Survey finds instructional TV better integrated with lessons

Originally published in Current, Nov. 17, 1997

By Karen Everhart Bedford

Teachers view TV and video as valuable tools for classroom instruction, and are integrating these media into their lesson plans to a greater extent than several years ago, according to a recent CPB study on school uses of those media.

The survey, released Nov. 4, [1997], reveals that teachers have access to media equipment--98 percent indicated in a mail survey that TV sets and VCRs are available in their schools for instructional use.

Educators say, however, that programs in specific subject areas with the right level of complexity for their students are hard to find.

"The biggest impediment that teachers are reporting is that they're not finding exactly what they want," explains Wendy Charlton, CPB project officer.

In comparing the results of this study to similar research conducted in 1991, CPB found an important shift in how teachers use TV/video in the classroom.

"The biggest, most important change is the degree to which teachers are saying they're always integrating TV and video into the classroom," explained Charlton.

In 1991, only 11 percent of teachers said "classroom assignments are always related to the television or video programs used." In the latest survey, 53 percent of teachers said they're always related. Ninety-four percent of teachers said they use media to reinforce or expand their curriculum; 83 percent indicated that media enable them to accommodate different learning styles by offering a visual component.

Teachers responding to the survey rated public TV programs as the best they'd used for educational purposes in 1996-97. Reading Rainbow was named by a higher percentage of teachers than any other program, followed by Bill Nye the Science Guy (which airs on commercial and public TV), and Magic School Bus; all three shows were favorites among elementary school teachers. Also ranked in the top 10 programs by all teachers: National Geographic, Nova, 3-2-1 Contact, The Civil War, Nature and Wishbone. A&E's Biography ranked seventh on the list.

Survey respondents described several positive outcomes of their TV use. About three-quarters said television helps students comprehend and discuss content and ideas; 63 percent said it motivates students to learn. Among teachers who use TV/video at least two hours a week, more than half say it helps students use new vocabulary.

In contrast, one-quarter of all teachers said that students are entertained by the programs, but have difficulties connecting the shows to their lessons. Another 14 percent attribute shortened attention spans and behavior problems to television use.

Educators use television most to teach science, reading/English, social sciences, and history. Less than 25 percent of teachers reported using TV/video for math instruction, and less than half of math teachers reported using the media at all. In addition, survey respondents cited a greater need for more programs for math than for any other subject.

Nearly half of respondents, 45 percent, said it's difficult to find programs that are in their subject area; about 43 percent said they're looking for shows at the right level of complexity for the age group they teach. Another 30 percent, mostly secondary school teachers, cited a shortage of programs that can be used in a single class period.

Computers used separately

Researchers also asked about access to and use of computers in the classroom. Computers are available for instructional use to 94 percent of schools, but most instructors lack multimedia equipment (77 percent) and Internet access (59 percent). Of those who do have access, an unspecified "sizable percentage" say they are having problems using the equipment or integrating the technology into their lessons.

Most teachers think that computer technologies, like instructional TV/video, motivate students to learn. Just under half of educators said that computer activities improve students' comprehension and ability to discuss content and ideas. And more teachers described negative effects of computer instruction: 16 percent said students' behavior and attention span decreases with computer use; 33 percent reported that students have difficulties connecting computer activities with their lessons.

Teachers who have access to TV/video and computers (86 percent) continue to use television, and most of these teachers (68 percent) report using these technologies separately.

Macro International conducted the study for CPB, surveying a random sample of principals and teachers through a mail-in questionnaire. A total of 2,344 educators responded. Researchers also interviewed 127 teachers who actively use media and computers. A summary report is available online at or by mail from CPB.



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Later news: Annual FirstView screening conference for classroom programs reviews 120 new series, August 1998.


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