Spring 2003

HFM Interactive – Community Learning in the UK Via Radio and the Internet
by David Wortley
HFM Interactive

HFM Interactive—THE Radio Show with Pictures was a 3-week pilot project in the United Kingdom to assess the potential of community radio combined with virtual classroom technology as a tool for community engagement.

HFM (Harborough FM) is a community radio station operating under a Restricted Service Licence (RSL). The station can broadcast on a specific frequency for a period of one month. RSLs are granted up to a maximum of one every six months. HFM operated their ninth such licence between May 19th and June 15th, 2002.

The main content of the station is music. It is entirely managed and operated by volunteers who raise funds through sponsorship and advertising. HFM has been self-financing since its first broadcast. Its aim is to eventually secure a full time operating licence once the legislation is relaxed to allow this. In order to secure a full time licence, the strategy is to provide an innovative service which might be developed as a model for sustainability. HFM Interactive could provide that model.

About HP Virtual Classroom

Hewlett Packard has a hosted virtual conferencing service called HPVC (HP Virtual Classroom). This provides an online environment which can be used for a variety of purposes including training and brainstorming. Because HPVC participants can enter this virtual space via a normal web browser, almost any PC compatible computer in the world can be used to join a virtual event.

Virtual events are hosted or facilitated by a project manager who trains the presenters and organises the visual content shared by the participants. In order to ensure quality of service, the audio for any presentations and interaction is delivered using a separate teleconferencing bridge line. In other words, participants listen on the phone whilst they watch and interact via their PCs.

For many people who have only one telephone line to use for internet access and phone calls, this is a barrier to participation, and the cost of telephone calls can be prohibitive, especially if they are international. Radio as a mechanism to deliver the audio content is an ideal low cost solution which includes everyone, whether or not they have a computer or telephone.

HFM Interactive—THE Radio with Pictures Show

HFM Interactive combines the HFM Community Radio with HPVC to enable people in the Harborough District of the East Midlands to listen to a radio chat show with the option of logging on to the web site to view the presentations and interact with the special guests and other members of the audience.

HFM Interactive developed a series of 15 one hour chat show programs on the theme of the Information Society. The program went out each weekday between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. UK time and involved telephone interviews with special guests around the world as well as local guests in the studio. It aimed to bring the local and global together in a common space to share ideas and interact with each other.

Over 50 special guests were involved from USA, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, and the topics discussed under the general theme of the Information Society included such topics as health, knowledge management, social entrepreneurs, community media, gender, digital divide, sustainability, community publishing tools, and more.

At the end of each program, the content was archived and could be viewed both within the virtual classroom as a rolling screenshow and as a Powerpoint presentation via separate web page.

The Lessons Learned

The technology worked well and, from anecdotal evidence, the program was well received by a local audience, despite the fact that only a handful of people logged on to the live broadcasts each day. There was a significant amount of access on the website with a daily hit rate in excess of 1000 per day. One of the visible benefits was the interaction between special guests who, although experts within a common field, all had diverse backgrounds and would have been unlikely to meet face to face under normal circumstances. HFM Interactive was successful at facilitating knowledge sharing and relationship building among these guests, who participated from different countries.

The Next Step

HFM Interactive showed that any village or town anywhere in the world could now host its own international conference with top experts sharing experiences with a local audience.

Because large parts of the globe are under-served with internet access, but the majority of the globe has access to radio, this concept of developing programs which are both educational and entertaining and suitable for radio transmission, has potential for tackling the Digital Divide in a cost effective and practical way.

Funding is now being sought to develop this concept further as a global roadshow and research project aimed at building an inclusive Information Society where lifelong learning is accessible to everyone.

David Wortley is owner and founder of Mass Mitec, a Leicestershire based new media consultancy specialising in virtual community/collaboration technologies. In 1997, David won a prestigious DTI award to fund the Harborough ComKnet (Community Commerce and Knowledge Network) project, exploring the use of Information Communications Technologies for developing social and economic wealth within a physical community.

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