Educational Television, A Misnomer?
When I was in college, one of the courses all prospective teachers had to take was, "Using Media in the Classroom." This exciting course went over the basics of operating the laminating machine, the copier, the ditto machine and the classroom television. More time was spent on how to incorporate television into the classroom than helping us see the potential of the internet. Of course, that was a number of years ago, but there were computer labs with internet access in most schools.

When I started teaching, the technology at my fingertips was impressive. Not only did I not have to mess with that purple ink due to our two high tech copiers, but I had a television, four student computers with internet access, my computer with internet access and a COW (computer on wheels) with a projector. Lightspan was big in my district, and each room had a Sony Playstation with the game disks we were expected to use 30 minutes per day. Qualifying students could check these out to take home, as well. And some grant money was on its way to integrate cable television with our standards and there was talk of being required to incorporate a certain number of hours of television into our lesson planning.

It seemed rather ironic to me. As experts and government officials continually warn of the danger of prolonged television viewing, our public schools continue to increase the viewing during the school day. Of course, most people's concern is with the violence and sex on television. The average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by the age 18. The recommendations vary, from no television to increasing the amount of time children spend watching educational television.

Should television be used in education? Are we really accomplishing what we think we are accomplishing when we pop in what we think is an educational video?

I do not think television is inherently evil and I do not think that all access to it should be denied. My children watch Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine and Angelina Ballerina (although not all in one day. They choose one video each afternoon). We enjoy our family movies. But I question whether it should be used for education. Consider this:

In November, 1969, Herbert Krugman designed an experiment to monitor the brainwaves of a secretary while she watched television. What he found was startling. The normal waking brain emits predominantly beta waves. These are associated with alertness and attentiveness. Within 30 seconds, of turning on the television, her brain waves switched to predominantly alpha waves, characteristic of meditation and sleep, below the threshhold of consciousness. These experiments have been repeated and confirmed in a variety of settings, and have completely transformed the industry, both in advertising and in how content is presented.

We do learn while watching television, however our reasoning faculties are completely bypassed. We absorb what we view, accepting it without questioning or challenging it. According to one summary of the research:
Researchers have found that once the television set is switched on that left hand side and all its faculties tends to switch off. Instead the image from television's 300,000 little dots (which make up the picture) go straight to the right brain. The switch from beta to alpha waves shows this. Alpha brain waves are the ones we associate with meditation and sleep. By no means does this mean that we are not taking the information in - we are taking it all in, we are just not able to critically evaluate it as we would with information coming from other sources.
If you are looking for a half hour break that can be likened to a nap for your children, popping in a video is great. If you are looking to challenge the mind and promote critical thinking skills, you might want to consider a different medium. The learning which occurs during television viewing is very much like the learning which occurs during those tapes people listen to at night with subliminal messages about success.

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