't strongly influence it). The reviews would be purely for the reference of other viewers and would require a short written review in addition to an optional positive, negative, or neutral rating in order to explain why a particular viewer found a teacher to be "negative". (For example, was their information inaccurate, were they rude, or did they just have poor audio quality?) Because the reviews would have little direct influence, teachers should feel more free to teach however they want, without a need to pander for good reviews.

Profitability

If a site like this isn't profitable or at least breaking even, it won't be able to sustain its service. Luckily, Twitch already has a pretty good setup for income for both streamers and the site itself, and this setup would only need minor tweaks for an education-streaming service.
(Image source: Mario Teaches Typing)
Currently on Twitch, it's possible to subscribe to partnered channels by paying $5 per month in order to financially support a streamer and receive unique emotes to use in any chat on the site. Approximately half of this $5 is given to Twitch to aid in paying for the site's server costs and maintenance. On Teach.tv, I think that it should be easier for a streamer to gain the ability to accept paid subscriptions and that unique emotes would not necessarily be a benefit of subscribing. Instead, subscribing may only be a way to give a monetary tip to the teacher, or a teacher may choose to give additional benefits to subscribed students, such as the ability to upload files, priority in having their questions answered, or access to a separate, subscriber-only chat room in addition to the regular chat room. But even with this subscription service, Teach.tv would remain free for anyone to watch and teachers would not be able to lock out non-paying users apart from limiting these few special benefits. It's likely that if a channel were to attempt to exclude unsubscribed viewers, their viewer base would significantly decline and word of mouth would give them a negative reputation anyway.

Twitch also offers a separate, site-wide subscription service in the form of Twitch Turbo which grants access to special emotes and skips advertisements. Perhaps on Teach.tv, a similar subscription service would exist at a slightly higher price which would give the benefits of channel-subscriptions site-wide. (Or, maybe not, since that might eliminate the demand for channel subscriptions. Let me know any suggestions you have on the benefits of a Turbo-equivalent or ways to tweak the benefits of channel subscriptions in the comments!)

Videos would also have ads, but video advertisements would only play at the end of streams, beginning of past broadcasts, or when the streamer manually ran them (partnered streamers would be able to collect some ad revenue for themselves). Since it wouldn't be good to miss any of the lesson, video ads would not be played upon loading a live stream, but close-able overlaid ads (as seen on YouTube) might.

Rights to This Idea

I'd love to see my idea be implemented on Twitch if the right people are receptive to the idea. As much as I'd hate to have my idea for Teach.tv "stolen" for profit, I don't have the means to create such a website myself and I don't believe that it would qualify for a patent due to the requirement for utility patents to be non-obvious (not an obvious combination or extension of existing websites, which Teach.tv clearly is). But if anyone out there does want to try putting this idea into action, feel free to contact me and put me on your team or to give me money out of the kindness of your heart or a shout out or something.

Disclaimer: I may update this article in the future if I have additional ideas or if readers have particularly good questions or suggestions that I feel would fit into the main article. If you help, I'll credit you of course. I just thought of most of this myself, so there's a high probability that some things would have issues and need modifications in order to implement.

If you like this idea, consider expressing your interest on Twitch Uservoice!

Thanks to mcill and his chat for helping to start this discussion. Don't forget to follow me on Twitch also though! :P 

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