RadioActive is an innovative education project that has developed and implemented a radical technology-enabled pedagogy to promote the inclusion, engagement and informal learning of excluded people, or those at-risk of exclusion, across Europe. It does this through harnessing primarily internet radio and also social media.
The project developed, implemented and is sustaining a pan-European Internet Radio platform, incorporating Web 2.0 ideas and features. This is linked to innovative community based pedagogies to address inclusion, employability and active citizenship in an original and exciting way, whilst recognising informal learning through electronic Open badges.
The consortium was led by the University of East London (UK), with other partners from Portugal (CIMJ), Germany (UKL), the UK (Pontydysgu), Romania (ODIP) and Malta (KIC). These partners have direct links and ongoing collaborations with 13 primary Associate Partner organisations and a network of 39 mostly grass-roots organisations that facilitate access to the RadioActive101 participants, or ‘radio-activists’ as we define them. So the Associate Partners perform and deliver RadioActive ‘on the ground’ and are the vehicle for the learning experiences required for their production. These represent a particularly diverse range of groups and this was deliberate to allow us to test and refine our model, and show that it potentially works with virtually all excluded groups, and across Europe.
Five national RadioActive ‘stations’ (or hubs) were developed, implemented and ran through the project and they are accessible via the European Support Hub (ESH). Through making the radio shows the target groups (schools, vocational education, Higher Education, informal and adult education) are developing digital competencies and employability skills ‘in vivo’ that are transferable to the 21st Century workplace. These competencies and skills align with six of the EU Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning and we have developed a progression and accreditation model linking the key competencies to RadioActive activities and performances that are recognised through Open electronic ‘badges’. These badges provide concrete recognition measures and represent proficiencies that are relevant to further education or employment in particular related to the knowledge and creative and digital industries.
Evaluation findings were obtained through conducting a phased evaluation incorporating a full in depth ‘prototype’ evaluation in the UK during year one, a similar evaluation in Portugal and a smaller one in Germany in year two, that were followed by a broader and larger international survey of radio-activists (subjects) towards the end of the project. All these showed particularly positive and interesting results, such as the delivery of additional impact and value beyond the informal learning of technical and employability skills. Improvements in confidence, self-esteem and general self-efficacy of individuals were found, plus additional improvements in groups and organisations. It appears that once the excluded groups developed the confidence and competence to perform activities they often thought were beyond them, they seem then empowered to learn many other things and to develop a number of key competencies. At the European and national levels we have produced an extensive amount of dissemination activities to make the RadioActive Europe project public and well known, and also won two additional funding awards towards the end of the project. Other exploitation activities include embedding locally and internationally, with the latter being realised through the establishment of an international Foundation that will also support and advise about funding models to support further expansion at the European level.
To complement the in-depth prototype and pilot evaluations conducted early in year two and get greater and broader input across the partnership towards the end of the project – our approach was simplified for the final evaluation, that used an online questionnaire. This method could easily include all partners. So the level of innovation, quality and impact on different aspects (beneficiary, organisation, community) was assessed plus other aspects such as experiences, levels of engagement, lessons learned and recommendations.
Key findings showed that over 70% of the respondents found RadioActive project activities to be innovative or highly innovative. Specific innovations that were recorded highest were the content of the shows (92.5%), Training (92.5%) and the Badges (90%, called ‘micro-digital certification system’ in the survey). The highest Quality was ascribed to the learning materials (86.8%), training workshops (84.2%), ‘know how’ transfer (77.6%) and communication among partners (72.4%).
A particularly important finding here is about the Badges, as although this scheme was introduced and approved towards the end of the project, they are clearly valued by respondents. Of the 176 badges that have been awarded so far, covering 14 skills, all are Bronze except for one Silver, and these cover mostly journalistic skills (96), then Planning and Organisation (13), with Responsible Broadcasting (12), Arranging Radio content (10), Creating Radio Content (10), Audio Editor (8) and Music Editor (8) also being awarded more than five times.
The highest level of impact was reported for the direct beneficiaries, our radio-activists (92.1%), followed by project staff (86.8%), the organisation (84.2%) and the community (76.3%). Of the aspects of this impact, the highest reported impact was on self-confidence and motivation (90.8%), followed by creative skills and abilities (88.2%) and then some specific employability and communication skills (both 85.5%). The lowest impact was on mathematical competencies (35%) and this supports the validity of responses, as this was the least emphasised aspect. Key areas of impact for the organisations were the participation level (92%), personal and professional development (84%) and quality awareness (81.3%).
All core products that were identified for use in the hub are free, open-source or are being provided and supported at no charge by partner organisations. However, part of the project’s aim is to identify ways in which new services might improve their quality and efficiency through the adoption of the project’s innovative approach in ways that are commercially credible. The technical and pedagogical toolkit that we created allows for sustainability and expansion after the end of the project. Following the cascade-training model, the RadioActive model allowed learners of today to teach newcomers of tomorrow allowing for expansion of the project throughout 2015 and beyond.
