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By Greg Hodgson | Radio in education news

Top tips for successful radio station implementation

Radio broadcast equipment is increasingly recognised as an exciting way to deliver a unique learning experience. Here, Greg Hodgson, senior leader at The Chalfonts Community College, Gerrards Cross, provides his advice for those considering introducing a radio studio.

Pedagogical delivery is ever adapting in line with the requirements of learners, with new technologies introduced to engage and motivate. As a plethora of innovative and appealing ICT solutions become available, it is a challenge for those involved in educational resource procurement to ensure that budgets are invested most effectively. In order to fully reap the benefits of radio broadcast equipment, decision makers need to conduct thorough research to ensure a positive return on investment.

The Chalfonts Community College introduced its radio studio 12 months ago. Our reason for introducing radio broadcast equipment was due to its cross-curricular benefits and ability to engage students both inside and outside of lessons. Selecting the equipment is a substantial investment and consequently a complex process with so many areas for consideration. Based upon my experiences, listed are the main points to take into account when looking for a solution:

1.     Is the software and hardware originally designed for schools?

If procuring radio equipment for a school environment, the needs and requirements will hugely contrast to the needs of those working in a commercial environment. During my research, I encountered equipment that was not designed specifically for education, and when I tested it realised that although it was effective when used by a technical professional, in terms of educational usage it was not fit-for-purpose. Do not be shy to interrogate your manufacturer and ensure they have taken a classroom situation into account when designing the equipment. The danger lies that if the supplier provides a solution not intended solely for educational purposes, only four to five people are able to convene to use it, however, for educational purposes it would need to allow up to 30 children to use it.

2.     The analogue vs. digital decision

One of the biggest decisions to consider when implementing a radio station is whether to select analogue or digital. After researching it became apparent that digital could be learnt a great deal faster by teacher and learner alike, is more robust and can be overseen by a very basic user to facilitate its use. Where a high volume of users will be interacting with the system and on a tight time scale, a digital solution was the only way to make this work with novice users. The analogue solutions were typically cheaper in price however, comparatively, do not provide full representation of a commercial radio environment and from our perspective would be too time-consuming and reliant on a technician to implement or sustain. A digital solution is intuitive, providing portability and potential for a more commercial approach to building radio shows, with equipment that was state-of-the-art yet user friendly.

3. How easy is it to return the equipment back to its usual state?

For any piece of equipment, requiring frequent technical attention makes that equipment hugely ineffective. Consider how easily technical problems can be resolved with your new radio broadcasting system. Teachers should be able to return the equipment back to its original state once it has been used, for the next class or student. If this has to be done by a technician it could prove disruptive, especially if they are tied up with other duties. If during a lesson the equipment needs to be returned to its original state for any reason, it would waste valuable learning time to need to wait for a technician.  

4.     The importance of training and support

With regard to training, I recommend you question whether the company and those providing the training have experience within an educational environment. Many companies provide training delivered by an IT expert rather than someone who understands education – they should be Ofsted certified trainers. Trainers who are accustomed to providing guidance within a technical environment will naturally be highly skilled with the broadcast technology, however, this does not necessarily translate in the same way when providing training to teachers. In an educational environment, it is important that the teachers are trained in how to teach using the equipment rather than the focus being on detailed technical training and simply how to use it. In terms of post installation support, it would be in a school's best interest to ensure that dedicated support providers are available and that they have an educational understanding and background.

5.     Question whether the broadcast solution is manufactured by one company

Any school should ask the question of how many companies are involved in the manufacture of the solution. Is it one company manufacturing every individual part or is it that different parts are provided by various companies? This is important for schools because ideally any upgrades and changes need to be free.  Should they need to replace a part a few months, or even years, after installation it is detrimental if the manufacturer they purchased their solution from is unable to provide something due to no longer existing, for example. It should all be compatible and schools need to question whether it would be provided free-of-charge. It is particularly positive if the company the school purchases from is manufacturing all parts, rather than buying and selling them.

Enhancing education with radio

Our radio studio has and continues to present itself as an extremely positive acquisition for the school. It has enhanced the learning outcomes for our students, whilst providing the opportunities for them to boost their confidence. To maximise its benefits however, each school should thoroughly research the various solutions available to ensure a well-informed procurement is made.

The Chalfonts Community College, Gerrards Cross, uses Clyde Broadcast's Synergy School Radio solution