Television as a Learning Environment (Writing from the heart: beside the waterfall)
This morning, I write from the heart. This is a post that is actually doing an end run around my writing on the definition of contemporary learning environments, which is a work in progress and still requires more thinking and research.
This writing is connected in that it represents thoughts about one of those environments and one which is often criticized and dismissed as a waste of time: television. I am the first to admit that television is a medium which has been abused by both producer and consumer. It is at its worst, a commercial fire hose of garbage and tasteless “entertainment”. But I refuse to join the ranks of those who claim that they never watch television, and say that with an air of pride to establish intellectual superiority. Quite the contrary, I watch television. I watch my share of garbage, which often serves as background chatter to something else I’m doing. Partly this has been a developed skill, since my wife loves the “noise” of television, 24 - 7. It relaxes her, much like radio has served for some of us in the past. But, for some time, I’ve claimed that television is at its best (along with public radio) on Sunday. It seems to me that on Sunday the medium has (in some cases) been transformed to a platform for conversation and thoughtful programming. Perhaps, it has actually reverted to its roots in programs like the broadcasts by Edward R. Morrow. (Perhaps it is related to the once held notion that Sunday is a day of rest and time for conversation.) My writing is prompted by the untimely death of Tim Russert.
I cannot say that I regularly watched Tim on Meet the Press, or in any other way regularly took advantage of his thoughtful questioning in order to better understand and inform about important issues. That is one of my shortcomings. But, when I did watch, I saw participation in a respectful conversation which often challenged those who were being interviewed to clearly state their position. This was not done in the manner of many television programs which claim to seek information and opinions, but are really shouting matches to promote the view of the interviewer, it was done in the spirit of learning.
So, I reflect on my use of television (when I use it properly) to watch well done documentaries, such as the recent series on John Adams, or programs which open my view of the world and other cultures, such as National Geographic, Discovery and one which simply presents an hour of watching the sun rise from various places around the world and of course (while reflecting on Tim), Meet the Press. All of these have informed me and many have challenged my thinking
Times are changing. The term “Television” must now, more than ever be relegated to a means of delivery. The content being delivered is in the form of video. Developments over the past decade have reduced the cost of video production and transmission via the internet to enable anyone with a video recording device and an internet connection to be able to create and deliver content; hence the rise of “citizen journalism” and I would hope (with respect to the profession), a sincere conversation on what it means to truly be a “journalist”. Like its predecessor, this new form of delivery (through channels such as Youtube) is full of useless trash, extremist rantings, pornography and things which I cannot fathom. But, it also affords (and has provided) the same opportunities to present ideas, inform, educate, as well as invite replies and engage conversation.
As stated earlier, I intend to write more in the near future about my thoughts on contemporary learning environments. While I continue to form my thoughts on that, I can only hope that the competition created by the opportunities afforded us through present and evolving technologies will make each medium stand stronger on its own and that each will be used well, to entertain, inform and afford opportunities for conversation and true learning.
Viva la (quality) television!
PS: Thanks, Tim. Blessings on you and yours.