"You watch—you know."

A free video contest/program to support
American K-12 public education

Contents of this page:

1. The basics 2. The justification of the project 3. Participation
4. The beta project 5. The long-term project  

1. The basics

What is WatchKnow?

It will be a free, non-profit, K-12 educational video contest, currently under planning and development.  Imagine tens of thousands of excellent short videos explaining nearly every topic taught in U.S. public schools.  WatchKnow will be a free (open content), non-profit beta project, to launch probably this fall, to see whether we can create that.  We will set the topics and invite teachers—and everyone—to submit videos.  Videos will be rated, and, at a certain point, we'll select a winner for each topic.  We'll pay the winner(s) within each topic small prize(s), such as $75 and $25, but the amounts have not be decided firmly yet.  We might award substantially more for certain topics.  You could think of it as an American Idol for teachers, but we are not affiliated with American Idol.  The project is being carried out as a new program of the Citizendium Foundation, with funding from a retired Memphis millionaire who wishes to benefit American education.  The project's Executive Director is Dr. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of the Citizendium.

For future updates, please add yourself to the project announcement list.

How will it work?

For the beta project, we'll post around 500 topics.  Contributors will sign up and submit videos under any of those topics, and raters (anyone) can sign up and rate videos according to how well they get the concept across.  We'll place topics into a list according to how many videos have been submitted to them.  Once the most active topics have more than five video submissions apiece, we'll start picking winners.  Winners will be chosen based on a weighted score, with 50% of the score based on public ratings, and 50% of the score based on a panel of teachers who actually teach the subjects, and educational experts.  We can't go into many more details yet, because they haven't all been settled yet, but rest assured that we have many ideas and are consulting many people about them.

How does this differ from what is out there now?

It's different from YouTube and TeacherTube because (1) the topics are assigned in advance, (2) we have a goal of completely covering the American K-12 curriculum, (3) we offer cash prizes for top-rated videos, and (4) videos will be rated in part by experts, not just by the general public.  But indeed these other websites do have some examples that illustrate roughly the sort of videos we want to create.  (Maybe we can do even better!)

Why do you think the project could succeed?

We are doing a beta project in order to determine whether this sort of project can succeed.  Here is why it might.  YouTube has shown that people are capable of creating and freely uploading lots of videos.  TeacherTube has shown that there are a good few teachers who are motivated to upload educational videos, without any possibility of reward.  What if we add that the videos will all be free (open content); cash prizes will be awarded to winning videos on various topics; there will be serious peer and public recognition for excellent work; and there will be a productive, useful community goal (namely, to cover all K-12 topics)?

Those are important differences that could galvanize a new community.  This is also a first-of-its-kind project and so we hope and think there will be plenty of participation.  We understand that most teachers (and their plugged-in, technophile students) are not able to create the slickest, most professionally-produced sorts of videos.  But we think that the best will be good enough—and who knows, maybe they will be really slick.  Maybe giving people an incentive and allowing them to compete will have that effect.  But really compelling content is ultimately more important than very slick production values.

Under what license will the videos be available?

The videos will be available under a Creative Commons Sharealike-Attribution license.  This allows anyone to reproduce and "mix and match" videos and add value.  It makes the database a public resource open to general use.  This is a strong reason for the open source/open content crowd to support us!

Who are the main partners in WatchKnow?

  • The Citizendium Foundation and Sanger are spearheading the project.
  • Funding, motivation, and inspiration for the project comes from a retired Memphis, Tennessee businessman, who has a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.  He wants to try something new to help improve American public school education and has the full support of the Community Foundation.
  • An Advisory Board of distinguished free content advocates, teachers, organization representatives, and education professors has been under construction and is expected to expand (and will be announced) following our initial public announcement.
  • A large panel of experienced teachers and other educational professionals will be assembled for purposes of choosing topics and rating videos. If you are interested in participating in that part of the project, see "Participation" below.

