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Time to tame the technology;Media watch;FE Focus

The first in a new column by Laurence Alster on the media and further education

For all that's bad about living in this country - the iffy weather (remember Easter?), bank holiday gridlock, Gazza, cowboy builders and the woeful state of post-incorporation FE - in the main we still get one thing triumphantly right: broadcasting.

Despite frequent accusations that television and radio are gradually being "dumbed down", we are still offered a feast of viewing and listening that is probably unmatched in any other country in the world.

Not only does this constitute a wonderful leisure facility, but one for education too. And no-one stands to benefit more from such an opportunity than FE teachers and students.

Of course, many teachers already make good use of television intended specifically for schools and colleges. BBC2's late-night Learning Zone is now firmly established as a source of reliable and occasionally inspired programmes for academic and vocational courses, while recent daytime programming for schools has included the lively GNVQ: Is It for You? on Channel 4 and, from BBC Schools, Science Zone and the marvellous series Scene.

Reports suggest that there are programmes of equal quality in the making. But even the best dedicated educational slots hold nowhere near the number of opportunities contained in mainstream broadcasting.

Here are programmes of certain benefit to teachers of virtually all subjects. From possible dozens, a random selection gives ample proof: the serialisations of Pride and Prejudice and Our Mutual Friend, an acclaimed production of King Lear or a profile of Lewis Carroll; any number of Horizon or Equinox programmes; ideal for biologists, Professor Howard Winston's series The Human Body; from the recent spate of programmes on the Arab-Israeli conflict, several of exceptional quality; and Hidden Hollywood, an ultimately specious but still absorbing account of the film capital in its prime that no media studies student should have missed.

Nor should teachers sniff at radio. If BBC Radio 4 is the obvious site for much worthwhile material - discussions (The Moral Maze), documentaries (Anthony Howard's series Power and the Press being a superb recent example) and drama (watch students' faces change as they listen to Spoonface Steinberg) - other channels should not be discounted.

Radio 5 Live's Muscular Prose - an anthology of sports writing - takes some beating, and even Radio 2 yields more than Sing Something Simple. Who would have thought that Crinkly Bottom's resident creep, Noel Edmonds, could have been so informed a presenter of The History of Pop Radio not so long ago?

While missing such stuff isn't exactly a tragedy, it certainly constitutes a lost opportunity. So in the coming weeks this column will review, and where possible preview, radio and television programmes that seem right for FE.

With tapes cheap and copying easy, multiple copies of selected programmes can now be made and loaned to several students at once - a situation once dreamt of, but scarcely anticipated by a less fortunate generation of teachers. The technology is there, and so are the programmes; the rest is up to us.

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