I am a graduate student at an American university, and I have been assigned to teach an online math class. I have noticed that there are many lecture videos available on Youtube made by actual professors, and since I am a first-time lecturer, their videos are superior to anything I could make.

I am wondering if it would be appropriate for me to assign Youtube videos as lectures? Or would this be considered unprofessional/frowned upon/likely not allowed?

Are there any pitfalls I should be aware of?

  • 41
    I'll note that many students will hate you for it and will complain about it. They will complain here, they will complain there, they will complain everywhere. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss)
    – Buffy
    Jun 14, 2020 at 19:14
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    Rather than "assigning" them, post the links as "extra help from a different point of view." I doubt that anyone will hate you for that, and many students will love you for it.
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 15, 2020 at 2:12
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    I’m always amused and disappointed by how so many people within the industry of “academia” will tell you to go “make your own” version of something, which in my opinion is extremely wasteful and contrary to the broader goals of academia, when talking about lower level material.
    – Ryan
    Jun 15, 2020 at 2:58
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    I’d like to point out that just because you are a first time lecturer this does not automatically mean that you can’t make videos as good as or better than those from a professor. Unfortunately, one being a professor does not automatically mean that one understands good pedagogy.
    – wgrenard
    Jun 15, 2020 at 16:45
  • 4
    Maybe for part of the class to explain a particular point. To make this the bulk of your class time? No way.
    – Raydot
    Jun 15, 2020 at 20:53

9 Answers 9


The answer depends on your goals.

If you have plans to work in academia, eventually you might find yourself on a track to becoming a professor yourself. In this role, you are expected to teach. Hence, you should be able to prepare teaching materials of high quality to support your teaching and benefit students' learning. The sooner you start working on your first video lecture, the sooner you prepare the one which you are actually not totally ashamed of. Your first lecture might be half-baked and otherwise of sub-par quality, but that's expected on your career stage, when people start learning the ropes. But if you listen to feedback from your students and your mentors, and reflect on it, then your second lecture will be better than your first one, and eventually you start producing good quality stuff. Most importantly, you will become a better educator yourself, equipped with a wide range of tools and techniques, and understanding which method works best in a particular situation. You will be able to adapt your teaching to the needs of a particular student cohort, and you won't depend on materials from the internet (which may or may not be available).

But maybe your goal is simply to survive this teaching assignment until you graduate? In this case there is probably no shame in using online materials to complement your teaching. Just don't forget, that you still need to support your students and help them contextualise and understand the content. You may achieve this by preparing some examples based on the materials in the lecture and working through them with your students. It may be appropriate to have a discussion regarding the material, or even to critically assess and compare the material presented by different lecturers.

Good luck.

  • 1
    Thanks a lot for your answer! My goal is kind of a mix of the two; I do not really plan to work in academia, but I think lecture-making would be a great skill for me to develop. I just wanted to verify this this is an alright and/or common thing to do. I am very new to academia and don't have much idea about the expectations.
    – user56202
    Jun 14, 2020 at 17:55
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    A side comment: It would make sense to give out those lectures as supplementary materials. Thinking back to my freshmen's calculus lecture, there was a book the lecture was roughly based on. And then there was a very different book, I stumbled on it through hearsay recommendations, but it helped me a lot. As a student, I would appreciate hints to alternative approaches to the same curriculum. Jun 14, 2020 at 18:09
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    @user56202 It's helpful to get yourself a mentor/adviser/friend, who can share some advice regarding expectations, processes and traditions in your Uni/Department. Academia.SE is a good place to find general advice, but we don't know your specific situation as well as your local peers. Jun 14, 2020 at 19:58
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    I would like to this answer that you will probably also learn much more about the subject itself by preparing teaching materials. Being able to explain complex problems in a simple way requires in-depth knowledge of a subject.
    – Louic
    Jun 15, 2020 at 9:16
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    -1. this is a classic sloppy answer (better now than later), and it doesn't address the issue of the idea per se being good or bad, supposing you want to be a good teacher, which is independent on the future plans by OP to keep or stop teaching.
    – carlo
    Jun 15, 2020 at 14:19

I am wondering if it would be appropriate for me to assign Youtube videos as lectures? Or would this be considered unprofessional/frowned upon/likely not allowed?

My short answer: No, this is not unprofessional or inappropriate. Give your students the best materials that help them understand the content.

If someone else puts something in an easy-to-follow or especially interesting way, I think that is a good thing to share. You did the back-end work to find that perfect thing, so sharing it is the natural outcome of your research. We (nearly) all use published materials to assign for students to read or work from, and nobody expects you to retype well-worn material in your own words to disseminate to your class. In fact, if anything, there is sometimes an opposite expectation that you use published texts as the primary content materials.

I think you should find the videos that you think are great and then start getting practice making your own. Maybe set a schedule where for every two videos you use from other people, you make one of your own. I think your students will want to hear from you in your own voice, because they know the examples you go over will probably be most like what they will expect to know for exams, etc.

Are there any pitfalls I should be aware of?

