Helping young people to critically “read” the news is crucial if we are to develop a society that can make sense of unfolding events. Increasingly, children are disengaged from “reliable” mainstream news organisation and instead use partisan or unsubstantiated sources for their information about current affairs and the world around them.
The News that Defined Us, a website that I produced for Tyneside Cinema, unlocks the process of making the news and allows young people to interrogate the production behind the stories. By providing first-hand access to the media ‘machine’, the project helps to re-engage young people in this crucial form of communication.
The strength of News that Defined Us is the personal and intimate experiences associated with news production. The project brings together broadcast journalists, eyewitnesses and schoolchildren from Whickam School in plenary sessions where the young people can quiz the adults. Taking recent stories as a starting point, the makers and subjects of the news talk to students about their experiences and implicitly reveal the effects of representation, censorship and bias.
The opportunity to question professionals is enormously valuable but difficult to scale. The News that Defined Us project captures the experience of the school question-and-answer sessions and disaggregates them to create a rich interactive library. The shared legacy is a website where guest sessions are organised according to curriculum subject and theme. The site provides archived copies of related broadcast material and interactive questions to recreate the school events. By organising the content into themes, it provides a lasting resource that powerfully illustrates the principles and issues in topics such as conflict, culture and human rights.
Renowned BBC broadcasters such as Kate Adie and Alistair Leithead spoke of their experiences in the UK, Washington, China and Afghanistan. Their experiences were complemented by visitors such as Private Scott Cooper (a teenage soldier who lost his leg by stepping on an IED), PC David Rathband (a police officer blinded by the killer Raoul Moat) and Councillor Stephen Bridget (a local politician).
From twenty sessions, the project run by Tyneside Cinema created over 200 interactive questions to support thirty hours of broadcast news footage. The site provides a unique resource both for teachers and students. Its structure helps educators include this rich media into their lessons while the design encourages young people to explore issues more deeply.
Today the project is launched at the Houses of Parliament in the illustrious company of Tom Watson MP, the terrier-like politician who has pursued the immoral journalists and corrupt management of the British Press, his fellow committee member Damian Collins, Blaydon MP Dave Anderson and our Bridget Phillipson MP. It is an auspicious start to website that I hope helps young people think more critically about the news that defines them.
This will be my last post of the year: I’m looking forward to spending a few work-free days with my family over Christmas. I hope that you will be having a break too.
Play with Learning is one year old and I am delighted with how things have turned out over the last twelve months. I’ve enjoyed some really interesting and varied work – it’s precisely the mix that I’d hoped for when I set the company up – a combination of theory and practice, research and production.
This year I’ve been happily working with:
It’s been a blissfully busy time! I’ve made lots of new friends and contacts. I’ve played a lot and I’ve learnt a great deal.
I’m excited about the opportunities in 2012. I know that some of the production pieces will launch in the next couple of months and there are lots of exciting projects in the pipeline. Having said that, I’m always interested in new opportunities so maybe, just maybe there’s something that you and I could collaborate on?
maybe there’s something that you and I could collaborate on?
In the meantime, let me wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
George Auckland is an inspirational figure from the BBC. Last night, to celebrate 41 years at the Corporation, Manchester Metropolitan University hosted an evening to flag his achievements.
George retires as the head of the BBC’s Learning Innovation Unit having started his career as a trainee assistant film editor in September 1969. In between, George has worked on various TV shows, most famously perhaps, Think of a Number and its successors with Johnny Ball. But it is, arguably his embrace of computing and the Internet for which George is most renowned.
It was George and his team that gave the world Teletubbies Online. Launched months before BBC News had a web presence, it was possibly the world’s first multiuser website (it was aimed at parents and their young children to use simultaneously). The site transformed a misunderstood television programme for toddlers into a fabulously successful educational experience for the under 3s. He did the same thing for adults with WebWise, unlocking the treasures of the Net for millions of us.
Much of George’s success comes from his insatiable curiosity and a personal desire to work from first principles: as a child in the 1950s himself built he a printing machine, later a television, in 1996 he taught himself HTML in 24 hours placing himself at the ‘bleeding edge’ of web development at the time. ”Fortune favours the well prepared” he says.
The ongoing joy of discovery has enabled George to exploit technology for the sake of learning. He credits Disney’s Bambi and a story-based encyclopaedia as childhood inspirations that have obviously shaped his approach to education. They vividly illustrated to him the value and effectiveness of beautifully crafted narratives that engage an audience on an emotional level.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good joke
This principle was reinforced to him by Johnny Ball who, on having had his script corrected by George about some scientific point, commented: ”Never let the facts get in the way of a good joke”
The lesson is timeless – engage the audience, captured their imagination, then unpick it with the delight of learning.
As remarkable as George’s technical achievements is the warmth in which he is held by all who have met him. His self-effacing and generous personality is legendary. I think there’s a lot we can learn from George. I’ll leave you with a quote that resonates loudly for me:
“A lot of life is not discovering new things but discovering things for yourself”
This week the BBC launched its new strategy for learning.
Despite the unalloyed successes of the revision service Bitesize, the foolishly shelved creative offering for teenagers Blast and the sterling work of Adult Learning, the BBC has been frustratingly timid about its Charter-proclaimed educational remit for the last few years. The reason for the half-heartedness was, no doubt, the consequence of the murderous pursuit of BBC jam by the UK’s educational publishers and their trojan horse, Besa. Their wholly specious and evidence-less campaign did a massive disservice to the nation by causing the project to be abandoned; it prevented our children from benefiting from the £150m of ground-breaking online educational content and destroyed the UK’s once in a lifetime chance to establish a world-leading online school age education service. [Apologies, rant over]
Still, after various false dawns and despite the continual hounding by the publishers, the BBC has unveiled it’s new plan: to link learning to the Corporation’s brands such as Eastenders and original broadcast output. It’s a good, if obvious and safe, idea. And a variation on Auntie’s thinking during the early years of the millenium when Learning Execs were embedded in general programme-making units.
I hope the plan offers the Corporation some protection and opportunity to deliver one of it’s prime public purposes of “promoting education and learning.”
One of the challenges the BBC will face when embedding learning into brands is differentiating the motivations of its audiences.
Those who explicitly want to learn will come looking for it – they’ll expect to be able to identify specific subjects, learning outcomes, related content, even curriculum links. For them only hard educational evidence will do. And like schoolchildren unconvinced by contrived ‘real world’ examples of curriculum subjects in class, education seekers will want authenticity – they won’t appreciate suggestions that Top Gear alone will help them understand friction (although Clarkeson et al could provide a wonderful catalyst).
On the other hand, many of us can be tickled, intrigued and captivated by serendipitous learning – when general entertainment sparks more studious interest: where watching a harrowing dramatisation of people trafficing can inspire us to investigate the origins of slavery, for example.
But they are two different audiences. I look forward to seeing how the Beeb addresses them.