A little over a year ago I wrote a piece reflecting upon the journey of my company, Collingwood Learning through the first year of the COVID pandemic. At that point in time, I was quite sure that we had experienced the most tumultuous and transformative time we were ever likely to face, as a company that has traditionally devised, produced and delivered live theatre-based educational programmes.
One of our flagship projects is the global alcohol education programme for 11-16-year-olds ‘Smashed’; a programme delivered in over 30 countries worldwide. Many of our delivery partners across the globe were facing the same disruption due to lockdowns and social distancing protocols that we were here in the UK. The most significant implication of this being that a live in-school programme tasked with reaching over half a million young people annually, was indefinitely paused.
By Spring 2021, we had embraced livestreaming as a viable way to deliver ‘as-live’ experiences into schools, from the COVID-secure confines of a studio in West Yorkshire! Using the technology and tools afforded by Microsoft Teams, and an amazing production team, we successfully broadcast live, interactive educational events to over 59,000 young people across the UK.
In addition, we took our first tentative steps into the world of e-learning… And what a journey it’s been!
In early 2021 we produced a ‘rough and ready’ e-learning module which used a recorded performance of the live theatre-based version of the UK ‘Smashed’ storyline as the stimulus around which a series of questions and activities were structured. While relatively basic in its design, this proved to be an incredibly popular resource (particularly during the first UK lockdown) with tens of thousands of sign-ups and completions.
This got us thinking about the potential for an e-learning solution to form a fully-fledged delivery mechanism for Smashed globally, not only as a response to COVID, but as a viable long-term means of reaching young people who perhaps might not be easily accessible via a traditional theatre-in-education tour.
Work begun in earnest, rebuilding Smashed as an online learning experience from the ground up to be a truly appealing and relevant learning platform for 11-16-year-olds. At the forefront of our minds throughout the planning, creative design and production of the resource was that the course should never feel patronising, ‘cringy’ or lecturing – we would not shy away from presenting as realistic a view of the teenage experience as possible.
The theatrical script and storyline were rewritten into a fully realised, cinematic screenplay, set in the real world and reflecting the experiences of teenagers today. Given how much filmed drama young people are exposed to, we were committed to ensuring that the production values and quality of the film content for Smashed Online was on a par with the broadcast and film media that our audience would be familiar with.
Over the fullness of the course, we tell the story of three teenage friends, Freddie, Georgia and Malik and their early experiences with alcohol.
As the Smashed Live experience incorporates an interactive workshop with ‘forum theatre’ elements, so too Smashed Online needed to provide the user with opportunities to interact with the three main characters. Practically this necessitated the creation of a series of branch-out moments where we depart the main narrative to allow users to have ‘conversations’ with the characters through a video-call interface onscreen. To feel as fluid as possible, this required over 100 filmed ‘confessional’ elements which combined to make up these interactive conversations, directed by the user through a series of question choices provided at relevant moments in the course.
An intuitive user interface was developed to further immerse users in the Smashed Online experience, with knowledge and understanding checked through a series of integrated activities that take the form of conversations with the main characters via social media and SMS feeds. The aim being to create a seamless and immersive experience rather than a series of films punctuated by a series of questions as can often be the case in film-led e-learning courses.
The finished module was launched initially in three countries, including the UK, and met with immediate praise from students and educators alike.
Over the course of the past 12 months, we have been engaging with production partners globally to create further unique versions of Smashed Online, entirely rescripted and filmed in each country to ensure linguistic and cultural relevance around the world. As I write, we have 16 international versions of this digital learning resource live and entirely free to access worldwide, thanks to sponsorship from our corporate partners at Diageo. Considering that Smashed Online didn’t even exist until a year ago, it’s been something of a whirlwind!
We have already seen over 295,000 users sign-up to Smashed Online and over 210,000 young people have now completed the course.
And what next? We have further new global versions of Smashed Online in development, set to go live over the course of 2022. Already we have added a number of new features to the Smashed Online experience, most significantly to facilitate a teacher-led route through the course, allowing teachers and facilitators to deliver the course in a classroom setting. This programme of ongoing development is set to continue, with plans already forming around additional functionality and content specifically for parents in the future.
So, in summary, while 2020-21 certainly marked a huge change in direction for Collingwood, if I were to describe any 12 months as being truly transformative for our business, it would be the past year and our quite unexpected emergence from the COVID crisis as proud parents of a brand new global edtech resource! Who knows what the next year will bring?
Smashed Online is an entirely free alcohol education resource suitable for KS3 & KS4 students in the UK and can be found at: https://online.smashedproject.org/uk