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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Using television to educate, stimulate and disseminate

Megan Wood
Features Editor, enhanceTV

There is no doubting the impact and appeal of television for children. According to Young Media Australia an Australian child 'watches an average of two hours of television each day. This means that by the time they finish secondary school, those children will have spent 11,000 hours in school, but more than 15,000 hours watching television' (Media effects - general).

The potential of television as an educational tool has been widely recognised in terms of early childhood education, since the launch of Sesame Street and Play School more than 30 years ago. Television offers the same potential in primary and secondary education, particularly within the classroom setting. Middle School Online, a project of Northwestern University in the United States, argues that students are much more likely to retain the knowledge gained from television programs and videos than from lectures alone (Why use television in the classroom?). While teachers now make frequent use use of other popular technologies such as the Internet and multimedia, it is important to note that television has had a longer and more wide reaching effect on the lives of school students.

When teachers use TV in the classroom, students have a better understanding of the topic, 'and enter into more discussion on the content and ideas presented,' according to Idaho Public Television's Technology Tips for Teachers.
Educators use TV in the classroom to satisfy a variety of objectives:

  • To reinforce and expand on content being taught
  • To respond to a variety of learning styles
  • To increase student motivation to learn
  • To stimulate other learning activities.
Television caters to the different learning styles of students, by offering a unique combination of sight, sound, motion and emotion, which can give students a greater understanding of the world around them. They can see historical events enacted, the solar system explored and novels come to life.

In a summary of literature on mass media use in the classroom, Nola Kortner Aiex notes that film and television 'can also be related to students' personal experiences, act as a focus for teacher-student interaction, and can be used to promote awareness of the interrelationship between modes (picture, movement, language, sound, captions).' This last point refers to an aspect of television that is under-utilised in education. Television is an excellent tool for illustrating the differences between literary genres, for example comparing a novel to its movie adaptation, or comparing a newspaper story to a television news story.

Television and video play a vital role in distance education, and can be utilised in everything from narrowcast broadcasting to face-to-face videoconferencing. Ron Oliver, from Edith Cowan University, argues that Live Interactive Television (a one-way video link between the teacher and student through conventional television delivery, and two-way audio between teacher and students brought about through standard telephone communications) provides 'a relatively inexpensive delivery medium and uses technologies that are widely available in rural areas.' Oliver suggests that videoconferencing provides the greatest possible interaction between teacher and student. The use of television in distance education can also incorporate emerging web and multimedia teaching technologies.

Television is both accessible and user-friendly, allowing a program to be recorded for later use. Teachers can use the functions of the video player to tailor the recorded program to their lesson plan. Idaho Public Television notes the importance of using video functions such as: Pause - 'to keep viewers actively involved in the viewing'; Stop - 'have students record information, examine a chart or draw a diagram'; and Rewind and Fast Forward - 'make use of the video which is directly relevant to the lesson's objectives' (Technology Tips for Teachers).

Television has been shown to be an exceptionally important educational tool during the pre-school years. Researchers, from the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Texas, have found that very young children 'who spent a few hours a week watching educational programs... had higher academic test scores... than those who didn't watch educational programs' (Science Daily). The study's lead author, Aletha C. Huston, also claims that good educational programs 'can provide lasting benefits to children at many ages.' In a similar vein, Roger Martin, of the University of Kansas, has reported on a study undertaken by Deborah Linebarger, who found that children 'who, as preschoolers, watched educational TV engaged in more leisure-time book reading as teenagers.'

Popular television programs, on topics such as sex, can be educational for young people, who might otherwise be too uncomfortable discuss the issue. A report from The National Women's Health Information Centre in the United States noted 'a study appearing in the November issue of Paediatrics, in which researchers found that 65% of teens who watched an episode of the program Friends, that dealt with the values of condoms in preventing pregnancy, later remembered that information' (post-gazette.com). The report also stated that teens who watched the program with an adult were twice as likely to recall the information. This is very relevant to the classroom. Rather than listen to a static talk about contraception, students can watch their favourite show and then be relaxed enough to ask questions of their teacher about the issues raised during the program.

The non-profit agency, Screenrights, licenses educational institutions to copy material from television, and plays an essential role in the use of television in the classroom. Screenrights also licenses all Government and most independent schools, as well as TAFEs and universities, to 'communicate' copied programs for educational purposes. This is particularly relevant to the use of television in distance education. The communication of audio-visual material includes video reticulation, email, broadcast, and online delivery.

Perhaps one of the main factors that contributes to the reluctance of some teachers to use television and video in the classroom is the challenge of finding the time to locate and obtain copies of appropriate classroom material. enhanceTV is a web portal developed by Screenrights that meets these needs. It provides a fast, user-friendly service, allowing educators to search an immense database of audio-visual material, radio material, study guides and web links in order to find material relevant to their teaching area. enhanceTV also offers teachers an online educational TV guide and free email subscription service, which keeps them abreast of educational content coming up on television. Teachers can subscribe to the enhanceTV subscription service free of charge.

Teachers are fully aware of the enormous influence of television, all that is required now is for them to harness its potential.


Subject Headings

Distance education
Early childhood education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Television in education
Video recordings in education