Online radio has caught the imagination of teachers and students thanks to the Radio Waves. Hugh John reports
"Dear baby, I was just 15 years old when I had you, and your dad was 19...
our relationship was all over the place before you were born." So begins the poignant introduction of "A letter to Stuart", a two-minute sound essay recorded by a young student mother. You can find this, and many equally moving and accomplished items, on the Radio Waves website. Or, to be more exact, the Radio Waves online radio site.
Confused? It's quite simple really. Radio Waves is a normal website accessible via a browser but the content is mostly sound files created by students and young people at 10 Leeds educational establishments. It's a new take on "video on demand", where material is stored on a central server and "streamed" across a network when requested.
The real interest in the Radio Waves story, however, is how two highly motivated and talented teams, one from the social needs sector, the other from the technology industry came together to create a project that has galvanised many Leeds students.
Established in 1997, Cape UK (Creative Arts Partnerships in Education) is a charitable foundation that encourages young people to develop their creativity.
Cape's Clare Biggs, project manager of Radio Waves, had been so impressed by an earlier radio scheme run by Pudsey Grangefield High, Leeds, that she invited broadcast consultants Joanna Williamson and Jackie Christy, from Soundworks, to develop a delivery model and training plan for schools.
When Cape's funding bid was accepted, the pair, both with extensive broadcasting experience, became facilitators for the project and subsequently delivered the bulk of the training.
Enter Synergy, a technology company that offers web-based expertise and solutions. Last year it hosted the innovative Snapshots website for Leeds schoolchildren to exhibit images and poems online. Radio Waves has taken that model a stage further. Mark Riches of Synergy describes it as, "a unique network where schools have their own home page and pre-structured set of web pages on which to publish all content."
There are strict controls to ensure that students' material is appropriate.
Students submit material for publishing and this is reviewed by their teacher before being uploaded. All editors have to agree to a code of conduct to register, and each station is identified by a code so that all contributors can be identified. Teachers have administrator rights and can remove unsuitable material.
The site is simple to navigate and it's possible to see what each school has contributed. Registered users can access a forum to add comments and exchange information. Brian Higginson, creativity co-ordinator with Leeds'
Richmond Hill Achievement Zone, describes himself as the interface between Cape and Copperfields College, one of the participating schools. Radio Waves, he says, "provided a real-life context, and a real-life outcome for the development of skills like self-confidence, self-esteem and curiosity as well as developing specific skills in radio production".
Students from Copperfields, accompanied by non-teaching support staff and mentors, attended a 15-week training course. Over the duration of the course, Brian observed the students, many of them disaffected and in danger of opting out of education, move from disinterest to engagement. As the course progressed, there was a marked improvement in attendance although, interestingly, Brian noticed that the boys were initially much more reticent to join in than the girls who, from the outset, were able to "discuss sensitive issues in a sensitive way".
Technology teacher Janey Robinson and eight students from Intake High School attended the recording course at the end of which they were required to put together a half-hour radio program that included jingles, links, adverts and a mini-drama. The defining moment for the students, Robinson believes, came when they realised that it was "real" - that they were actually putting together material that would be broadcast over the internet. "Then they actually got quite keen and worked together as a team."
"The replicable, sustainable model" has become the Holy Grail of project management; in education no less than the general business world. It's what Cape and Synergy are working on.
The project receives funding support - Cape through Arts for Everyone, The European Social Fund, The Granada Foundation and from local councils. Both organisations are aware that if support came to an end, the future of Radio Waves could be endangered. Alternative financing could involve either a subscription scheme, sponsorship or advertising.
Research conducted by Cape at the original Pudsey Grangefield radio project suggested that students were motivated by the degree of risk engendered by broadcasting, especially if live. It was also found that students working in a live broadcasting environment behaved in a responsible and mature fashion.
Is online radio way forward for schools? An obvious advantage is cost.
Getting a broadcasting licence is expensive and complicated. Online radio doesn't need one. And schools often already have the necessary hardware.
Clare suggests four other factors which have contributed to the success: high-quality resources; good facilitators who work effectively with schools and teachers; genuine collaboration between schools and a sharing of information and resources.
An action research project.
Tel: 0113 200 7100 Contact: Clare Biggs
Radiowaves is used primarily in schools but is also involved with other educational projects such as the Aston Villa FC radio station and a number of theatre organisations.
Price: Schools licenses starting at pound;500 per year.
Tel: 0113 246 9989