Educational content for Roku digital video players

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The updated Apple TV will begin arriving in customers’ homes this week, but I’m holding out. I’m a big fan of the Roku, an affordable device that connects to your television and streams media from the likes of Netflix, Pandora, NASA, Vimeo, and others from a growing collection of channels. It’s easy to set up and provides instant, streaming audio and video to your television, provided you have a broadband Internet connection. Roku starts at $59.99 and can be purchased online directly from Roku or from the likes of Amazon.com (another content partner). Check out the Roku website to learn more about it.

Although channels like Netflix and Amazon require subscriptions or product purchases or some sort of payment (Roku calls these channels Premium), most channels and content are free. Here is a rundown of free channels that provide content of potential interest to educators.

Within a few minute of installing your Roku box, you can enable the following channels by visiting the Roku Store on your player:

  • Newscaster: On-demand news from many television sources, including NBC, CNN, CBS, and Fox News.
  • NASA: Robust coverage of the U.S. space program, chock full of educational content.
  • CDNTwo: University lectures, instructional podcasts, and free audiobooks.

That may not seem like many, but keep in mind that all of these channels have been added since spring, and channels continue to be added to Roku. If you don’t mind taking a few more steps, you can add “private” channels to your Roku, providing even more educational content. Don’t worry, this isn’t considered hacking your Roku–it won’t hurt anything and won’t void your warranty. Private channels are ones that aren’t part of the Roku Store. Sometimes (usually) it’s because they’re still in development, but you can get beta access in advance. By accessing private channels you can add the following to your Roku educational channels:

  • TEDTalks: Beautiful, high definition video of archived TED talks.
  • Archive.org: Countless hours of historical footage, including the infamous “mental hygiene” series and classic advertisements from the dawn of television.
  • Hubblecast: Informative videos about and from the Hubble space telescope.
  • TERRA: Free video series on “the nature of our world.”
  • Earth-Touch: More nature content for your Roku.

Yes, there is at least one content provider offering adult content (as a private channel)–but if you’re smart about your Roku account password, it will be difficult for it to magically appear on the device. Too add the learner-friendly channels I listed above, follow these instructions–you’ll do most of the work from your computer, then move over to your Roku to transfer the channels over to your device.

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Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.