Thursday, January 12, 2012

Netflix Canada - Worthwhile for Science Education?

So I got another free trial of Netflix in the mail the other day, and my instinct was to toss it into the garbage along with the junk mail. I already tried a month of Netflix a while ago, and was not impressed. I have friends in the U.S. who rave about the service, but Netflix in Canada leaves something to be desired. Or so I thought!

In my first trial, I was very unimpressed with the selection of movies - it all looked like movies that were of poor quality, and older than what was available for free on basic cable. Being the science nerd that I am, I was particularly disappointed by the choices in the documentary section. Other problems were a glitchy PlayStation application, streaming that didn't always "stream", and lousy picture quality.

BUT... perhaps Netflix has made changes. I registered for the new trial, and was impressed to see the PlayStation app was completely re-designed, it works much better now. Streaming seems to very reliable, and picture quality is improved. But the million-dollar question is;

"Can Netflix be recommended for science education?"

Well, as was rightfully pointed out by one of my astute readers, the Netflix Terms of Service clearly state that their service is for "personal and non-commercial use only". While what constitutes "personal and non-commercial" might be up for debate, teachers should never put themselves in a position where they might be liable with respect to infringement of copyright or violation of terms of service. Therefore, I can't can't recommend teachers use Netflix in their classrooms at this time.

That being said... what if Netflix were ever to become "classroom friendly" with its terms of service?

Well, that would be a game-changer! Frankly, I think Netflix is stupid for not negotiating with its distributors so that it can offer educational accounts to schools and libraries. I'm sure these institutions would be willing to pay more than a personal account, so it would be win-win - Netflix gets more customers and exposure, and schools get an affordable source of streaming content. So let's continue this thought experiment with the supposition that Netflix might consider changing its terms so as to unambiguously meet the needs of schools. What then would the recommendation be?

First, it goes without saying that your school would need a reliable high-speed connection to the Internet. Assuming that you have an appropriate device to connect to Netflix with, then it all really boils down to content. Is the content available on Netflix worth $7.99 per month? That's actually a pretty tough call - it really depends on the applicability to your curriculum. So to help answer that question, I did a fairly extensive survey of the documentaries currently available (as of Jan, 2012) on Netflix Canada, and came up with the following list that I think could be used in the Science Classroom:

That's not a bad list, in particular, it's nice ot see some quality BBC nature series in there. Keep in mind as well, that although I did a pretty careful survey, I'm sure I missed some programs that Netflix has that could be classroom-useful (and Netflix promises to constantly bring more content online). There is a bit of a problem with age... about half of the programs could be fairly described as "pretty old", so you may run into low-resolution quality issues when streaming these programs.

So what's the final verdict? Considering the curriculum issue, I'd have to say that unless you're teaching a lot of nature/animals/ecology/adaptations, then Netflix might be worth it. But if, for example, you're teaching senior chemistry or physics, there's precious little available for you.


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  2. Unfortunately I've been informed that the terms of service for Netflix prohibit public performance. This includes classrooms, even if your school pays licensing fees to the appropriate groups.

    Otherwise I would recommend Netflix for education.

  3. Hello Mr. Hay,

    You make an excellent point - when it comes to copyright issues, it's better safe than sorry, so I need to amend this post.

    In specific regard to Netflix, it's interesting that the terms are a bit ambiguous - I'm not the first to notice:

    Will be interesting to follow this to see how it shakes out. I'm quite surprised that Netflix hasn't worked out a deal with distributors and then offer educational accounts (I'm sure schools would be willing to pay more than a personal user account) - it would be a win-win.

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