A case of Jam tomorrow?

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
The BBC launched its pound;150 million education website this week to varied reactions from its first users, while Teachers' TV celebrates its first anniversary. Michael Shaw reports

Strange sounds emanate from the school computer suite - of a robot with squeaky wheels, cacophonous blasts of music, a commentary on island life in the Hebrides.

Inside, a team of 10 and 11-year-olds are glued to the screens. They are having their first tinker with BBC Jam, the pound;150 million website which the broadcaster hopes will revolutionise education.

The BBC gave the website a deliberately low-profile launch this week but will begin advertising it more widely in the autumn.

So far, six subject areas are available, but over the next two years more material will be added until it covers half of the national curriculum.

Pupils at Alexandra junior school in Hounslow, west London, tried out the website on the first school day after its launch but could find only one section of direct relevance to them - a set of geography activities for seven to nine-year-olds that covered transport and recycling.

The children played a few of the video and cartoon clips but found these less interesting than activities which allowed them to edit videos themselves and make slide presentations.

Gurinder, 11, soon figured out how to mix soundtracks and captions on to the video clips, while Harvir drew digital brush-strokes on to photographs of trains and seascapes.

But then the first problems emerged. "Miss! Miss!" cried Ben, 11. "My video's been deleted!"

Sure enough, the short film, entitled bens master piece, was nowhere to be found. Other pupils complained that their videos or captions had been lost after saving.

However, pupils were mostly enthusiastic. Shuhada, 10, said she would try BBC Jam at home.

"You can't make your own videos on other websites," she said. "And you can use this even if you're not good at reading and writing, so that's good for visual learners."

Pippa Carey, the school's lead learning support assistant, was less impressed. "It looks very whizzy, but it's actually quite basic," she said.

"Yes, it's helpful if you want to learn about transport on the Orkney islands, but what we'd want is to be able to load in some video we've filmed in Hounslow as well."

Kate Stevenson, Year 6 classroom teacher, said the activities seemed well-suited to the curriculum but that she would wait for the website to be improved before basing lessons on it. "Next time, I'll get the class to wear headphones," she said. "That squeaky robot is very annoying."

There was a similarly mixed reaction over at South Bromsgrove high school in Worcestershire, where teachers tried out the materials for French and business studies for secondary-school pupils.

Paul Saddington, head of economics and business studies, said: "It's very attractive and well constructed, but I can't help thinking that the activities are a little laborious, and some students might lose interest."

The association for IT teachers, NAACE, said some schools might find their computers are not fast enough to handle the website, but that this was not a significant drawback.

Martyn Wilson, chair of the association's executive, said: "It's a strength of the website that it's built for the future, not the present."

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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