December 12, 2007

Do it first. Make trouble. Inspire change.

City_of_vice Jim in The Highlands was quick to note Channel 4's move from £6m per year on educational television programming to a large part of £6m per year on online educational programming. Is educational TV dead on C4? Not quite, but it's certainly undergone some serious surgery to make it recognisable to a 2008 teen. Channel 4 is certainly living up to its mantra: Do it first. Make trouble. Inspire change. And I'm glad to have been part of it.

Yes, it's a bold experiment, but no, it's not to 'cash in' on anything. It's just using the web because that's what teens and tweens use most, and using the web that they use (adults tend to call it Web 2.0, for them it's just the web). As Channel 4 remains one of the few television channels in the UK to engage the tricky 14-19 age group (the only one?) this is just one more set of innovations in 25 years of innovation.

I was lucky enough earlier this year to have been appointed member of the fivesome that make up the Education Advisory Board of Channel 4 Television, and I'm very grateful to Learning and Teaching Scotland for supporting my time. I don't know how much we've helped shape the online programming other than saying 'yes' a lot, 'no' a few times and reassuring Matt Locke, Alice Taylor and Janey Walker that what they are doing is spot on. As Janey put it:

"In all conscience, Channel 4 could not continue to spend £6m on programming that is not engaging people."

Socially networked, playful, participative content is the only way we can create successful media to engage, motivate and inspire young people "on the box". The box these days is more likely to be a Nintendo DS screen or PC.

Matt and Alice, the commissioners, are both avid gamers, keen on everything from the world of alternate reality games to playing Zelda on the Nintendo DS. Working through some ideas with them on the Board has been a pleasure, and expanding on some of the ways we can engage young people on this 'slate' of programming as been incredibly challenging.

Jemima Kiss at the Guardian has the full write-up from the launch of the slate this week, and Kevin Anderson has speed-typed some good Matt Lockisms, but the thrust of development has been along these lines, which might also be interesting to consider for our classrooms and schools:

  • The new 'programming' online is playful. That doesn't mean that it's trivial, but rather it's about getting young people to participate in the project, create the programme/site/knowledge/learning together. Teens will be encouraged to do this not on some mothership Channel 4 site, but rather on their own Bebos, blogs and Photobucket sites.
  • It has a strong social element, so that teens are constantly part of a feedback loop on what it's like to grow up in 21st Century Britain.
  • It's about 'playful exploration'. "The BBC tells you what you need to know. Channel 4 helps you ask the right questions."

I know that Matt and Alice have had to do a heck of a lot of work to convince production companies to change the way they pitch, propose and structure these much more playful, explorative, social 'programmes', where the TV programme might come as the end result of a year's online learning.

The things the indies have come with are great, and I'm so happy we can all start playing/viewing/talking about them:

Gaming projects include City of Vice by Littleloud, which invites the user to solve historical crimes from Georgian London, and Six to Start's project The Ministry, which explores privacy and identity online.

Phantasmagoria by EC1 encourages web users to explore their identity by tying together profiles across different social networking sites. An online project by Maverick Television will encourage teenagers to use web-based tools that can help them to set up online businesses.

The broadcaster says it wants to encourage a more collaborative, supportive environment for young entrepreneurs, moving away from the cliched and aggressive view of business seen on programmes such as Dragon's Den.

One thing is sure: the audience isn't on the television. So maybe it's not that "high risk" a strategy after all...


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I'm looking forward to the range of stuff they are going to come up and out with... with ITV pulling their commitment last year to kids programming and the BBC's attempt at launching a teen brand this year not quite hitting the mark, C4 looks like it has the whole field to play with!

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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