“Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.” Four years ago I blogged about the disaster that was Teachers’ TV. This DfES initiative at a cost of staggering £20 million a year, had a cost per viewer ratio that would make MPs expenses look like a rounding error. Even then, it was considered a basket case, having "failed to reach the majority of its target audience...".
Then there was the ridiculous defence that the channel was ‘difficult to find’. Surely teachers know how to use a remote control? Then there was the brouhaha about it being too close to the sex channels You couldn't make this up! Were those poor teachers in danger of being too easily distracted or indoctrinated by lusty lessons on Playboy TV or Spice Extreme?
In thrall with TV, government has been slow to grasp the significance of the internet in learning while propping up the broadcast model. Teachers TV was a bad, ill-timed shiny new balloon that deflated from day one under the lack of viewers. It didn’t so much die as just fade into obscurity. Even a Damascene conversion to online couldn’t save it. Perhaps the brand Teachers.TV was the problem!
There were several flaws in the idea:
1. Wrong medium. Why spend so much money on TV? Locking content into an obscure TV channel was just plain crazy. It locked the content into the ‘broadcaster’s’ mindset, producing second-rate content.
2. Synchronous is stupid. For busy professionals a synchronous medium is the kiss of death. To subject teachers to the tyranny of time is just plain stupid. They’re busy, usually whacked out when they get home and while on holiday like to forget about ‘teaching’.
3. Dull, dull, dull. With limited budgets they cranked out cheap (in both senses of the word) discussions and documentary style programmes that failed to have real impact. The headmaster at my local school, hit the nail on the head in the press, "even when our own kids are on it I can't be bothered to watch it". It was dull, dull, dull. Most of it feels like the cheap TV it is, or a bad school lesson.
4. TV is a one trick pony. Video is relatively expensive to make and broadcast and fails on a whole range of learning tasks, especially those that require detailed understanding or attitudinal change. What is needed in this complex environment is a range of appropriate media – text, graphics, reusable resources, audio and video.
5. Asynchronous is good. It was mind-numbingly obvious, from the start, that online resources would be better. So why start with TV?
6. Broadcasters often poor at online. Broadcasters are often ill-suited to online production and fail to make the transition to online production. This came to pass, but even that contract was given to a TV production company, compounding the original error. It went to Geldof’s Ten Alps, a company with no appreciable expertise in this area – oh how London government bods love some celebrity contact. Even that eye watering £10 million a year contract has gone, leading to a collapse in Ten Alps share price.
7. Why a TV channel? Why do teachers feel they need a dedicated TV channel? Other professions don’t have it, so why teachers? Why not a dedicated channel for primary and secondary school learners?
Have we learnt nothing from Teachers TV, BBC Jam, C4 Education, and scores of other ‘broadcasters in learning’ initiatives? They are inevitably poorly managed, cost too much, and are doomed to extinction (Tecahers TV), disaster (BBC Jam) or a long, lingering, slow death (C4 Education). Let’s just embrace the medium of the age – the web, as it offers all media, collaboration, sharing, downloads, innovative pedagogic techniques and huge amounts of free content. In any case, it’s gone and I don’t suppose many people noticed.