The basics | The justification of the project | Participation
The beta project | The long-term project

2. The justification of the project

Why are you doing this?  What are the long-term goals of the project?

The above-described giant database of excellent educational videos could be very useful to both students as well as teachers.

Students could consult the database for "instant tutoring" on almost any topic taught.  This would help students who didn't understand an in-class explanation of a topic, who are studying for a test, who missed a class due to illness, or who want to explore related topics that aren't taught in class.  By hosting multiple video explanations of the same topics, we hope to accommodate many different learning styles.  The project could be a useful free resource for home schoolers.

Teachers could use the database to get fresh ideas about how to approach material, and classes could be assigned to watch certain videos.  We hope that teachers would examine the variety of successful teaching styles and learn from the models how to improve their own teaching.  Finally, we hope that, if the project is successful, it might raise the public awareness of good teacher training and technique, and help the public to recognize and honor good teachers.

Why use relatively short videos?  Why not produce course-length video series with hand-picked, excellent teachers?

There are two reasons for this.  First, course-length videos would feature one teacher, using one curriculum, and this may not be as useful as relatively short videos on many different topics, that students and teachers could use to "mix and match" with their own curriculum.  But, as we say below, a successful long-term project might result in our funding course-length video series.  Second, we reluctantly concede that many students' attention spans are pretty short, and it is not realistic to ask many students to sit down and watch an educational video for a half hour or hour.

Why videos at all?  Why not fund free textbooks?

We believe that reading many good books is absolutely essential to education, and we support all sorts of free educational content (you can sign a petition to this effect).  But, for better or worse, students spend large amounts of time looking at screens—television, the Internet, and video games.  Video explanations will introduce many concepts to students who might not get them any other way, and will help solidify the concepts for those who do crack open their books.

3. Participation

Our requests of anyone interested in participating!

(1) Join our announcement list.  Go to this page and add your e-mail address to our announcement list.  This will be low-volume and will help keep you up-to-date about the project.

(2) Please express your support.  We want to demonstrate that there is significant support for this project.  If you are in the K-12 education world (a teacher or other education professional), a long-time home school parent, or even a student—but especially if you can speak on behalf of a school, school district, or education association—and you like the project we're building, we would like to hear from you.  Please send to a paragraph that we may post publicly, using your name and title/position and institution/company.  Please put the word endorsement somewhere in the title of your mail so that we can sort it properly!  (We may receive a lot of mail!)

Can I register yet?

Sorry, not yet.  The system hasn't been created yet.  But if you are at all interested in the project, please do add yourself to our mailing list.  We'll use the list to give updates and info about the project.  It will be very low-volume.

Also, if you want to talk about the project, feel free to do so on the WatchKnow message board, hosted by the Citizendium forums.  Unlike most other boards, you need not be a Citizendium member to participate on this particular board.

I am interested in choosing topics and serving on the professional rating panel.  How can I get involved?

We need and will set up a Video Review Panel, a group of volunteer professionals to choose topics and to rate videos.  (We will invite rating from the general public as well, but 50% of the score for a video will come from the Video Review Panel.)  If you are an experienced K-12 U.S. school teacher, or some other sort of education professional (e.g., education professor or ed tech person), please send a short note with your resume/CV to  Please specify what grades and subjects you teach or have taught, or your familiarity with curriculum/state standards.  Please also briefly describe what sort of practical experience you have, if any, in creating, using, and evaluating educational videos.

My organization is very interested in partnering with this project.  How can we get involved?

We currently anticipate three roles and we welcome inquiries at, which we will sort appropriately:

(1) Advisory Board participation.  We are in the process of constructing an Advisory Board for this non-profit project.  If you are interested in participating on the Board, we would like to hear from you.  We would like the project to be governed by a fine group of distinguished teachers, education professors, education technologists, and free content advocates/experts.

(2) Video Review Panel participation.  You can encourage your members or employees to apply to serve on the Video Review Panel.  (See previous question.)

(3) Other types of partnership.  We are open to other types of partnership, but we are not interested in marketing/advertisement.

