Reinventing Curriculum

TV Is (Finally) an App: The Goods, The Bads and the Uglies for Learning

Television. TV. There’s an app for that. Finally! TV — that is, live shows such as the news, specials, documentaries (and reality shows, if you must) — is now just like Candy Crunch and Facebook. TV apps (e.g., DirecTV Now) are available on all devices — smartphones, tablets, laptops, Chromebooks. Accessing streams upon streams of videos is, literally, now just a tap away.

While Millennials might well be comfortable using their thumbs — so much, notes Calvin Trillin, for "all thumbs" being a negative comment — to navigate their smartphones, we Baby Boomers, truth be told, are pretty much still "all thumbs" in that department. Finding the "Rachel Maddow Show" (ahem, or "Fox and Friends") using a cable TV remote is easier for the Boomers than swiping and tapping in the TV app — just key the channel number into the cable’s remote!  Maybe, in time, we — the Boomers — will learn. (After we figure out how to reset all those blinking 12:00s).

With 10.3 being the average age for a child to get her/his first smartphone — and you better believe that the TV app will be one of the first apps on that "phone" — we need to ask: what’s the implications of TV as an app for learning?  (FYI: the kids these days just call them "phones" — only the Boomers still call them "smartphones." Shown a picture of a black, rotary phone, a youngster asked: "how do you take a picture?" OMG.) Here, then, are the Goods, the Bads and the oh so Uglies of "TV as an app" for learners and learning.

The Good:  Having the TV app on all devices means that video is a readily accessible, primary media. As much of the media that the young already use — for example, the youngsters use (N.B. is really very cool!) and the teens are on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook — the "kids these days" are increasingly becoming comfortable extracting information from video.

Now, there are lots of fine documentaries (e.g., Ken Burns’ Civil War and Vietnam War — he’s made 30 so far!) and lots of travelogues to amazing places (e.g., Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown) on TV. Similarly, videos about science (e.g., Veritasium) provide unique opportunities to experience, virtually-first hand, thought-provoking science phenomena. Plain and simple: readily accessible video can be a really valuable resource for learners and learning.

The Bad: That said, while video may well provide unique opportunities for learning — those Bourdain videos are truly amazing — reading is still a fundamental skill that must be nurtured, developed and mastered.  Not everything that needs to be learned is on video.  Instruction will need to balance the use of video with the use of printed materials. That balance, of course, needs to take in cost and accessibility. Who is, by the way, paying for that TV app? And, as we have commented on before, selecting just the right digital resource (e.g., choosing the right OEROpen Education Resource) is fast becoming a real challenge for teachers.

And, learning from video has its challenges! Indeed, "watch the video again" is not an effective learning strategy. In reading instruction, learners are explicitly taught strategies for how to read and reread a section of text in order to extract meaning. (For example, look for a topic sentence; talk with a partner, create summaries, etc.) Similarly, learners must be explicitly taught strategies for viewing and re-viewing videos (e.g., view and predict, summarize, etc.)

Now for the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Of course, that TV app could be a huge distraction in the classroom. The TV app has just piled yet another classroom management challenge onto a teacher’s back.

The Ugly: While Google has agreed to back off tracking students who use Google apps, it is coming to light that there are tools that enable innocuous-sounding apps to track learners as they watch TV on their mobile devices. A recent NYTimes article described how several games (e.g., Pool 3D, Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin) actually monitor a mobile device’s microphone — even if the apps aren’t running! These apps collect data, then, on what TV shows the user is viewing — and then send those data back to the game companies. The companies then sell the data on the users’ TV viewing habits — where "the users" are our children!


So, teachers now need to monitor what other apps are loaded onto a student’s device? In a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment, such monitoring is virtually impossible, of course. And, it gets worse: A student, at a teacher’s direction perhaps, might well delete the offending app, but the chunk of code that monitors the microphone can still be hiding on the device!

Ouch, Ouch.

Summing Up:  Do the Goods outweigh the Bads plus the Uglies? In some sense, that doesn’t matter: like so much in technology there is no going back (e.g., retailing has been "Amazoned" — stores and malls will continue to struggle). TV is now an app — better get accustomed to it!

That said, it is early days for TV as an app. For example, HD (High Definition) TV demands high bandwidth — and we can experience stuttering/skipping at times. But, when 5G comes around in 2020, just two years from now, POOF, that stuttering/skipping will disappear. "5G will be as much as 1,000 times faster than 4G."  Yes, POOF!

And, it is early days for TV as an app in the classroom. It’s hard to imagine that schools of education are already preparing pre-service teachers to use a TV app as part of instruction. And, we are not familiar with support materials for using a TV app for in-service teachers. Sigh. How are teachers, then, to create curriculum where the Goods of using a TV app do outweigh the Bads plus the Uglies? We leave a discussion of that conundrum for a future blog.

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