Children, the Media, Education and Entertainment
There are three connected themes:
Central debates about the nature of children's film, television, and video games, and about possible effects of those media upon children's values, attitudes, and cognitive development.
These issues also raise interesting implications for the study of mass media more generally, so you should find links with other modules (e.g. in the debates about the audience, or in discussions about the sources of pleasure or involvement in viewing/playing).
Children's media products are often experimental and innovative and can be seen as case-studies for wider debates about the nature of cultural changes in our (postmodern?) society -- e.g. are we witnessing the 'end of narrative' in children's video games?
Our aim is to involve you in some of those debates both by reviewing some of the literature, and by getting you to try out your own analyses of actual examples of films, TV programmes or video games, based on your viewing and playing experiences.

We would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Andy Harris and Michael Thomas

Block 1 Changing conceptions
Weeks 1 and 2 Introducing the debates
The lectures discuss and illustrate changes in the material made for children (film and TV) over the last thirty years. TV programmes will include extracts from Watch With Mother, Camberwick Green, Teletubbies and Reactive.
Workshops introduce some initial critical themes:
  • how might we describe any changes we perceive in material from different periods?
  • what assumptions are being made about the audience and notions of childhood in these pieces at different times?
  • what are students' initial thoughts about any moral, cognitive, 'educational' or 'anti-social' effects of these pieces?
  • what pleasures are to be found in these pieces, and do they vary over time?
Block 2 'Educational' broadcasting
Week 3 Schools television
The lecture discusses some examples (e.g. Fourways Farm) and explores the use of electronic media in making education entertaining and involving.

Workshops focus on intentions and pedagogic strategies. Students will select some examples of schools broadcasting and analyse them:

  • which educational objectives are being pursued (and which media conventions)?
  • how might the effectiveness of these pieces be assessed?
  • are different audience 'readings' likely to produce ineffectiveness?
Week 4 'Informal' educational material
The lecture revises the notion of 'ideology' in Media Studies and how media might carry ideological messages (e.g. via representations or narratives). The debate turns specifically on ways to read Blue Peter.
Workshops try out Fergusson's reading of BP, and students apply this reading critically to more recent examples of their own choosing:

Week 5 Sesame Street
The lecture discusses this famous series and its pedagogy. We review the background in Head Start programmes, and consider some of the debates about evaluation in Bates or Greenfield.

Workshops continue to pursue 'ideological' readings via Ellsworth or Mattelart, focusing on the 'commercialism' debate.

Block 3 'Postmodern' readings
Week 6 Children's TV and 'transmedia intertexuality'
This lecture introduces and contexts the work of Kinder on children's TV and the 'interpellation of the postmodern self'. We'll ground this high-powered stuff in a deep reading of Muppet Babies or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Workshops invite students to pursue Kinder readings of Garfield and Friends and try them out on British Saturday morning children's TV.


Week 8 Imported animations, spin-offs and 'superfluidity'
This lecture continues the discussion based on Kinder and others, and we shall view some animation pieces especially (including some Anime).
Workshops focus on the 'look' of this material, pursuing the issue of their generic conventions -- have the barriers dissolved between, say, martial arts movies and sci-fi in MM Power Rangers, or between the Gothic and the futuristic in Thundercats?

Week 9 Video games, authorship and floating signifiers
The lecture reviews aspects of the debate about the 'good' and 'bad' sides of video games, especially via their cultural significance, and offers a reading guide to some of the pieces in the booklet.

Workshops draw upon students' experiences as games players to explore feelings of, involvement, 'addiction' and control in video games, comparing, say, Lemmings (Tribes) with Mortal Kombat II.

Week 10 Review: readings and audience research
This lecture looks back over some of the issues raised by the different readings, considers the debates about 'media literacy' in Greenfield and Buckingham, and begins to consider the possible role of empirical research on the audience to decide between them.