  • The video could be removed by the owner.
  • The video might take a non-standard approach to something, so you'll have to vet them carefully.
  • Students might complain that they don't like a variety of different methods/people/etc. (if you are cobbling together videos from whomever).
  • The videos aren't captioned appropriately (or at all) for accessibility purposes.
  • You don't get practice making and posting videos, and something happens at the last minute where one of your videos doesn't work for some reason.
  • I agree with all of this. As a student myself, I have relied HEAVILY on YouTube videos to supplement lectures from professors who are not good at being educators. Make sure that you really suss out the videos and make them complementary to your teaching. Jun 14, 2020 at 23:38
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    It isn't easy to curate the right videos and create the syllabus with them. But to make the students not complain about appearances, make sure to take the organization very seriously, (that is, it needs to be organized carefully from the beginning which video they are to watch for which topics in the syllabus). And, it will probably go down better within the department (for the students who always complain/whine) if you then concentrate on preparing great videos/enrichments that focus more on the problem solving, and common mistakes, etc. (flipping the classroom flavor as rationale)
    – Carol
    Jun 14, 2020 at 23:53
  • Also, if you use videos from different sources for the different topics that you cover in your module, the notation may be inconsistent and confuse the students.
    – Luca Citi
    Jun 16, 2020 at 18:53

In normal (pre-covid-19) times, giving lectures is an essential part of the job description of a university course instructor. Planning to teach your course in a nonstandard way that involves not giving lectures without prior approval from your department is something that would have been almost certain to get you into trouble, and to reflect very poorly on your professional judgment.

During the covid-19 pandemic some institutions are getting more tolerant about alternative teaching arrangements, so your chances of having your department consider this sort of thing are a bit greater, if you propose a thoughtful plan that shows convincingly that students would benefit. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in the US higher education context I am familiar with, even these days “teaching a course” is assumed to be more or less synonymous with “giving lectures”. So again, planning not to give lectures means you plan to do things significantly differently than the norm. Therefore even if you think you have good reasons to do so, given your lack of experience and low ranking on the institutional totem pole it would still be pretty inappropriate to carry out such a plan without prior consultation with and approval by your superiors, and likely to result in negative consequences for your career as a graduate student.

TL;DR: it’s certainly a bad idea to do it without explicit approval from your department. The saying “it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission” does not apply in this situation.

  • 4
    My university explicitly suggested doing this as a way to cope with the sudden change to an online format. Your case is a bit different, as now the change to an online format is no longer sudden. But still, I would suspect that this would not cause too much trouble if I were to do this in the comming winter semester. You'd have to think about what your contribution to the course is going to be: You have saved time by not having to create those videos. How are you going to use that time to make the course better in another way? Having a convincing answer to that question would definately help. Jun 15, 2020 at 7:05
  • @MaartenBuis I would suspect that this would not cause too much trouble if I were to do this: but you would check with your department first if you were thinking about doing it, right? “I would suspect” does not suggest a high level of confidence. Also you are not a grad student, and not in the US. Again, I strongly recommend to OP to make sure this is okay before proceeding.
    – Dan Romik
    Jun 16, 2020 at 0:51
  • Institutions matter and differ. In case of a PhD student in the US discussing this with the department is no doubt very important. However, to illustrate the differences possible, I would not check with my department. In my university each faculty member is pretty much a kingdom on its own. There is a department with a person who coordinates educational matters when necessary, but if I were to come to him with this question, he would look weirdly at me and respond: "do what you think is best". Jun 16, 2020 at 7:59

Perspective: I am currently a TA for a first-year Logic course, in a university that had to move its lectures online mid-semester. The lecturer I work for is new at this university and decided on an ambitious overhaul of the logic curriculum, using a different notation and some different definitions, so none of the previous handbooks precisely match his teaching.

This hasn't gone very smoothly. Even before the crisis hit, TAing for a lecturer who's writing the curriculum during the semester is hard. You don't have a lot of preview to the material to prepare your own classes with. There may be mistakes in the material you get, or things that haven't been explained well, that you have to then re-explain to the students. Also, this was my first time teaching.

But I was getting better at it. I noticed that students would be very timid in practice class, but after I'd demonstrated an exercise and left it on the board, after a while, they would start asking questions about it. I'd often have to explain the same bit to three students sitting in different parts of the class, who'd arrived at the sticky bit in their own time. But repeatedly explaining the same thing seemed to get them all past it and their homework was pretty decent. Students told me that my explanations helped them more than the lecturer, although I personally think what really helped them was circling round the same topic two or three times and taking stabs at it from different angles.

When the crisis hit and lectures moved online this created a lot of logistical troubles with actually getting the online classroom systems to work. And when they finally worked, students were far more timid about asking questions. So far, we haven't been able to get them to participate as actively in Q&A as before, and there's a definite dip in homework quality.

Which brings me to my points to you.

Setting up a curriculum of your own material is hard. Doing it all at once makes things harder on the students. If you teach this course for more than one year in a row, you can improve it every year, replace bits from other professors that you don't like with your own that fit better into your overall curriculum. Doing it all at once is likely to overwhelm you with work and not give the students the best material.

