On being ... homeschooled?

 By Ingrid Sapona 

Last year I bought a set of DVDs of a stretch/exercise program that my local Public Broadcast Station (PBS) runs. I don’t have a DVD player for my television any more, but I figured I could play them on my computer. Unfortunately, when I tried to play one of the DVDs, I found out my computer was set up only to play CDs, not videos. 

After a bit of Googling, I found there are programs (dozens, actually) you can install to play a DVD. I downloaded one (probably one with a free trial) and managed to watch the first workout. Each DVD has six 30-minute workouts, but I couldn’t figure out how to view the second, third, fourth, etc. Ugh… 

My original plan was to convert the DVDs into a format (M4V) so I could play them on my iPad. If I couldn’t figure out how to play the original DVDs on my computer, there seemed little hope for the next step. Dejected, the DVDs ended up on a shelf. 

Recently, I Googled how to convert DVDs to M4V. There was no shortage of information about it, but the more I looked, the more daunting it seemed. Then, a couple weeks ago I came across a 9-minute video by “KaptainTech” – who sounds about 16-years-old. The 2012 video made the process seem straightforward, if you don’t mind downloading two pieces of software. The video included links to the software, but I figured it likely that the software was either discontinued or that it had changed so much the video instructions were probably no longer accurate. 

Nonetheless, this week I decided to give it a try. One of the software links wasn’t quite right, but I managed to find the program and download it. The other link worked perfectly. Then I played KaptainTech’s video, pausing it every time I needed to carry out a task. I must say, he did an outstanding job showing every step. The program interfaces looked a bit different but, rather than worry (or wonder) about it, I just clicked on exactly what KaptainTech said to. To my amazement – it worked! 

When I was done, I left a comment on the video to say thanks and to let others know the 2012 video is still useful in 2021. (I got the idea to mention that from others who noted that it worked for them as recently as 2020. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one concerned that the process might have changed since 2012.) A number of commentators also mentioned they watched a lot of other videos but found KaptainTech’s the best. Again, it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in having watched dozens of other videos about the process before taking the plunge. 

This was the third or fourth time I’ve found great videos on YouTube made by ordinary folks that show how to do something. Last year the door on my microwave wouldn’t stay closed. When I mentioned the problem to a friend, she said the same thing happened to theirs and they fixed it themselves after watching a few YouTube videos on how to fix it. She sent me a link to the one they found most useful and suggested I try it.  

Having nothing to lose, I did. The process involved taking apart the door. According to the video, if this one spring has fallen out of place, the door will not close. Unfortunately, in my case the spring wasn’t just out of place – it was broke. So, I couldn’t fix the door, but it was pretty empowering to try. (As an aside, you’d be surprised at how many things that seem sturdy are just snapped into place!) 

Similarly, a few years ago my computer was overheating because the fan stopped working. My friend suggested it might just need a new fan. To get at the fan, I’d have to open up the computer. I went searching on-line for an owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s specs that might show how to do that, but I couldn’t find anything. 

My friend suggested there might be a YouTube video showing how to disassemble it. Sure enough, some guy (with a heavy accent, a big gut, and – unfortunately – no shirt) did a video showing how to disassemble the exact HP model I had. I watched it a number of times, before giving it a try. Turns out the fan had kind of melted into place, so it was unfixable. But, it was an interesting exercise. 

It used to be that if you wanted to learn how to make something (or how to fix something) you’d take a course. For example, if you were contemplating trying to fix your microwave door, you might take a course on small appliance repair. You might learn some troubleshooting techniques, but you wouldn’t necessarily learn about your particular model. Now you can probably find a video showing how to fix your exact problem. 

Watching a video that walks you through the steps to accomplish a specific task is not the same experience as taking a course. Following KaptainTech’s instructions click-by-click was more like doing paint-by-number, than learning how to paint. But, given that I was just interested in successfully converting the video formats, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t learn anything about the coding behind each step. 

There are a lot of folks out there with a lot of hands-on experience and, for whatever reason, many of them like making videos demonstrating how to do things. (I’ll bet that as kids they lived for show and tell!) And of course, not all such videos are created equal. But, I’ve come to see home-made how-to videos as a kind of homeschooling tool. They can give you courage to tackle a particular job or they can help you decide when it might be best to farm something out to an expert. 

What about you? Do you ever turned to YouTube videos for help? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


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