When Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan started posting his lectures on YouTube, he never expected them to become popular. The UNC Greensboro philosophy professor created the videos simply as supporting material for his own online courses.
Yet popular they have become. Since he began posting them two years ago, his videos have received more than half a million views and 84,700+ hours of watch time. His channel has more than 14,000 subscribers.
“Some people come to these videos out of curiosity,” Kaplan said. “But then I discovered there’s a big percentage of people who come to the videos because they’re in law school and can’t understand their professors.”
Topics include Philosophy 101, Intro to Ethics, and Philosophy of Law. His latest series — “How to Do Well in College” — is inspired by the UNCG Foundations course he is assigned to teach, which provides first-year students with fundamental knowledge to succeed in their academic careers.
“I am a first year law student and I often find myself losing ground in this particular subject. I cannot be grateful enough for this channel.”
Kaplan’s videos are filled with comments like this.
Several times a week, he even receives an email from stranger — in Russia, Argentina, Australia — who stumbled on his videos and felt compelled to thank him. Sometimes they ask for help with their papers, a request he gently declines.
Needless to say, Kaplan’s own UNCG students appreciate the videos as well, as evidenced by overwhelmingly positive student evaluations.
“My students are always shocked that the videos have a certain level of production value.”
“You’re by yourself in a pitch black room. You can see nothing but a blinking red light in front of you, and you just start talking to the red light.”
When he records, however, he pictures an imaginary student in his mind, a student with the average level of enthusiasm, attention span, and background knowledge. Picturing this student informs whether a point needs to be repeated or more examples given.
Editing the videos was another big hurdle. Before spring 2019, Kaplan had never opened a video editing software. His skills are largely self-taught, with help from UNCG’s Digital Act Studio.
“Video editing, it turns out, is extremely time-intensive.”
Yet as his course evaluations and comments on YouTube have made clear: The results are worth the extra effort.
So what can his philosophy students — and 14,000 YouTube subscribers — look forward to next?
“I’ll be teaching a course on the philosophy of language, so that will be the next series,” he said, promising with a smile, “It’s going to be good.”
Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences
Videography and photography courtesy of Jeffrey Kaplan