Although I do remember watching Sesame Street as a young child, I find it difficult to evaluate the impact it had on my relationship with the world of learning and school. From my perspective as a parent and a teacher, watching Sesame Street with my kids has given me a totally new viewpoint related to media and education. When evaluating the Postman quote : “…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.””, what immediately comes to mind is the term: control.
When watching polished media presentations like an episode of Sesame Street or any well produced educational content show for that matter, I can’t help but think how things would be different given certain elements of control were removed from the equation.
Control over content and delivery: As a teacher in a publicly funded public education system, my obligation is to teach my courses based on curriculum established by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan. I must make sure that my students achieve the outcomes set by the curriculum I have been assigned to teach. (For those who work with older curricula that has yet to be renewed using the new framework, I’m referring to learning objectives.) Although some teachers have the privilege of teaching curriculum that has been developed by themselves under the structure of a locally developed class, most teachers in my circles do not have that opportunity. I can only imagine the experience I could offer my students if I could teach any outcome I desired at my own whim.
An educational television show like Sesame Street has the luxury or deciding what content it will be integrating into their narrative. As the show is planned and produced, there are no restrictions on what can be added or removed from the final version of the show. The final product is effectively a version of entertainment for kids in an educational context. They do not have the restriction of needing to teach specific outcomes and making SURE their audience has demonstrated a sufficiently good understanding of that outcome to be successful.
On the front of content delivery, this is where teachers have the ability to make a difference in children’s lives. This is where the flexibility of a teachers shines, there are very little restrictions on how content can be delivered. A variety of frameworks can be used to involve students in their education. Here are a few suggested in a blog post by Kelly Walsh
The majority of these types of learning tools and approaches could never be utilized in a televised or video format.
I would akin a show like Sesame Street to a form of linear programming suggested by B.F. Skinner in p.40 of Education Technology Historical Developments. The lack of reciprocal interaction between the learner and the “teacher” in this case represents a large weakness that must be overcome with how the content is delivered within the restrictions of the medium. Compared to other educational television shows, Sesame Street seems to maximize the medium and makes it the class of the field in that particular type of programming. This might be a hint of what Postman is trying to convey.
Control over audience: I don’t pick my students and my students don’t pick me. The teacher must make the best of the situation and do their very best to make sure EVERY student makes progress and makes positive strides in the right direction. A television show has much more control over their audience. Although they might want to, they don’t need to reach every child in every socio-economic background. Television shows mold their programming to reach large groups in hopes of maximizing their viewership. There is no need to worry about those kids that will fall between the cracks that inevitably appear in society and in many school systems. If I had the freedom to teach to only the students that were interested in my content, my life as a teacher would be quite different.
Control over resources: If I had the time, the financial resources, the technological resources and the human resources that are invested in making television programming, I can only dream of how amazing my classes would be! Unfortunately, we as teachers have to live in a world of limitations, as much as I would love to use the latest and greatest the world of educational technology has to offer, schools have limited budgets and limited resources. My school has 40 computers for 150 students, time is often lost trying to login to the machines that experience network problems and sometimes the internet is so slow that it becomes unusable. As a result, I must weigh the pros and the cons of technology use and always do what is best with the resources that are at my disposal. Reading the required articles: The pros of AV, The importance of audio visual technology in educationand Can you AV it at all?, I developed a sense of resentment and jealousy in that in these articles, ideal situations are presented that I will never be able to achieve in the context of a severely underfunded educational system where I’m always asked to do more with less. I really hope that someday I will be asked to do more with more.
Control over expectations: Television production companies don’t have to contend with the pressure of making sure that every student needs to achieve certain learning outcomes. Production companies aren’t judged when Johnny Student is not achieving his potential. They don’t have to contend with kids that have severe learning disabilities. They don’t have to contend with students that have lived traumatic backgrounds that need emotional and psychological support. The don’t have to contend with children that arrive in a new country and have to adapt and learn a whole new language and a vastly different culture. All of these expectations that are placed on a formal educational system adds a whole new dimension to teaching concepts that are but a side thought when making a show like Sesame Street.
Control over the human connection: In the end, it doesn’t matter to which learning theory one adheres, one common factor in all theories of learning is the importance of teachers and the human connection they have the ability to cultivate over time. Learning theories are useless without humans to facilitate them.
To me, the undermining of traditional schooling with the advent of AV technologies that have become ubiquitous such as smartphones, computers, YouTube and Apps is nothing but an evolutionary step in refocusing the place and the role traditional schooling has in our society. Referring to Postman’s quote, with regards to Sesame Street, when looking uniquely at Sesame Street and the effectiveness of its methods related to the medium it exploits, the results are excellent. However, we must always be aware that looking at specific technologies or educational practices by themselves does not make for success in education. A larger perspective must be taken and a broader view of what is accomplished by these technologies must be analyzed to truly comprehend its place in the larger context of educational technologies and learning theories.
We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket when it comes to education, the world of education, like the world of technology is in constant evolution. Continual adjustment, evaluation and the creation of new methods is a must to assure that we give learners what they need to contribute positively to society.