A piano sets a beat as a hand holding a marker appears in front of a blank whiteboard. A voice comes in.
“Are the Olympics bad for your health?” it asks.
The voice belongs to Andrew Maynard, the director of the University’s Risk Science Center and professor at the School of Public Health. In the first video in his YouTube series “Risk Bites,” Maynard narrates the five riskiest sports in the Olympics.
Nearly six months after the video’s creation, Maynard has more than 800 subscribers and more than 30,000 overall video views on his YouTube channel. Maynard said he hopes his series will make his expertise in risk science available for public access.
“I was intrigued to discover when there was some way of taking my expertise and stuff that I teach and making it much more accessible to a wider audience through the underground YouTube bandwagon,” Maynard said.
Maynard said his daughter’s interest in YouTube inspired him to use the site as a medium to explain his expertise.
“I was blown away by the emerging YouTube culture where you’ve got young people getting deep, educational content from sources that aren’t within universities,” Maynard said.
Maynard’s fascination with social media as a communication tool didn’t start with videos. He has used blogging for four to five years to connect with a broader audience as well as to relate and communicate current affairs effectively. He also created the Twitter handle @2020science to join the developing community and exchanging of ideas.
Maynard began creating the videos in November, each one focusing on an area in his field of study, as well as other topics that fascinate him. In response to the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Maynard created a video assessing the risks of gun violence.
Maynard said he has a list of 140 ideas to discuss in his videos, most of which are taken from the classes he teaches, including “Principles of Risk Assessment,” “Environmental Health Policy” and “Communicating Science through Social Media.” He hopes to continue posting videos for at least the next six months but plans on making it a long-term project.
“The plan is to build a body of seriously educational resources that are also interesting, engaging and fun,” Maynard said.
Tracy Swinburn, the managing director of the Risk Science Center, said Maynard is at the forefront of using social media to convey scientific knowledge. As for his YouTube series, Swinburn said she believes he effectively communicates the topics to a broad audience.
“I think Andrew does such a great job of making these explanations easy to understand,” Swinburn said. “It’s great that we can communicate to a broad range of people on risk science topics.”
However, Maynard said he hopes to target a younger audience that uses YouTube as a primary source of education.
“I think this is going to be a slow process,” he said. “But what we’re finding is that there is an increasing recognition with more views going up.”
His most-viewed video, titled “Does wearing a hat keep you warm while dancing naked?” currently has more than 10,000 views.
Public Health student Adam Siddiqui said the provocative titles of Maynard’s videos grabbed his attention.
“At first I was confused about it, then I definitely learned a lot from the video,” Siddiqui said. “That just shows that those videos can be a great learning tool for people at all levels of education.”
Siddiqui said he was first introduced to Maynard’s videos after he spoke to his class at orientation. He added that Maynard remarked there has to be a way to bring science to the public to better engage them in the field.
Maynard said for his social media course he has students write a blog post every week for 10 weeks on the website “Mind the Science Gap.” He said the students work independently while writing their blogs.
“I don’t read it beforehand. I don’t edit it,” Maynard said. “They are solely responsible for what they write, and they are solely responsible for what happens after they press publish.”
Maynard said he would like to see the University follow his lead in establishing more of a presence in online academia.
“You look at the University, and we’ve got incredible expertise here, and yet there’s an incredibly small amount of expertise that trickles out into the public,” Maynard said. “If you think about us as a public institution, it’s sort of our obligation to make this accessible to a wider audience.”
The University currently offers free online courses to users around the world through the Coursera platform.
Maynard added that online education lands between the formal education of a University and the informal education of a museum. Before former Social Media Director Jordan Miller resigned in December, Maynard spoke to her about how to reach this goal.
“We’re very, very poor at understanding how to maximize the use of the way people are using those (social media) for learning,” Maynard said. “Just as we’ve invested in formal education, and just as we’ve invested in informal education, we now need to work how to invest in informal online education.”
—Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @Jen Calfas.
View some of Maynard’s videos below: