Highland community that's like a village

16th September 2005 at 01:00
It might not be the same as running across the battlefield, but for many children learning about Culloden, the Clearances or other events in Scottish history, using the Am Baile interactive, bilingual website is a thrust beyond the average text book.

Since its launch in May 2003, the Am Baile team has been working to provide a tool for teaching history, Gaelic and other facts about the Highlands. Its aim is to bring Highland traditions to life, without the expense and the long bus journeys.

"We provide access to a range of material for communities of the Highland and Islands and the Gaelic diaspora overseas. By making available information previously accessible in only a few locations and at restricted times, we aim to break down the barriers of geography and time constraints," says Jamie Gaukroger, content co-ordinator of Am Baile (which means the village in Gaelic). "We also want to provide a useful resource for schools."

A recent report by the Scottish Museums Council suggests the site is doing the first successfully. Its research found that 70 per cent of users were new to the collections featured on Am Baile, with most based in the Highlands or Islands (38 per cent) and overseas (28 per cent), the stated target audiences. User sessions have increased fivefold between May 2003 and February 2005, while users are spending almost twice as long per visit and looking at more pages. Last February the site recorded 22,201 sessions.

Now the team at Am Baile is keen to get more teachers interested. The main thrust of the site so far has been interactive material based on folklore and cultural traditions to make learning Gaelic fun. The site has also run competitions for school children with a different theme each year.

More recently the team has turned its attention to interactive teacher resources that go beyond Gaelic language teaching. Over the next year, it is set to launch 12 resources, all aimed at S1 and S2 history and geography, covering key curriculum areas within those subjects. Beginning with crofting (due to be launched at SETT), the resources will deal with themes such as Celts, Picts and Norse, heroes such as William Wallace, farming, fishing, crafts, religion, the Clearances and tourism.

The aim is to let pupils work on-line and to mark their own work using answers provided or to download worksheets. All 12 programmes should be online at the start of the academic year in 2006.

"We are creating a micro site for teachers, drawing on a wealth of data," says Mr Gaukroger. "We are trying to make it as flexible as possible so pupils can navigate from PCs, or the teacher can bring it up on a whiteboard for whole-class teaching. Should teachers want to follow up some area in more detail, the exercises can be modified accordingly."

Conceived in October 2001, following a grant from the New Opportunities Fund, Am Baile was created through a partnership between Highland Council, the Taigh Chearsabhagh) Trust and West Highland Animation. Its aim was to resolve museums access issues and to be a Gaelic language learning resource.

It now boasts 40,000 digitised items on its database, including maps, journals, photographs, interactive Gaelic learning tools, images of works of arts, plus games and quizzes for children.

Users can switch between English and Gaelic. The Scottish Museums Council reported that 53 per cent of users had a knowledge of Gaelic, suggesting it is attracting equal numbers of Gaelic and non-Gaelic speakers. Of those wishing to improve their Gaelic, 63 per cent found Am Baile helpful.

This summer, the Scottish Executive recognised its contribution when Tom McCabe, the public service reform minister, presented it with the Scottish Executive Delivering Excellence Award.

SETT

Am Baile - A Digital Archive for the Highlands by Jamie Gaukroger of Highland Council, Wednesday, 3.45pm www.ambaile.com

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