Open Schooll for LanguagesSample OSL screenThe new LingoLive web portal, created for the £5.4 million Open School for Languages (OSL) project to engage teenagers in language learning, has been previewed by Lightbox Education.

LingoLive, its working title, will exploit innovative gaming and social networking to address the problem of falling numbers of teenagers taking modern languages for GCSE (see "Primary languages missing target", BBC). Its vision is to "hook and hold". And schools using the popular Podium podcasting software - there are 2,500 of them - have more innovation to look forward to. The program will get video capability for "vodcasting" by September.

Lightbox Education, part of the RM Group, was sharing information about its key developments at a press event in London. The company was created in 2008 by bringing together Softease, 3T Productions and RM's curriculum software division, and the focus has been on developing an independent brand featuring the characteristics of its constitutent parts - tightly focused consultancy, imaginative and appropriate design and the capability to produce quality ICT products and services for learning and teaching. There was a lot to see.

LingoLive is rapidly emerging from the Open School for Languages, a two-year, £5.4 million contract with the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) to design and develop an online language learning resource aimed at learners aged 11-16. The purpose of the OSL is to engage learners and reverse the worrying drop in young people studying languages at GCSE since 2004, following the decision to make them non-compulsory. A key report to Government on languages in 2007 identified the fall-off at key stage 4 as a key issue and recommended the Open School as part of the solution, alongside other measures such as starting language learning in primary schools from the age of seven.

The name of the game here is engagement - "hook and hold" - and LingoLive will exploit the most effective aspects of computer gaming and social networking to bring in teenagers and support their teachers. The activities can take place in young people's own time so they are free from peer pressure or be used by teachers in the class room. There's clearly an urgent need as the BBC's recent "Primary languages missing target" report reveals.

It will also use the most up-to-date and effective pedagogy for language learning. The experts who are partners in this ambitious project, which makes up a team of around 30 people, include:
Cambridge University Language Centre – responsible for the development of e-learning content and teacher support materials;
CILT – the National Centre for Languages – chairing the advisory board, and responsible for  marketing and local support services for schools and teachers;
The University of Salford's School of Languages – quality assurance for the elearning content and support materials for learners;
the University of Southampton’s Subject Centre of Languages, Linguistics and Area studies;
the Association for Language Learning.

Lightbox Education managing director Dave Pearson commented: "The Lightbox team has done an amazing job in bidding and winning such a significant contract as a newcomer to the market. Our holistic approach bringing together the very best of creative production services, educational software and learning products made us a strong contender for the development project. The design teams are extremely excited at making the Open School for Languages a great and innovative learning resource for the young people of England."

LingoLive is on a tight schedule and the contract includes key performance indicators (including statistics to demonstrate student engagement) that will determine whether Lightbox is successful in securing an extension to the contract. Trials take place during the autumn with a pilot in January followed by four quarterly releases from March 2010. Expect detailed previews on the Lightbox stand at the BETT 2010 educational ICT show in London in January.

Creative designer Alan Carpenter described the project as a huge challenge which is intended to promote "a renaissance in language learning". The first task was to identify the problems faced by young people in learning languages and then create the solutions: "We have to bring language learning and apply it to their own interests, at their own age levels. It can not be 'preachy' or 'worthy'."

The portal has to use simplicity of design to offer learners a number of routes to their learning. These will include "mini-games" (some multi-player) and "channels" so they can "dip in and out", and they will get their own avatars to help develop their own distinctive and safe online personalities for online collaborations.

Podium video capabilityPodium: video capability by SeptemberAlso at the core of Lightbox Education will be the software products and services that are already successful names in schools - like Podium, Honeycomb, Easiteach and Fuse Creator. Marketing director Peter Sadler announced that "vodcasting" - secure video podcasting - would be available as an upgrade to Podium from September, and he revealed that they were already working on the next generation of the Eastiteach software programs which accompanied the introduction of interactive whiteboards to UK classrooms.

The company would retain a clear focus on whole-class products and services, he added, and these would be kept in a globoal context as international markets, particularly the USA, became more important. They would also be mindful of the huge success of the iPhone and mobile devices, and exploit the use of mobile technologies wherever possible.

Ultimately, the key for Lightbox would be a holistic approach concluded Dave Pearson: “We didn’t want to limit Lightbox to being a software company. Instead, we develop holistic products and solutions for our customers, not just working with our own inventions but using our vast experience and insight to help those that have developed something innovative and exciting to get it licensed and make it work.

“It’s all about taking technological advances and tapping into their potential for supporting learning... The UK educational software market remains an exciting arena to be in. There are huge international opportunities as the UK has a wealth of experience that it can bring to bear on other markets. If you’re prepared to invest in innovative solutions that engage learners and are practically accessible to teachers in the classroom and beyond, the possibilities are still endless.”

More information

See also BBC report "Primary languages missing target"
Lightbox Education
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