As the nation’s television broadcasters prepare to convert their signals from analog to digital format, a coalition of education and children’s advocacy groups is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make rules for digital television (DTV) that will protect the interests of children.

Though the capabilities of DTV will enrich the quality of video resources available to educators, children’s advocates fear the technology also might increase the opportunities for marketing to children and erode students’ privacy. In addition, they want to ensure that broadcasters offer enough educational programming that can take advantage of DTV’s potential to enhance teaching and learning.

Study confirms TV’s
impact on learning

“Video can be a real complement to what kids are reading about or what the teacher is talking about,” said Margaret Honey, vice president and director for the Center for Children and Technology at the Education Development Center.

Honey is the author of a recent study called “Television Goes to School: The Impact of Video on Student Learning in Formal Education.” Her report concludes that, when used correctly, TV can bolster student achievement.

The study, commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), distills the findings of many reports on television’s impact on student learning and offers practical tips to help educators effectively use video in the classroom.

Students remember things better when they hear and see them, as opposed to when they only hear them or see them, Honey said.

Television enhances student comprehension, accommodates various learning styles, and is very motivational for students, according to Honey. Watching videos also can result in fruitful, engaged classroom discussions, she said.

To make teaching with television more effective, the report says, teachers should:

  • Plan ahead and know what they want to accomplish by showing the video;
  • Preview the program themselves;
  • Practice with the equipment and cue relevant clips;
  • Refrain from turning off the lights;
  • Use the pause button to flag important topics and answer students’ questions;
  • Turn on closed captioning to reinforce narrative information; and
  • Consider offering a second viewing, especially for younger children.

“It’s not particularly new or earth-shattering,” Honey said of the report’s content. “But CPB has brought it together in a single, readable document.”

CPB commissioned the study because the No Child Left Behind Act requires teachers to use research-based materials, she added.


“Television Goes to School: The Impact of Video on Student Learning in Formal Education”

“Television is changing dramatically. Before the transition from analog to digital takes place, we want the [FCC] to make policy changes in the interest of children before the commercial interest of broadcasters,” said Patti Miller, director of children and media programs for Children Now, the lead group of the Children’s Media Policy Coalition.

Along with CD-quality graphics, surround sound, and twice the screen resolution of analog technology, DTV allows broadcasters to (1) offer viewers an interactive, web-like television experience; (2) “datacast,” or display additional data on the TV screen to accompany the audio and video; and (3) “multicast,” or air up to six programs simultaneously over a single digital channel.

These features open up new possibilities that could allow children to interact with–and learn from–TV broadcasts. Using enhanced DTV signals, for example, viewers can explore a program’s content in more detail. Information accompanying DTV programs is likely to include web links, bibliographies, transcripts, and detailed background material on the show’s subject.

But these new interactive features also open up a host of potential pitfalls for young viewers, coalition members warn.

Tentatively, television stations have until Dec. 31, 2006 to transition from analog to digital broadcasts–though Congress might change that deadline to go into effect for various locales whenever 85 percent of homes in a given geographic area are able to access DTV.

“We’re hopeful that the FCC will be proactive,” Miller said. “Now is the time to act in the children’s interest and makes rules for DTV, rather than having to react later.”

The FCC is considering rules for DTV that will protect children’s interests and is expected to rule in the next few months, Miller said. An FCC representative said the issue is “under review and actively being worked on.”

One of the coalition’s requests is that the FCC prohibit broadcasters from embedding links to commercial web sites within children’s programming. The interactive nature of DTV could allow children to link directly to shopping web sites from the cartoons they are watching, Miller explained, simply by clicking on their favorite characters.

Besides setting limits on this form of advertising, the coalition wants the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) updated to include provisions for DTV. Currently, COPPA prohibits web sites from collecting personal information from children under 13.

Because DTV essentially will combine television and the internet, “we want to make sure that law is updated,” Miller said.

Lastly, because DTV allows broadcasters to air up to six times more programming, the coalition wants the FCC to ensure that the amount of educational programming remains proportional.

Currently, the FCC requires every broadcaster to air at least three hours of educational programming each week between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. With six channels, each broadcaster should have to air at least 18 hours of educational programming per week, the coalition says.

“If [broadcasters] have increased their programming capacity, [they] need to balance it out with more educational programming,” Miller said.

A recent study concluding that television programming can improve student achievement when used judiciously in the classroom lends weight to the coalition’s recommendations.

“We’re trying to get the word out that public broadcasting has some valuable resources once teachers have adapted them for their classrooms,” said Gene Broderson, director of education for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which commissioned the study (see accompanying report).


Children Now

Children’s Media Policy Coalition

“Digital Television: Sharpening the Focus on Children”