Jamming for the joy of learning

It's free, a totally cool tool and ideal for your livewires. Douglas Blane reports on the BBC's online learning project

No such thing as a free lunch or classroom resource? Well there is now, as good educational material which costs nothing and yet is as good as any commercial product can be found on the Web.

It is hardly surprising that one of the best sources is the BBC, with investment topping pound;150 million for its Digital Curriculum, renamed BBC Jam at its January launch.

The online learning service for 5- to 16-year-olds is to be built up over five years. It will cover subjects across the curriculum at all levels and include material for minorities, such as Gaelic, and learners with additional needs.

A substantial part of the investment, says the BBC, will fund the creation of materials for the distinct curriculums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Aimed directly at learners rather than teachers, the interactive service, whose extensive use of video means it works best with broadband, offers children the opportunity to "explore, learn, create" in every subject.

Pupils register online and identify their stage, from P1 to S6. They can then select immediately from a lively mix of learning resources, in which video, flash animations, interactive games, text and illustrations ensure that all learning styles are provided for.

A distinctive feature, says Claire Dresser of BBC strategic communications, is the opportunity for children to generate their own content. "You can go in and approach subjects from any angle, and create your own cartoons, projects and games to challenge your friends."

Material is tailored to age and needs, and because users specify which country they live in, they are directed to materials that mesh closely with their curriculum.

"Resources we develop here in Scotland are also mapped to the curriculums in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and vice versa," says Nick Simon, executive producer at BBC Scotland.

At SETT, specific materials include technology for 11- to 14-year-olds and geography for ages 7 to 11. Gaelic versions of other subjects are also being produced. "The geography site that we're just finishing will also be available in Gaelic," says Mr Simon.

The big difference between BBC Jam and sites such as BBC Bitesize, for revision, is its focus on the "joy of learning", he says.

BBC Jam does take subjects and learning objectives as its starting point, he explains, but then it goes off in unexpected and interesting directions.

"There are games, missions, resources and creative tools for young people, from which they will learn while having fun."

The best of the BBC, including videos, films and still images, is being plundered to provide cool content. "For the technology site, we've produced a mood board building tool that uses 1,000 images," says Mr Simon. "Kids can experiment with colours, images and animation. They can be creative; they can come up with new ideas."

Tight guidelines on the BBC leave plenty of scope for commercial companies, says Mr Simon.

"We only cover 50 per cent of the curriculum. So, in technology, we don't do manufacturing or workshop, but we cover the creative process, sustainability and being a responsible designer."

Similarly physical geography is left for others, but human geography is fair game. "We've produced video and audio clips of different regions: tourism in Majorca, recycling in Northern Ireland, transport infrastructure in the Western Isles. Then, using a webzine and a video editor, the kids can create their own stories about themselves and what goes on in their part of the world.

"BBC Jam is a complex project and it's not long since we launched it. In time it will become a huge resource. Eventually we are going to have 140 subject areas, mapped across all the curriculums."


BBC Jam by Nick Simons, content producer, Wednesday, 1.15pm

BBC Scotland, Stand D53 https:jam.bbc.co.uk

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