Curating a selection of online lecture videos is not a one-time job. New lectures will appear, you'll discover weaknesses in the existing ones, and perhaps add some of your own. You can refine this selection year by year.

Part of your job is coming up with assignments that use the lessons from the online lectures. A good assignment forces the students to attentively consume the videos and readings you prescribe, and prompts students to come up with questions. A structure that has worked well for us is separating it into Exercises and Homework.

Exercises are questions posed to students, and after a while you give the answer and how to get there. The point is that students can examine "how it's done". The exercises can be relatively hard, and are intended to demonstrate some interesting property of the theory they've just seen in a video, or a technique to approach a particular problem.

The homework on the other hand is graded for points - in our class the mean mark for the whole semester's homework counts as 30% of the total grade for the class, which is enough to motivate most students to do it. It's not a lot of homework per week, and it's intentionally and obviously easier than the exercises. But to solve it, students will try to really understand the exercises and use those techniques to tackle the homework. And it'll get them to ask you questions.

In an online teaching situation, student-teacher interaction is extremely important and one of the hardest things to make work. What you really need is conversation starters, and the combination of "watch this video, then think about this exercise, then ask me questions" could be that. You may need to split the group into manageable subgroups, too. You may find that this ends up being a lot more work than in-class lectures!

Analyze the homework. After one homework assignment that was done disastrously bad, we identified which topics the students clearly had trouble with and made new tutorials specifically for those topics. If you grade the homework yourself, take time to analyze what kind of mistakes your students are making. If you have TAs, ask them their impressions. Because it can be harder to get people to ask questions in an online classroom, you need to get more of your information from this channel.

You should notice that a lot of what I'm advocating is that you should shy away from doing a "big bang" development of your own material and focus on interacting with the students and reacting to what they can't get out of the videos/texts. I think if you push this interaction heavily, you won't get (a lot of serious) complaints about you lazing off.


I got my Ph.D. in math at a U.S. university about 20 years ago. Teaching, one course each semester, was a core part of the experience. It helped to make the funding work out for grad students, it gave students a small-class experience, and it developed grad students' (=future math academics) teaching skills.

Wholesale reliance on someone else's lectures is a cop out. Your students will object, at least some of them. You will not learn a key skill. Your department, sooner or later, is likely to not be keen about it. Don't do it; bite the bullet and learn and practice this core academic skill. (Even if you become a research mathematician, you will occasionally teach!)

Now what is OK is to provide your students a list of additional references for their supplementary reading or watching. So pointing to a couple of really good online lectures by others, complementing yours, is a good thing. Ideally that wouldn't be just others presenting the very same material, but in some way more exciting. And if your students decide they prefer to spend their time watching the other lectures rather than yours, so be it.

But don't turn your back on developing an integral skill of a professional mathematician. Yes, you'll have a learning curve. Yes, your students are your guinea pigs. But it's part of what you need to learn at this stage of your career.


I would say that using other professors YouTube videos as lectures is perfectly acceptable. This is the digital age, it's not the 20th century any more. If we have access to the boundless knowledge of the internet, and especially the YouTube, why not use it. People who object are still locked in their outdated mindsets. You absolutely don't have to reinvent the wheel. Just use the knowledge of the internet hive mind machine.

When I was a student I didn't even attend professor's lectures, preferring to use YouTube to teach myself instead. Academia must understand that they should either use the internet to their advantage or be swept away by the tide of free online learning materials.

If you can make the entire education online, why not do it? Why not use YouTube videos to accomplish this goal? In my old university, the calculus classes were always full, making students have to wait an entire semester before they could take that class. I always wondered, why do they not just open an online class with YouTube videos replacing traditional lectures?


There is a whole spectrum of what you can do, from "show this tricky experiment with a nuclear plant done by Dr X" to "prepare a playlist of online courses and just launch it when the course starts".

It is absolutely a good idea to use some interesting, famous or otherwise complicated to replicate videos. It adds a lot of spicing to your lecture.

Do not overuse it, though, as it will not be your course anymore. On top of that you learn enormously when preparing a lecture (this is the time when you sometimes actually understand what you are about to teach).


There is a danger of the department will find out. Next term, they can just ask the students to look at the lectures on youtube without you. You will be out of a job. So make sure you bring other values to the students.

  • 1
    Not true – time saved not creating crappy lectures can be put into providing more value in other ways, e.g. by answering more of the students' questions in more detail that you could normally afford, or providing more exercises and helping solve them, etc. (If you just cut effort and don't do anything that's of course not good.)
    – nobody
    Jun 15, 2020 at 19:18

If you find it too hard to come up with your own lecture in a short amount of time, you might as well write down the script of the mentioned Youtube lecture and learn it by heart or make it into your own version and give the lecture yourself rather than just playing someone else's lecture?

  • 2
    I don't see how this is any different than playing the other person's lecture, except for being a large amount of extra work. Jun 15, 2020 at 12:43
  • OP is qualified to teach. she/he can prepare the lesson how she/he pleases, including this way, but this is not quite optimal.
    – carlo
    Jun 15, 2020 at 14:23

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