Notes on: Gallagher, M.  (1978) 'Good television and good teaching', in Educational Broadcasting International: 203-6

Dave Harris

A body of expertise has been developed by BBC producers who make Open University programmes.  [In those days] there was a lot of television produced: 1300 different television programmes amounting to 35 1/2 hours per week.  The OU had developed a 'unique style' of teaching and distance in their [written]  course units, aiming to produce 'an interactive learning experience' (203).  However, there was no equivalent for TV, no particularly distinctive OU style, with the possible exception of maths.  Instead, course teams 'learnt and adapted…  the existing practices and conventions'.

The issue is whether these make for good educational television.  The pressure to achieve professional standards can have educational disadvantages, emphasizing the product rather than the process, for example.  There is no doubt that students enjoy sophisticated documentary - style  programmes, but they are 'much less likely to understand the educational purpose' than with 'straightforward didactic' types.  Documentary is the most common genre, however.

Thompson says that realism provides the viewer with an experience like a hot bath: it reassures, makes few intellectual demands.  It is quite possible therefore that researchers have been 'deceived' by student enthusiasm (204), and that style detracts from cognitive performance.  This has been confirmed by her own research.  Open University students are already exposed to 'good TV' and these notions do impinge on their OU viewing—for example, they tend to be very critical of programmes which failed to use the conventions of good TV. 

OU programmes are already conceived with the wider general audience in mind.  [Note that the current output {2010} involves programmes made jointly between the OU and other broadcasting companies, which are shown in general viewing slots, sometimes with a trail at the end suggesting that viewers make contact with the OU.  It was probable that low levels of use and high expense ended specific production of OU TV.  The rise of new electronic technology is another factor]. Case studies are widely liked as a complement to the course units, and are seen as concrete and synthetic rather than abstract and analytic, and as capable of showing the real complexities.  They have great potential especially in promoting the students' own abilities to analyse.  However, the teaching functions are only very loosely described, and there is an emphasis on content.

Examples are provided for the course Mass Communication and Society.  Three case studies are offered in terms of conventional politics and television coverage in Britain and America.  One aim was to make students more aware of the technical and logistic difficulties of producing such programmes.  This worked well, but depicting the issue of ideology as a filter for content was much more difficult, and the programme makers were forced to assume a prior knowledge of the concepts, and that students were analyzing rather than just observing.

Another program covered women's work for the course Patterns of Inequality.  The idea was not to give information about female working conditions, although students apparently thought that was the aim.  The course team hoped to exemplify concepts in the course, and this was explained in the programme notes, but only 1 in 6 of the students questioned were able to do this.  They lacked interpretative skills.  The aims were vague, and included the need to get students involved and motivated.  The links with the concepts were actually established after the programme was shot, following discussion with the educational technologist on the course team, but this was too late (205).  The notion of involvement was seen as incompatible with analysis, and the emphasis on involvement raised the old worries about student immersion in the programme, that students would see the programme as similar to BBC output like Horizon, or ITV output like World in Action, rather than something to be analyzed.

Student learning skills need more work.  A high level of intellectual skill is demanded, including 'learning to learn' skills.  There may be special ones required for TV.  Students were largely unaware of the effects of television conventions such as presentational features which influence their perceptions, the nature of the editorial process, how (a)typical evidence might be, the role of commentary and their relation to the visual.  They were simply prepared to accept that the BBC was impartial.  These skills can be developed, but they may require different kinds of case studies.  Inexperienced students need more didactic inputs, more structure, more activity, more neutral content which can be integrated into the programme: they need to be introduced to the subtleties gradually.  Special programmes might be required, including actual TV programmes which can be criticized, regardless of whether this still constitutes 'good TV'.

Resistance might be expected 'from both producers and academics'(206).  Nevertheless, there should be more academic 'intervention' in case studies, perhaps in the form of commentary, captions or voice overs.  The narrative flow should be broken.  It might be possible to follow the film with discussion and then to rerun it [there might be an example of this in the philosophy sections in A101, I recall].  We need to reveal the construction of the programme itself, to get to the issue of evidence, for example, and to show how television programmes are organized and put together: that they do not just depict raw reality.  Some innovations like this are being planned.

more education studies