BBC Education - from television to broadband online networks - report about a visit to White City

[appeared in Kyouiku Katei Shinbun October 2000]

During a visit to London in August this year I accompanied a Japanese delegation to the BBC in order to learn about its digital educational services.
The BBC is distributed among several locations in London. In White City in Western London besides the huge TV production facilities we also find the education unit.

The BBC Education site today

Around 4 years ago in addition to the traditional TV and radio programs BBC Education started to produce online digital content. The current website ( contains about 200,000 web pages, accessible according to subjects, age groups, resources for students, teachers and adult learners. One special feature are online revision units for examinations and test questions in the section "Bitesize", i.e. learning units in bitesized chunks.

As most British schools do not have a fast Internet connection, text, pictures, animations and real audio sequences are kept to be usable with a 28 Kbps line.
We are told that the BBC has the largest educational website in Europe. As it is freely accessible worldwide, 5 parallel servers (one of them in New York) help to get quick access.

The BBC sees its role in informing, entertaining and educating, and the web has become one important means to reach its audience in a convenient and cost effective manner. Compared to school books the online content is cheap, flexible, up-to-date and available on demand 24 hours a day, so teachers very much like this service. They are looking for flexible chunks of information as well as packages structured according to the national curriculum, and BBC education provides both.
Most content is written by teachers themselves, supported by BBC in-house researchers who supply the authors with a variety of resources. Currently about 1,000 (out of 700,000) teachers cooperate, and the BBC is trying to reach out to many more of them. The teachers are not being payed for their work and copyright goes to the BBC. So alike radio and tv productions, the BBC has to provide this content free of charge, at least within the UK.

The next step

In the future schools are expected to be equipped with more bandwidth, so there are now new possibilities for delivering multimedia educational content. BBC is a forerunner also in this respect.
Currently BBC Education is running a broadband test site (for 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps lines), which so far is password protected and only used by pilot teachers. It is expected to be released to the public in one year's time.

We were demonstrated a geography learning unit about Brazil. It starts with a multimedia quiz for warming up, using images as well as music related to Brazil and its neighbour countries.
Material in all units is arranged according to different learning intelligences (textual, audio-visual, kinesthetic etc.) and also for people with disabilities, e.g. through subtitles and sign language added to videos. All the different approaches within one unit have a common learning outcome, here e.g. understanding where Brazil is located.
Teachers can also adjust material through adding their own text to resources. So this material could as well be modified according to different word levels or foreign languages.
3D virtual worlds that are linked to "real" video sequences allow navigating and interacting with the material.

Eventually BBC intends to provide resources for all subjects for all levels according to the UK national curriculum. It aims at the conversion of TV and the web and eventually delivering everything via broad connections, be is DSL, cable or satellite downloads.
Its online system has room for 10 Million login names and user space, so every child in the UK can have an account. Logs files about their learning activities will be accessible to teachers.

With the growing demand BBC Education also is growing fast. The current staff of 100 people is expected to double next year in the course of an internal restructuring process.
Together with other BBC subsites like BBC News and BBC World Service BBC Education offers a huge variety of valuable resources - not only for schools in the UK.

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Last modified: 2000-12-17