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Expect the unexpected…using broadcast material for educational purposes

Ruins of an old archway made of stone

All teachers know that when it comes to resources, the obvious is best avoided. Dedicated offerings like BBC Bitesize revision guides are brilliant, as are most programmes intended for educational use. But for real impact, it’s the left field that plays the best.

A recent visit to Leeds College of Building bore this out. LCB is unique in being the only college in the UK dedicated to construction and the built environment, making it nationally recognised for delivering courses and apprenticeships in this sector. Chatting to the college librarian, Anne Mary Inglehearn, I commented that the host of TV programmes on construction must be a gift for teaching staff.  Grand Designs, DIY SOS, Building the Dream, George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces – there seem to be dozens of them. Which was the popular programme of choice, I wondered?

The top of these particular pops turned out to be none of the above. Instead it was a clip from Our Guy in India, which is on its way to 200 viewings in the college and is not actually a programme about construction at all. Instead it follows self-confessed petrol-head Guy Martin, a truck mechanic from Hull (who says he will never leave his ‘proper job’ for a career in TV) as he spends some time on a Mumbai building site where health and safety standards appal him. “It’s working in the dark ages,” he comments.

This reminds me of the many other occasions when staff have pointed to the popularity of a clip or programme that they have used to great effect in teaching but in a way that the programme-makers themselves almost certainly never intended. Some of our case studies illustrate these (using The Simpsons in Business Studies) and we are always looking for more examples to demonstrate good practice.

What makes a TV or radio clip resonate with teachers and students? Clearly the content itself has to be somehow relevant, but used in an original and interesting way, or exploited via a less obvious approach. Some presenters may also appeal to student viewers more than others, or have a back story of their own that increases their validity and enables viewers to empathise (as in the case of ‘Our Guy’).

Some programmes may have a cross-curricular appeal (like the much-lamented Robot Wars, beloved of STEM learners) or have a multiplicity of uses. Soap operas like Coronation Street and Eastenders have frequently been cited as favourites with teachers of English as a second language but I’ve come across the latter programme used in vocational Hair and Beauty classes.

ERA is always on the lookout for examples of creative uses of programming so we’d love to hear from you if you would like to share your practice with us.

Our Guy in India is available on-demand on All4.