Australian Screen Content Project

ABC Splash and the Changing Environment for Educational Content

The ABC is one of the Partner Organisations in this project. The public service broadcaster has long been a major player in the production and distribution of screen content in schools, and through its digital education portal ABC Splash, the ABC has adapted to a rapidly changing media and education environment. In this blog post, we look at some of the achievements and some of the challenges facing the ABC in this space.

The ABC used to have the field virtually to itself when it came to the provision of screen content in education. Today, however, traditional ‘educational broadcasting’ has been thoroughly disrupted through the emergence of new players and providers, and with the increasing use in schools of ‘educative’ as distinct from ‘educational’ content.

Screenrights produced an infographic a couple of years ago that showed that over half of the programs copied and communicated in schools between 2001 and 2012 were first broadcast on the ABC.

In this period, though, the volume of ‘educational’ programs broadcast on the ABC – that is, programs that were produced for use in schools or other formal education settings – fell from 1156 hours in 2000-01, to 193 hours in 2009-10. These figures come from the relevant ABC’s Annual Reports, where for over fifty years specific data on educational programs was regularly disclosed. Since 2010, however, the ABC has not specifically detailed the number of hours of educational programming that it broadcasts each year. Instead, educational programming has been folded in to the broader category of ‘Factual’ television.

In July 2014, the ‘educational block’ of programs traditionally screened each weekday morning during term time, was moved from the main channel to ABC3. According to the ABC’s latest Annual Report, this move coincided with an increase in the block – which includes the long-running Behind the News –to two hours every weekday during school terms. But while this may have been an increase on 2013-14 figures, it is still some way short even of the number of hours screened in 2009-10. The figures for the latter year were, by a considerable margin, the lowest since 1960-61.

To a great extent this shift both reflects and is an indicator of a range of other changes over recent decades: in pedagogy, in classroom practice, in students’ (and teachers’) expectations of the kinds of content they find engaging and stimulating in an educational setting, and most recently in the availability of alternative content on the Internet.

The importance of the Internet in schools of today and in to the future was one of the main reasons why the Gillard Labor government in December 2011 provided almost $20 million in funding until December 2014 for the ABC in partnership with ESA to create a digital education portal. This was the public origin of ABC Splash, although the service had been discussed internally for several years prior to this announcement.

Although our research shows that teacher knowledge and use of Splash is patchy across the country, the site has produced an impressive volume and range of resources since it launched in October 2012. By the end of 2014, the site contained over 2000 videos (most from the ABC’s enormous content archive), almost 600 games, and over 120 audio clips, and was recording around 10,000 visits per school day. Ten flagship interactive projects, including games and data visualization initiatives have been produced, while a series of live events have demonstrated the value of high speed broadband in education. Our research shows that the site is principally used in primary schools, but also that many teachers remain unaware of its existence despite the extensive efforts of the Splash team to connect with schools and promote the site. In part this may be because teachers have access to several alternatives, including Scootle, a national digital learning repository developed by ESA, and in Queensland, C2C (Curriculum into the Classroom), a digital resource developed by the state Department of Education and Training.

In sum, ABC Splash is perhaps the most significant Australian initiative in the provision and popularization of digital content in education. It is, however, far from secure.

The funding from the federal Departments of Communications and Education ran out at the end of 2014. While Splash continues to record impressive numbers – more than 7.5 million page views in 2014-15 – and while two ‘Best of Splash’ apps have been produced this year, the site is no longer commissioning new content. Internal production by the small but dedicated and highly skilled Splash team is continuing, but at a reduced rate.

Although Splash features prominently in the ABC’s Annual Report for 2014-15, there is no indication of additional or ongoing funding for the portal. While the ABC won’t take the site down – it is too important as tangible evidence of the Corporation’s fulfillment of its Charter responsibility to provide “programs of an educational nature” – its long term future is uncertain. For many reasons, not least the quality of many of the educational resources it provides, this should be a cause of concern for educators, students and parents.

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