Lifeblood of democracy? Learning about broadcast news
BBC News School Report is a project which aims to enable Year 8 (12 and 13 year old) students in UK schools to learn about news production. Over 120 UK schools participated in its pilot year, 2006-7. This report presents the findings of a study funded by Ofcom, which sought to identify and account for learning outcomes generated by the project. The study was proposed and managed by the British Film Institute and was carried out by a team of three researchers between December 2006 and June 2007.
This study was not an evaluation of the School Report project as a whole, but an investigation of learning outcomes for selected students in three case studies, over a period of five months. Although every effort was made to select case study schools that represented a breadth of types of school, the small size of the sample means that the pattern of learning outcomes described here cannot be projected on to the whole of the School Report project.
Nevertheless, the research offers some important insights on teaching and learning about broadcast news. Rather than examining whether the stated learning aims were achieved, the researchers explored all learning outcomes, intended and unintended, using a ‘goals-free’ methodology which enabled students and teachers to respond to unprompted, open questions. Additional, prompted questions were designed to elicit information about the extent to which students had developed their understanding of news and news production, and the impact of the project on other areas of learning and motivation. These questions were derived from three sources: the original project proposal from the BFI; an interview with the project leaders at the BBC, and the stated aims for the project on the BBC News School Report website.
Interview transcripts were analysed using a coding frame that was based on the most salient categories of response. The 20 learning outcomes that were identified through this research thus combined some of the objectives stated at the outset together with some less predictable outcomes that emerged through the interview process.
Concept mapping was also used to provide another perspective on students’ understanding of broadcast news, both before and after the School Report project, and each researcher observed the activity in their case study school on the culminating day of the project, 22nd March 2007. This report thus provides a rich, qualitative account which could make a significant contribution to further stages of the School Report project, and to general curriculum development for media literacy.
The report is in four sections.
Section 1: The Project and the Research
This section describes the aims and organisation of the School Report project, the aims and methodology of the research, and key features of the three case study schools including the interviewees and each school’s approach to the project.
Section 2: Learning Outcomes
The methods of data collection were: pre- and post-project interviews, observation, and pre- and post-project concept maps. The majority of students and their teachers felt that they had learned something from the project and had valued it. Analysis shows that learning outcomes, while generally reasonable though modest, were strongest in relation to some news production processes and weakest in relation to critical skills and understanding. There were 8 main learning outcomes. The three strongest and most prevalent of these also related closely to the BBC’s own core objective of helping students to learn how news is made. But there was little or no learning about 12 other outcomes, most of which can be grouped into the area of ‘critical understanding’ of TV news. It is these 12 outcomes that can be seen as relating most closely to the curricular requirements for learning about non-fictional texts within English, and about ‘the role of the media in society’ as part of Citizenship, in Year 8 (see section 3.4, page 67).
Section 3: Factors Contributing to Learning
From analysis of the post-project interviews, the two main factors contributing to learning are identified as ‘New Ground Rules’ (i.e. students finding themselves in a new situation and subject to new imperatives) and classroom lessons on news, based mainly on the BBC website materials. The main factors which seem to have limited some of the learning outcomes are: aims and materials from the BBC which did not offer enough support to teachers with less media teaching expertise; uncertainty about differentiation and expected standards; and a number of problems at school and local level with planning and management, possibly exacerbated by the project’s recruiting strategy.
Section 4: Implications for Policy and Practice
The School Report project is potentially of great value to learners, and its aspiration to reach all Year 8 students shows that the BBC has recognised media literacy as a general entitlement. However, it is suggested that a more explicit commitment to the development of critical understanding is needed in its aims and resources, if the project is to be accepted by the education sector as making a real contribution to curricular objectives. The problem of teacher access to mentors and professional development is addressed, and the extent to which a high-profile News Day may strain school priorities and resources is discussed. The key issue for both the education sector and for Ofcom seems to be a need for more open dialogue and closer collaboration between the education sector and the BBC in order to ensure that the project reaches its full potential.
Throughout this report, BBC News School Report will be referred to either as ‘the School Report project’ or as ‘the project’.
The report makes every effort to ensure the anonymity of the case study schools and of individual students and teachers. Pseudonyms are not used, because with such a small sample, the risk of identification would be increased.
Please note that the views or opinions contained in this report are those of the authors and should not be attributed to Ofcom.
The full document is available below