Even if we can't work together, we would certainly appreciate your public endorsement.  If you do want to endorse us publicly, please send that mail separately from any mail about partnership.

What about technical consultants to construct the project?

We plan to hire one competent person/firm who will serve both as the coder for the project and system administrator for both WatchKnow and the Citizendium over the long term.  Please see this Craigslist ad, and send your resume or proposal to who will circulate it among the relevant decisionmakers.

Who will be able to submit and rate videos?

Since this is a contest with cash prizes, and focused on supporting the American public school curriculum, only U.S. residents will be able to participate.  Since we are a tiny start-up organization, we simply cannot manage the legal and financial infrastructure that opening up the project worldwide would require.  We hope that our many friends around the world will understand—and we do welcome similar contests in other countries, of course.  We wish there were a way to solve this problem, but we believe there is not.

Kids under 18 will be able to participate, but they must register with the help of their parents/guardians, and will be identified only by their first names or a pseudonym.

Will I need to use my real name?

Unlike the Citizendium encyclopedia project, you will not need to reveal your name, but you will probably need to confirm your identity by using a free credit card verification service.  Since this is a contest with real stakes, we need to be sure who the video creators are.  We also need to know who video raters are; otherwise, people might "game the system" by creating many different identities in order to boost their own videos' ratings, and unfairly affect the outcome of the contest.

4. The beta project

When do you anticipate launching the beta project?

We are aiming at fall 2008 at the latest.  If we can set up something simple but useable more quickly than that, we will.  It depends.

In the beta project, will you commit to awarding prizes for all topics?

Yes—even if we decide not to go through with a full-fledged project, we are promising to award money for all topics.  You need not worry that we will close the project without identifying and awarding a winning video for every topic.

What will count as a successful beta project?

Success will depend on three factors: (1) whether we get vigorous ongoing participation, particularly after our initial launch in the fall; (2) whether the winning videos are useful and pedagogically sound enough for us to continue to support an ongoing contest; and (3) whether there is enough support from our partner organizations and individuals to continue to rating videos credibly.

What will you do if the beta project succeeds?

If the beta project succeeds, then we will add many thousands of topics covering the full K‑12 curriculum.  The full project will probably require years to complete, but we should have fun doing it.

5. The long-term project

How much prize money would be available for a long-term project?

The fund at the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi is currently worth $850,000.  To this, many millions of dollars will be added in coming months and years, as our benefactor transfers ownership of various assets to the foundation.  The large bulk of his fortune will be willed for the use of this project, if it succeeds.  These assets could themselves generate a few million dollars per year, an ongoing source of funds which would be available to the project.  In addition, if the beta project succeeds, we have little doubt that there would be no shortage of funds to support it from other foundations and from general public donations.

How long would the full project take?

We have no idea at this point how long it might take to award prizes for every K-12 topic we hope to set (tens of thousands of topics) for the full project.  It depends on several factors, but most of all it depends on how many video submissions we receive.  Probably several years.  We will probably want to continue to accept new video submissions for a topic, even after a prize has been awarded for a topic; so the project might not have an "end" at all.  Of course, that is far in the future.

Do you have any ideas for what you might do once the K-12 curriculum project is well under way, if it is successful?

If the project is especially successful and the funding is available, we might recognize the very best of our teachers by asking them to create full course-length video series, which use specific textbooks and specific teaching styles.

We might also expand into post-secondary educational content, but  K-12 education is our first priority.

WatchKnow is a program the Citizendium Foundation,
which is a project of the non-profit (501(c)(3)Tides Center,
and funded through a donor-advised fund of the
Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.

To donate to the WatchKnow project, send a check to:
Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, 321 Losher St., Hernando, MS 38632.
The check should be designated for the "Technology in Education" fund.
Questions about donations should go to 662.449.5002 or
TomPittman@cfnm.NO-SPAMorg (remove "NO-SPAM").
General questions about the WatchKnow project can be directed to Larry Sanger (