�Connected By Television and the Things We Wish Were Television

I've been thinking about television in the classroom and whether or not it can be used effectively as a learning aid. Is it really the best way to convey information to kids? It is a medium to which they are accustomed and one of which they are fond, but do they treat it as a learning tool? Can their brains process TV in such a way after years of watching it for mindless enjoyment?

I have to mull this as an outside observer, of course. When I was young (which really wasn't that long ago), my school had a single TV and VCR in the library and that was it. Anything we viewed in-class was run on a film projector -- either the sort that were automatic and rigged like a giant cassette tape, or the sort for which numbered frames had to be turned manually while an accompanying tape was played on a separate tape recorder. The first type of projector provided a great deal of visual stimulation (particularly while the teacher was struggling to set it up). The latter projector type did not and those were the ones most often used in my classes.

Anything viewed on this projector was essentially a substitute for a book (as is TV, really, but this was more so and in a much lamer way). The teacher (or a kiss-ass) would turn a crank on the side of the projector and scroll through applicable still images. A tone or beep during the taped narration would indicate when to turn to the next frame.

Invariably, the projector operator would miss a beep. No one would speak up right away, of course. The lights were off and, by that time, we were all conditioned to stay absolutely silent when in a darkened classroom. So there would be no immediate reaction. But people would eventually comment on the missed beep. Usually, the operator would not believe them. So more people would chime in and say that, yes, a beep had been missed or that, no, a beep had not been missed and everything was fine. A somewhat heated back and forth would develop and maybe the operator would agree that he had missed a beep and would try to correct himself, but, by that time, he had missed at least one other beep during the ruckus and the debate began anew.

Even if everything did become synchronized again, uncertainty ruled the class from then on. Instead of understanding how the image pertained to the narration, everyone focused on how the narration pertained to the image. We stopped processing what we were hearing and just waited for a connection to the picture we were being shown as a means of confirming that we were on the right frame. All doubts were voiced. All beeps (and suspected beeps) were followed by someone shouting "That was a beep!" "No it wasn't!" All learning was obliterated.

So, if television in the classroom means that students can avoid that situation altogether, I would have to say that it is a good thing.

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