Figure 1. Front page of BBC Learning English.
One of the guiding principles of the BBC is that audiences are at the heart of everything we do. User participation is key to the success of the BBC Learning English website. When the site launched in 1996, it was completely text-based with no audio, video, or discussion/comments facilities. However, the increasing ubiquity of Internet and e-mail connection was brought home to us when we received an e-mail from a teacher in Germany, complaining that the Words in the News feature (currently at the News English [http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/newsenglish/] page) had not been published that day as normal (we were experiencing technical difficulties). This event prompted us to explore the means of establishing communication with our users and enabling them to communicate with us and each other in ways that had hitherto been impossible.
First Steps Towards a Learning Community
We began by setting up e-mail discussions and message boards (see the BBC World Service: Learning English Message Board [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mble/]. The role of BBC Learning English staff was to guide and moderate discussions, relating them to the content of the main website, but such attempts met with limited success. We discovered that the popularity--and content--of both the e-mail discussions and the message boards, while conducted largely in English, bore very little relation to the content of the main website, nor did it to the contributions of our staff. On the contrary, users seemed determined to dictate the content of these portals to the exclusion of the
TESL-EJ 11.4, March 2008
Chapman & Scott