BBC Jam spreads the word

The BBC this week launched a free online learning service for five to 16-year-olds designed for the first time entirely from a child's point of view.

BBC Jam - a pound;150 million website - turns on its head the corporation's tradition of making educational material geared to the needs of teachers, said Liz Cleaver, controller of learning.

The interactive site is for children to use independently of school and combines slick graphics with features inspired by computer games, cult comics, action movies and networking sites.

BBC Jam went online with a limited number of features in January but has been expanded to include geography, history, French, business studies, design and technology, and financial capabilities. All complement the curriculum and are tailored to different age ranges.

A major marketing push, mainly on the BBC children's channels, begins on October 14, but BBC Jam's creators hope its popularity will spread among children by word of mouth and that teachers will recommend it to their pupils.

Ms Cleaver said: "In the past it was about getting it right for the teacher. Turn that on its head, and say, 'this is what's going to be right for kids'.

"Teachers are still a key partner. We interviewed teachers as part of the research and we have exploited every expert we could. We use kids extensively throughout this to user-test the contents.

"We interviewed 1,000 kids across the UK to get their reaction. They are amazingly media savvy.

"A total of 93 per cent of primary kids and 83 per cent of secondary kids said they would recommend it to a friend."

Ms Cleaver said the research showed that in educational matters the BBC brand inspired trust among young people rather than putting them off, she said.

BBC Jam will continue to produce new content until 2008 and features due to go live next year will include media studies for 14 to 16-year-olds, which requires participants to work their way up the ladder in a fictitious radio or TV station, and child development for the same age group, which requires teenagers to bring up a virtual baby.

A condition of the BBC's mandate is that it innovates constantly and complements rather than teaches the national curriculum.

BBC Jam met opposition at the outset from software companies which claimed the licence fee was subsidising a service which would impinge on their commercial operations.

A number of firms threatened legal action against the BBC, but an out-of-court settlement was made in 2003 and BBC Jam was launched last year.


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