Work has begun exploring the creation of a RadioActive International Foundation as a vehicle to formalise the partnership’s continuation and to embed the activities of Radioactive within the activities of the various organisations, and ensure the sustained existence of both the RadioActive brand, the consortium, and the network of radio hubs. At the moment, a deed for the foundation has been drafted, and is in the process of going through the legal and administrative departments of the various partners.
The key purpose of the foundation is to sustain ongoing activities in the local chapters, while recruiting new chapters to start radio stations. Whilst it would be impossible for any single organisation involved to set up a project of this type on their own, the level of support, guidance and tested structure on offer from RadioActive (through the website, the hub, available expertise, etc.) will mean that they will have the capacity and capability to continue the work from 2015 onwards. The success of the current cascade model of training and integration evidences this.
The sustainability of the RadioActive Model is evidenced by the continuation of radio broadcasting by individual groups and organisations even though the EC funding has ended. In Germany, Malta, Portugal and the UK, radio shows continue to be produced for immediate and future broadcast.
The Pedagogical approach and rationale: Radio as a radical educational intervention.
The target participants were those described as being excluded or at risk of societal exclusion. The partners identified a number of groups which met these criteria, including young people not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET), children from areas of high deprivation, older people who have retired from working life, people with learning disabilities and Roma.
To promote the inclusion and improvements in well-being of these diverse disenfranchised groups the project implemented a new approach to conceptualising, designing and developing internet radio and social media features for informal learning within ‘lived communities’. It modified the key pedagogical ideas of Paulo Freire (1970) and his notion of transformational (or emancipatory) learning through lived experience. These ideas were articulated through a radical approach to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), where design is conceived as an ongoing socio-technical intervention within existing or developing digitally mediated and mixed-reality cultures. This approach arose out of a critique of recent approaches to designing social media for learning within ‘live’ practitioner contexts. More broadly, this approach was a direct attempt to promote ‘21st Century Learning for 21st Century Skills’ – the key theme of the European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2012. This approach was achieved in every partner context through embedding the radio and content production within the existing practices of established organisations linked to the excluded or at-risk groups. Internet radio was used to catalyse, connect and communicate technology-mediated developmental practices within these organisations. This in turn promoted rich personal and organisational learning, change and development, and as evaluations have shown (Edmonds et al., 2013) increased well-being and positive social impact.
To link the user contexts and the pedagogical approach to the socio-technical design of the RadioActive platforms, a problematisation phase was performed for all partner sites. Problematisation is a design technique that is particularly relevant to developing digitised technologies and social media practices linked to contextualised problems and opportunities. Arguably the most critical aspect of Problematisation involved initiating and/or developing a relationship and discourse with the user groups and their organisations, often using informal and ethnographically informed methods and approaches.
The training approach taken by the RadioActive project started with a basic training phase followed by providing an ongoing learning experience while producing RadioActive shows of increasing quality. This was scaffolded with virtual (human) support (via Skype) and online support through materials contained in the training sections of the European Support Hub http://training.radioactive101.eu/ Following a cascade model, those who were initially trained passed on their knowledge to others in their organisations. The RadioActive Partnership provided comprehensive support and training in the form of sound governance and editorial models (GEMs), training workshops, online tutorials and handbook, regular face-to-face, Skype and email interactions.
A strong indicator of the continuing success of the project approach is that the same standard technical set-up and training worked well across all the partner sites, as is evidenced by the broadcast output from each site and the 110 broadcasts in total. This demonstrated the flexibility and robustness of our model; reusability of the standard kit; and, the effectiveness of the training approach and ongoing facilitation.
n Year 2 we established a comprehensive model of recognition of the training and RadioActive practices by means of a system of Mozilla Open Badges similar to those described by Hamilton and Henderson (2013) using the inbuilt features of the Moodle platform within the Hub for the collection of evidence for recognition and for the distribution of the badges
The scheme and methodology conformed with CEDEFOP’s Guidelines on the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning and mapped well to 6 of 8 key competencies for Lifelong Learning; namely: Communication in mother tongue; Digital Competence; Learning to learn; Social and civic competencies; censure of initiative and entrepreneurship; and cultural awareness and expression.
Central to providing ongoing online support for the training and recognition materials was the European Support Hub (ESH), which is the central coordinating technology and public face for the pan-European aspects of the project, described below.
There were several technical solutions in regular service and that are being maintained until 31 Dec 2017. Summarising we have: WordPress Multisite as a practical way of networking our collection of hubs; Podlove Podcast Publisher and Podlove Web Player as a Media distribution system to document the shows; Moodle as a Learning Management System to offer self-paced learning material for the radio-activists and internal collaboration spaces to prepare shows and exchange content (e.g. the Open badges) and ideas; Mahara as an ePortfolio-System in Use was used as a work-portfolio, learning diary and/or for self-presentation accounts by the radio activists; and, various social media tools such as our project specific Twitter (https://twitter.com/RadioActive101) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RadioActive101) accounts.
These also supplement national Soundcloud and YouTube Channels.
Our project specific Facebook and Twitter accounts (given above) were used to inform audiences, promote shows and provide live audience interaction, with the live radio broadcasts remaining the ‘core’ of our project.