Workshops revise some Level 1 work via Glover, and begin to debate strategies for audience research

Block 4 Audience research
Week 11 Researching the audience 1: psychological experimental designs
The lecture outlines the basic principles after a recap on measurement debates in Sesame Street. Reading: Anderson's and Ford's classic

Week 12 Researching the audience 2: cultural analysis
The lecture pursues some more classic Media Studies analyses (eg.'semiotic' approaches' or ethnographic studies of the audience) and considers their application to this field (e.g. via Fiske)

Workshops consider Buckingham's piece, and end on a suitably open and sceptical note.

What follows is an indicative list only. There are some useful journals which are worth consulting on a regular basis: British Journal of Educational Technology, Open Learning, Journal of Educational Television, Screen (e.g. vol. 27 special on pedagogy).

Alvarado M 'Television Studies and Pedagogy' in Screen Education 38
Anderson C and Ford C 'Affect of the Game Player...' Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 12, 4, 390-402 (1987)
Ang I Living Room Wars
Aries P Centuries of Childhood
Bates A Broadcasting in education - an evaluation
Berger A Media Research Techniques
Boyd-Barrett O and Braham P (eds) Media Power and Knowledge
Brown C and Giroux J 'Arcade Video Games...' Journal of Leisure Research, 21,2, 92-105 (1989)
Buckingham D Children and Television: an overview of the research BFI Publishing (1987)
Buckingham D 'What Are Words Worth?' Cultural Studies 5, 2, 228-45 (1991)
Buckingham D (ed) Watching Media Learning
Buckingham D Children Talking Television
Buckingham D Moving Images
Cooper J and Mackie D 'Video Games and Aggression in Children' Journal of Applied Social Psychology 16, 8, 726-44 (1986)
Curran J and Porter V British Cinema History
Drummond P and Paterson (eds) Television in Transition (Mattelart's chapter)
Eco U 'Can Television Teach?' in Screen Education 31
Ellsworth E 'Educational Media, Ideology and the Presentation of Knowledge...' in Giroux H and Simon R (eds) Popular Schooling and Everyday Life
Field A Picture Palace: a social history of the cinema
Fiske J Reading the Popular... (esp. Ch.4)
Gailey C 'Mediated Messages...' Journal of Popular Culture 27, 1, 83 --97
Gray A Video Playtime: the gendering of a leisure technology
Greenfield P Mind and Media... (esp. Ch 9)
Haddon L 'Electronic and Computer Games' Screen, 29, 2 52-73 (1988)
Kael P Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang...
Kinder M Playing With Power in Movies, TV and Video Games.. (esp. ch. 1)
Kline S 'The Play of the Market...' Theory, Culture and Society 12, 103-29 (1995)
Lusted G and Drummond P Television and Schooling
Parisi P '"Black Bart" Simpson...' Journal of Popular Culture 18, 111-25 (1993)
Price J 'Social Science Research on Video Games' Journal of Popular Culture 18, 111-25 (1985)
Richards J The Age of the Dream Palace...
Robertson J The Hidden Cinema. British Censorship in Action
Selnow G 'The Fall and Rise of Video Games' Journal of Popular Culture 21, 53-60 (1987)
Strinati R and Wagg S Come on Down? (esp. Wagg's ch.)
Winkel M, Novak D and Hopson H 'Personality Factors, Subject Genders and the Effects of Aggressive Video Games...' Journal of Research in Personality, 21, 211--23

Assignments (specimens only)

In what ways has children's television changed over the last few decades? Are there any ways in which it has not changed?

'Education should involve the learner'. How has this idea been implemented in educational television? What are the disadvantages of making education 'involving' ?

In what senses might children's television be seen as 'ideological'? Discuss with reference to EITHER Blue Peter OR Sesame Street.

Summarise the recent controversy over Teletubbies. What could Media Studies students add to the discussion?


To what extent are children likely to be able to supply 'active readings' of their own for the television programmes they watch?

What provides pleasure for the electronic games player? Discuss with particular reference to Fiske's account.

To what extent can audience reactions to electronic material actually be measured? Discuss with reference to any ONE attempt to measure reactions.

Critically discuss Kinder's attempt to identify harmful consequences of 'postmodern' television and video games.