The History and Impact of MIT+K12 Videos Program

MIT+K12 videos
June 19
Yuliya Klochan, MIT '18

“What does meaningful mean?” asked Elizabeth Choe ‘13, Program Director & Executive Producer of the MIT+K12 Videos Program. For over six years, the program has aimed to inspire young people to explore science. As the production draws to a close, Elizabeth reflected on how the program has lived up to its mission statement.

I was particularly delighted to follow Elizabeth on her journey through the history of MIT+K12 Videos. Two winters ago, I was a student in the first installment of her class on writing and hosting an educational show (aptly titled “Becoming the Next Bill Nye”) and worked with her team on producing my own YouTube segment after only three intensive weeks of learning about online media and science communication. Filming a video about fractals outdoors on the day of a historic Massachusetts blizzard was one of the most memorable moments of my time at MIT—I’ve never looked at snowflakes the same. And I wasn’t the only student who loved the class. All of the participants, both graduate and undergraduate, greatly improved their public speaking and science writing skills and were inspired to carry the mission of MIT+K12 Videos forward.

This mission is to “spark curiosity and a love of learning among kids and kids-at-heart.” Videos are particularly effective for this aim because they offer a window to the unique MIT world of research. They can extend the reach of the Institute. The MIT+K12 Program is not solely a web series, however. It also engages in outreach through interactive workshops in schools, training through classes at MIT such as the one I took, and research to measure the impact of the videos and improve further productions.

The program was launched in 2010 in partnership with Sal Khan of Khan Academy. It started at a time when women, Latinos and Blacks comprised only about 10% of STEM professionals. MIT+K12 Videos committed to presenting diverse role models to viewers. In the next four years, 80 MIT student-hosts produced 13 videos about their research interests. Unfortunately, because of the home-made and topic-driven video style, only about half of that diverse group actually showed their faces on screen.

In 2014, a more “formal” YouTube series, Science Out Loud, began. It aimed to “make the familiar unfamiliar.” Instead of merely discussing the topic, hosts now had to reveal an interesting angle about it. For example, computer programming could be described as a way of “speaking with hardware.” All the Science Out Loud segments showed students’ faces and were filmed in their classes or labs. It was a series created by students for students, especially for those from under-represented groups.

The biggest breakthrough of the MIT+K12 Videos Program came unexpectedly from a video about braces, written and hosted by an MIT Sloan student from the first run of the “Becoming the Next Bill Nye” class. The host had never worked on similar media projects, and yet the video garnered over 4.5 million views on YouTube! The MythBusters posted it on their website and subsequently the number of subscribers on the MIT+K12 Videos YouTube channel almost doubled. The success of “How Do Braces Work?”, Elizabeth explained, came from the video’s great targeted audience—teenage girls with braces. They are a major part of the MIT+K12 Videos general audience of middle- to high-schoolers on the cusp of exploring science. The braces video also improved the audience gender ratio of the MIT+K12 channel—it rose from 17% to 44% female viewers.

Since the success of Science Out Loud, MIT+K12 Videos produced several other series of diverse formats, such as #askMIT, a “video penpal” series, where schoolchildren could ask MIT students and faculty anything about STEM (for example, “Why Do Stars Twinkle and Move?”). Three more series are coming out this year: Yana and Egbert (an animated series for preschoolers, fall), Nuclear Science Series (starring MIT’s nuclear reactor in partnership with the department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, summer), and Life after Earth (a reality series of longer 20-minute episodes, following the NASA FINESSE team preparing for human for life on Mars, winter). All series are different in vibe, format, tone, and target audience.

MIT+K12 Videos feature a diverse group of hosts with a variety of interests—this identity aspect is what makes their work unique particularly impactful. The team has received some wonderful unprompted anecdotes. A teacher whose class attended an MIT+K12 workshop wrote how her students can’t stop talking about it. The mother of a half-Black half-Latina girl wrote how inspired her daughter was after seeing a video with Quinton, the Black host of Q’s View (a show specifically designed to challenge people’s ideas of who an engineer is). The girl even visited MIT later and met with Quinton. She has a long way to go till high school, but is already determined to attend MIT.

Anecdotes like this reveal impact clearer than numerical analytics, although those show great gains from the MIT+K12 Videos as well—since 2010, MIT’s online reach has significantly increased. There are now videos with over 140 MIT student participants on the MIT+K12 channel, with over 63 million views. They are inspiring and helping to diversify new generations of explorers. The MIT+K12 Videos Program is coming to a close, but its impact is ongoing and, hopefully inspires other universities to start similar programs as well. Check out:

Yuliya Klochan is a rising MIT senior majoring in Linguistics and Philosophy.


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