BBC2 series L8r returns this autumn and, as Robin Buss explains, its viewers have a vital role to play
L8r ("later"), the drama for 12-16-year olds doing PSHE (shown on BBC2 this spring), returns in the autumn with a new series - and an award from the Royal Television Society for interactive and multimedia education.
The innovative series uses the resources of both television and the internet to involve its viewers in the lives of six young people as they meet and mix in the cafes, discos and streets around their homes, confronting a number of practical and ethical dilemmas to do with relationships and behaviour.
The videos of the 10-minute episodes will be sent out directly to registered users from the start of the autumn term. Each ends on a question which students are invited to answer. They can discuss their preferences as a class, or in smaller groups around a monitor, getting additional information from the L8r website or even messaging other centres or the characters from the films.
Eventually, the viewers' responses will help determine the outcome of the story in the last two episodes (to be released next spring). Reactions to the first series showed that this active involvement really seems to work, both in interesting students in the storyline and in encouraging them to talk about it.
Because the series is meant to get its audience thinking, rather than to feed on preconceptions, the characters are not heroes or villains, and the stories develop in unexpected ways. There was a shock in episode two, for example, when teenage mother Katy decided to abandon her baby daughter.
"How could she do it?" was the most common response, with over 80 per cent voting that Katy should stay behind and look after her child.
At the same time some viewers sympathised with her and stressed the responsibility of the child's father, Ben. Feedback from schools, colleges and youth groups who used the series showed that discussions about the rights and wrongs of her action often led on to questions about how Katy got pregnant in the first place and about postnatal depression.
Meanwhile, the students were not the only ones emotionally involved in what happened: "I'm really worried about Katy," says a headteacher on the feedback video made by the production company, Hi8us.
This feedback video and the more sober evaluation report carried out by the University of the West of England showed the importance of the L8r format in creating a safe space where students could debate topics that might otherwise be difficult or embarrassing.
Meanwhile, beyond the field of PSHE, L8r has proved useful as a stimulus for drama and role play, as well as in developing communication skills, making it a resource that could be useful over a wide ability range.
lSchools or other groups interested in subscribing to L8r should fill in the form on the website www.l8r.uk.net
Tel: Hi8us South on 020 7428 0657.
lThe subscription rate for autumn 2005 to March 2006 is pound;125 for schools (with no limit on numbers), pound;85 for special units (including Pupil Referral Units) and pound;50 for youth groups, voluntary or community groups.