Friday, March 23, 2007

The Educational TK-Maxx

Today I dashed up the M40 to the NEC for The Education Show. It's always the proverbial curate's egg - to me it's TK Maxx compared to BETT's PC World - random booths offering random things. Where else could you see the the suits of Specialist Schools' Trust next to the perma-smiling blonde Innocent Smoothies people?
I went for a number of reasons, but ended up having far more useful conversations with people I hadn't anticipated meeting. For those used to the mothership-sized stands at BETT it's odd to see companies like RM squeezed on to a small-ish booth.
People I spoke to:

  • 2Simple - I got a few of their primary titles at the Naace Conference and have been working out what schools who purchase their titles could use on their Moodles. At the moment there's not much SCORM material, but lots of the titles are made from the usual suspects of Flash, Flash Video, MPEG and other common file formats, which could be uploaded into Moodle. Like a stuck record, I kept on about the idea that teachers need to use software & content in a way that suits them, which isn't always the way the companies selling the stuff imagine. One idea for someone like 2Simple would be allowing schools to pay a fixed figure (say a couple of hundred pounds) and be allowed to choose "any five from fifteen" items / sections / themes of the 2Simple products. This would mean:

    1. Schools could get exactly what they wanted rather than the vendor's chosen set of tools to teach (say) KS1 literacy. They wouldn't have significant bits of purchased software unused. Schools could also purchase exactly what they needed to support the nature of their ethnic / gender / ability mix.
    2. Learners would get much more appropriate resources (assuming the people doing the purchasing have done proper evaluations) and wouldn't be using irrelevant (for them) bits of content just because they'd come bundled with the relevant stuff.
    3. Vendors would get a much clearer idea of which bits of their content where good / bad / ugly / just not used - as individual sections would be more or less popular - surely that's useful information for any software vendor to have?

  • The DfES Publications team asking if they could improve the RSS feeds which their site offers. At the moment there are only two, but surely it makes sense (and since the information's coming from a database) to be able to see (for example) all publications related to English and Literacy, rather than "all publications". People in schools are busy - I'm not sure people in government offices (both local and national) realise this sometimes - a little vision I've had for a while is of leaders in schools using a friendly RSS reader to find out the information they really need, rather than just guessing or stumbling across it with a browser. Anyway, more specific feeds should be on the way soon.
  • Teachers' TV asking questions about embedding content YouTube or Google Video style using embed tags. The response was that "this is coming" - at the moment you need to log in, download the video and then do whatever it is you want, normally involving sizeable media files. My vision for this is that schools could embed appropriate Teachers' TV videos in their Moodles for NQT areas, pupil areas and (for example) teaching assistants, using the Roles sections. In Bucks we could also embed them in our central Moodle pages to support subject and other areas. So, hopefully TTV resources might end up as Flash video and then will be oh-so-much easier to use elsewhere - and I'm pretty sure TTV want to disseminate their content as far and wide as possible.
    I was asking about RSS feeds as well and was shown that, since the site's been restructured, there are individual feeds for each area, right down to specifics (for example Subjects > MFL > Language Skills has its own feed of videos).
  • Channel 4 regarding their ClipBank service - gigabytes and gigabytes of video which currently isn't browser-based or SCORM compliant. Their estimate is that this would
    be SCORM compliant "by BETT next year" but in the meantime I'm interested in teachers being able to take this content and use it how they want to. The response was that since they have commissioned content creators to create the material then schools changing it would infringe the creators' copyright. I think that somewhere there's the need for the recognition that good teachers will enhance material like this by placing it in interesting and diverse contexts - obviously it's important to respect copyright, but there are other ways of licensing content, I don't think I've seen many commercial educational content companies using Creative Commons... anyone know of any? Anyway, the C4 people said they'd recently agreed some sort of deal with Espresso (Mr Bronze was around the stand) - does this mean that it'll be easier to disaggregate content or more difficult? Bizarrely the History MPEG example of Clipbank content isn't available from the Channel 4 web site due to copyright reasons. Eh?
  • Nelson Thornes - getting some examples of their VLE content to give examples to schools of what's possible. Eventually these will live in a restricted-access resource on the BucksGfL Moodle, with individuals from schools being able to see samples of content (from NT, 2Simple, Learn.co.uk and others... I hope). This should enable schools to make more informed software purchases, so that rather than thinking "can I use this in my school?" they might start to think "can I use this on my Moodle?".

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