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Using BBC programmes in my teaching and learning

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Author: Lisa Cotterill, Lecturer, Macclesfield College of Further Education

Being able to use the itslearning platform to embed the BBC documentaries and entertainment programmes has been groundbreaking for my teaching and learning.

There is a wealth of television programmes, films and news clips, which are excellent resources for learners currently studying on a variety of educational courses in the College. In my own specialism, I deliver a Level 3 module on Literature and Sociology.

The BBC, in particular, is excellent at producing documentaries, biopics, analyses and films which highlight a range of social issues, biographical and contextual information, and historical governmental directives.

In particular, I have used the very interesting programmes entitled Back in Time for School which simulates the experiences of school children in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s in Britain. This is an excellent resource for the Sociology module The Sociology of Education which requires learners to investigate the way in which the British education has been meritocratic over time. This concern is ongoing in the sense that both Conservative and Labour governments over the period of the last 50 years have had to balance issues of funding with a very important issue of ensuring that every child/young person is given the best possible chance to achieve in education regardless of class, gender, race, nationality and learning need. Being able to see a visual map of the way in which the education system in this country has changed over time is an invaluable resource to enable learners to gauge the changes in both the social, political and cultural environments of the last 50 years in education. What is particularly helpful is that the family which are featured in the programme exist in the present time so their perspective is one which looks back with a contemporary focus exactly as our learners are doing.

Also, these programmes are entertaining so learners do not feel that they are necessarily engaging in homework tasks, they are in fact taking part in a flipped learning activity whereby they view the programme in their own time and then discuss the issues in class.
Similarly, the BBC has produced a couple of documentaries on the poet Sylvia Plath and the writer Angela Carter. Again these are excellent resources in that they recreate the perspectives of the writers within the context that they were writing in at time they produced their works of literature. The programmes almost enter the minds of the writers using a range of historical sources to attempt to understand the reasons why they created the written work that they did, and why they wrote in that particular style. This allows the learners to be present within the environment of the writing process. This is invaluable when analysing literature, in particular, the way styles of writing have changed over time. Once again learners do not feel that they are engaging in an onerous homework task instead they are actually being entertained whilst learning.

Finally, it is my aspiration that I can have a bank of films with social and cultural dimensions which I can recommend to my learners and which they watch in their leisure time. This will increase the time spent learning and will also enable them to apply what they are learning in College to popular culture and the wider social and cultural environment. Two examples of these films are Made in Dagenham, which charts the move towards equal pay between the sexes in the late 60s and early 70s in the Ford motor factory. This piece of government legislation was initiated by a group of unskilled female workers who campaigned for equal pay at the highest level.

The themes and issues within this film are excellent for debate and discussion of feminism, the still lingering gender pay gap and the working conditions of a range of social classes. Similarly, the film 10 Things I Hate About You is a reworking of the Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. This film puts into context social issues around male domination, patriarchy, the gendered division of labour, female emancipation and the role of a female in society which are extremely important themes in Sociology and are able to be discussed within a range of pedagogical scenarios. Once again popular culture is able to familiarise learners with topics, issues and ideas which can be difficult to conceptualise without reference to concrete examples.


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