NBC's iCue Brings TV News to a New Generation

Free service supplements high school with edutainment of video, games, and peer networking.

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NBC News is launching an education site Sunday that features video from its archives. Aimed at kids 13 years and older, the free iCue lets students stockpile video clips, annotate them, and share them with friends.

The site works on the premise that "video will replace the textbook," says Adam Jones, an NBC News executive who's overseeing the network's efforts to leverage its archives and technology.

The iCue site—the name comes from Immerse, Connect, Understand, and Excel—will include numerous study guides that track high school Advanced Placement courses in U.S. history and politics, English composition, and other topics. It's starting next week with a guide to the 2008 elections.

Besides video and accompanying transcripts, the site features games, moderated discussion forums, and other activities. A staff of 60 is helping edit the clips, set up the study guides, and moderate discussions for NBC News. The network has spent more than $15 million on iCue and related projects, Jones says.

The site tries to answer a growing disconnect between how kids behave outside the classroom and how they're asked to learn inside it, Jones says: "Teaching methods have largely remained unchanged for over 100 years." NBC tried to find a way to work on the project with textbook publishers but couldn't find common ground, he says, adding that textbook publishers have held a virtual monopoly over educational materials.

And iCue hopes to connect today's teenagers with network news, which doesn't get much attention from Web-savvy youth. NBC hopes to eventually make some money, as well, by selling ads and soliciting corporate sponsors. Ads won't run during school hours to promote iCue's use in the classroom.

The site's forums will encourage students to discuss what they're studying in "peer networks" that reflect how kids actually use sites like MySpace and Facebook, says Scot Osterweil, creative director of the Education Arcade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His group studies how games promote learning and worked with NBC on iCue.

Kids are not networking online just for social reasons, he says. "We see them doing it as a way of accessing art and culture and sharing information with each other." ICue offers a relaxed and playful spirit while engaging kids with serious material, Osterweil says. "It doesn't automatically and immediately replace the school classroom and curriculum."