ATHENS, Ohio -- Parents shouldn't be so quick to turn off the television if their children are watching "Wheel of Fortune" or "Jeopardy" instead of doing their homework. Many TV game shows are worth far more than entertainment value, providing kids with information on geography, science and vocabulary, according to an Ohio University researcher.
Game shows may also motivate kids to learn, increase self-esteem and sensitize children to social prejudices, said Anne Cooper-Chen, professor of journalism at Ohio University and author of the research.
Cooper-Chen presented her work at the Second International Conference on Entertainment-Education and Social Change held May 7-10 in Athens, Ohio. The conference was co-hosted by Ohio University and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The research is part of an ongoing project that started in the mid-1980s with an evaluation of 260 game shows in 50 countries. That study was the foundation for Cooper-Chen's book, Games in the Global Village: A 50-Nation Study of Entertainment Television, published by Bowling Green State University Popular Press in 1994.
Despite its growing popularity, the TV game show format remains a largely untapped educational resource, according to Cooper-Chen.
"Anyone with access to a television studio could create a game show," she said. "All you need is one camera, one host and a simple set. It takes a lot of organization, but that is also a learning opportunity."
Game shows are used primarily to reinforce information but sometimes to change attitudes, she said, adding that recruiting residents of all ages and cultural backgrounds to participate helps to secure a show's success and send positive messages to the audience.
"Judging from what I've seen, one of the best ways to go about it is to get teachers interested and they will encourage the kids to participate," she said. "Kids want to have fun while they learn. Game shows are interactive, which makes it easier to attract and keep a young person's attention."
Using game shows for their educational value is a prospect being explored by people around the world. Many countries, especially those with state-controlled television systems, such as India, Saudi Arabia and parts of Africa, are interested in using television for educational development.
"Because it is so easy to set up, and because the shows recruit civilian contestants, the program is indigenous to its broadcast area, and that creates the popular interest," she said.
But the TV game show format doesn't require a television to succeed, Cooper-Chen noted. The format will work nicely in a classroom setting as well.
"Kids can do their own quiz shows, devise questions and create their own sets," she said. "The friendly competition, entertainment value, and the replication of the TV experience are all valuable educational tools."
Cooper-Chen is currently working on a revision of her book, which was translated to Korean in December 1996.
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