When I was a high school senior I remember our school participated in a program to bring video equipement into our classrooms. It was called Channel One. The program was explained to us as away for our school to receive free TV’s and VCR’s to be used in the classroom. In return for this free equipement all the school had to do was show 12 minutes of “news” programing during our homeroom block. We as students thought “How cool, TV’s in the classroom!”. We all sat in anticipation on the first day we got to watch “TV” in homeroom. On the first day the teacher gave their obligatory remarks and turned on the TV for our segment. When it was all over I felt pretty ripped off. I don’t remember exactly what ads we watched but I just remember thinking the whole point of the program was to sell products to a captive audience. When you think about the concept it’s a marketers dream come true. You know exactly who your audience is. Here’s a bit on it from the “Controversy” section of a “Channel One” Wikipedia page.

Channel One has been controversial largely due to the commercial content of the show. Critics claim that it is a problem in classrooms because it forces children to watch ads, wastes class time, and wastes tax dollars. Supporters argue that the ads are necessary to help keep the program running and lease TVs, DVRs (Head-End Units) and satellite dishes to schools, as well as commercial-free educational video through Channel One Connection. In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that research indicated that children who watched Channel One remembered the commercials more than they remembered the news.
Another criticism, noted by Media Education Foundation’s documentary Captive Audience, is that very little time is dedicated to actual news and the majority of the programming is soft, sensationalistic “fluff” with corporate marketing and PR tie-ins to promote products and services, arguing that it further corrupts the school setting with consumerism.

Fast forward the a couple days ago… I was reading this article, Study: Educational apps for young children growing rapidly and it said this, “the study also found that toddlers and preschoolers are the most popular age-category for children’s apps, representing nearly 60 percent of the total”. Wow, so 60% of app makers are “targeting” the 3 & 4 year old market segment. For some reason that just rubbs me the wrong way.

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I am a big proponent of technology in the classroom. I use a variety of technologies in my classroom including iPads. I have parents constantly coming to me asking me what apps they should buy and put on their iPad and I have a real hard time recommending one. I don’t see most educational apps being of much value outside of the context for which they are used inside the classroom. Or in other words I use iPads in conjunction with a variety of other resources when working with my students. I definitely see the iPads adding a unique element to many things I do in my classroom but I don’t think in most cases they are a viable stand alone tool.
After reflecting on the above mentioned article in this light, I got this creepy feeling I was somehow participating in the marketization of my students and in a sense my classroom as a whole.

When I read things like this:

Industry spending on advertising to children has exploded in the past decade, increasing from a mere $100 million in 1990 to more than $2 billion in 2000

This was taken from the Media Awareness Network website. The scariest thing about that last quote is that those number’s are over 10 years old! Just do a quick Google search for: “advertising – children – spending” and you’ll get a tsunami of disturbing information. While most of the time the technology us in my classroom is not directly exposing my students to overt advertising I just wonder in which direction this will go. The media landscape is changing rapidly and advertisers are feverishly finding new ways to leverage these changes.

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By no stretch do I feel that we shouldn’t be using technologies such as the iPad in our classroom. I just think we need to be aware of the full ramifications of such use. In essence I feel like tablets devices such as the iPad are in a way a window for companies to look into our classrooms. When companies (whose job it is to make money) look in your classroom they don’t see children, they see dollar signs.

I know this has been a bit of meandering post but I was just wondering if anyone else has any thoughts on this?

10 Responses

  1. Hi Mr Ben,
    I completely agree here! This is such an invasive and sadly, prevalent foray into our classrooms! I was so sad to see ads pop up on my own blog, that were only visible when I viewed from another source. (can’t see them when you are posting) You have to pay to take them off!

    This speaks volumes about the quality of the products and new sales techniques in tech. Like gnats, we much pay to be rid of these new pests.

  2. Very interesting and insightful post. I think you have offered a balanced look at all the new bells and whistles coming from companies looking to profit from education.

  3. Reticient about giving apps and web links to parents. I feel children should have limited “device” time and have more opportunities to explore their world: observe, discover, ask questions, try out their hypothesis; that’s what kids learning looks to me (in school and certainly at home. Selling products is not our job.

    1. I couldn’t agree more! Even in my classroom I try to strike a balance between “screen” time activities and activities that as you say, provide “opportunities to explore” the world around us. We try and get outside and get our hands dirty almost every day… outside of regular recess time.

  4. Students definitely need to become media-literate. To keep technology out of the classroom completely would do them a great social injustice. However, when we use technology, even if we are acting as gate-keepers in terms of what programs they are exposed to, we must not trick ourselves into believing that it is a neutral act. As with every subject and every approach, we must train students of all ages to be critical about what any educator or corporation is trying to foist. Why are we doing this? How are we benefiting? How might this impact us negatively? Who else is affected by our decisions? Who thinks this is best? What is “their” goal? What else could we be doing to learn this skill? Whose dominance are we reinforcing in this act? Whose oppression are we contributing to? How could we do this better? Question. Question. Question!
    I also agree that screen time needs to be balanced with real, contextualized, tactile, social, experiential learning so that kids don’t grow up needing an avatar to mediate their lives.

  5. Hi Ben

    As a father of a 2-year old son, I read your post with great interest and almost totally agree. Advertising is invasive and I dont like it. My son and I have 5 minutes or so of Youtube time each night, where we watch exciting things like elephants. muppets and lately, his favourite, aeroplanes taking off. I love how he can turn on my phone, choose the apps window and then navigate to find the YouTube app. This time is controlled and he is not left on the net to his own devices, and I hope as he grows, I can keep this up.

    On the other hand, we expect a lot for free. Facebook, Youtube etc are not charities. I dont like the adds, but I very often choose free versions of apps / games etc so I don’t have to pay and just put up with the adds. I can choose to pay not to get the adds but don’t. They do need an income to remain viable. Where does this leave us???

  6. When I was 38 weeks pregnant with our son I saw the documentary Consuming Kids, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maeXjey_FGA. It opened my eyes not only to the lengths companies go to to market to kids, but also how government de-regulation (in the States) affected the issue. I felt overwhelmed by the idea of raising a child in such an environment. Your post reminded me of many of those concerns that I had then and continue to have today.
    I think you raise very valid points. As educators we must be diligent about the apps and technologies we bring into the classroom, but more importantly, as Brenda mentioned, we have to educate our students to be critical thinkers and media-literate.

  7. Ben, this is so true. I makes me think about a couple things. First, we really need to teach kids to see through all the smog and trickery. On NPR last week a young guy was talking about how hard it was growing up in his school without Air Jordans. He said he was rejected because of it. Really? We really are a nation of consumers. Seems like a battle that we need to train for starting when we’re young.

    The other thing that comes to mind is that if on Channel 1 it was the ads that kids remembered, Channel 1 needs to do a better job presenting news to kids. I touched on this in my post as well. Big Corporations dedicate billions of dollars and have whole offices dedicated to finding ways to make kids want them. We need to teach with the same fervor and stay a step ahead just like advertisers do. Bill Nye the Science. He got it right, didn’t he?

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