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Apparently the BBC are going to launch a virtual world for 7-12 year olds called “CBBC World” in the Summer.

“Users would be able to build an online presence, known as an avatar, then create and share content.”

There are already many MMORGs around that some 7-12 year olds (especially boys I imagine due to their commonly used fantasy themes) know all about or use. And this generation will already be comfortable splitting their personality across avatars/profiles all over the Internet, so that’s an easy sell.

Traditionally kids of this age cannot participate in these virtual worlds due to their payment schemes and you need to hold a credit card e.g. World of Warcraft to pay for access, or they’re simply too adult (read: too boring) to be of any interest to a 10 year old e.g. Second Life.

Admittedly you can sometimes buy vouchers for subscription credits and Guild Wars is one example that is free to use and pretty successful (but has age restrictions that require parental consent if aged between 16-18).

“Those building CBBC World said the emphasis would be on safety and responsibility, with no chatrooms or facilities for building new parts of the virtual world.”

Surely the emphasis should be on learning through immersion? I would argue that as it will be part of the CBBC brand safety and responsibility will be built right in. If there’s one thing a parent knows about CBBC is that they’re a known and trusted service – it goes without saying that they’ll deliver on that aspect.

“Knowing that the BBC reads every message it receives on it’s children’s message boards…and looking at the volume of use they get, you can deduce (without me breaking any confidentially clauses) that the BBC has a huge moderation budget that the rest of the industry would be envious of.”

Benmetcalfe Blog

So is a virtual world, an educational virtual world, a sanitised uncommunicative risk free educational virtual world, a good thing? Or indeed a fun thing? What else is there when you’re 9 years old?

Without communication between players can it even work as a virtual construct? I guess “no chatrooms” doesn’t necessarily imply “no chat” between players but any chat between players is still chat, and I assume the reason for blocking that function is the same thing.

But aside from that the possibilities for content delivery in a world like this are endless. That’s what has to be right. Sure, kids could share content they’ve made themselves but how cool would it be to teach in a virtual world without your students knowing they’re being taught?

Each type of content could be presented in a virtual space. Consider:

  • A virtual movie theatre where you can key word search movie clips and buy them to carry around with your avatar. And watch them too of course.
  • A virtual exam building where 100’s of test exampapers are stored for you to browse and use a study aid.
  • A virtual adventure course where you have to hunt down 3D Maths activities and games that you have to complete before finishing the course. And there would have to be hidden games, accessible only to the most determined players on top of virtual mountains, deep in virtual forests or at the bottom of the virtual ocean.
  • Resource badges – collect and complete literacy and numeracy activities to earn enough badges for the right to enter a Virtual Tournament to win big prizes for your school.

…and so on.

I could see a whole product range of virtual constructs that contain content from many different publishers and developers being plugged into this world on a regular basis.

All it would need was an inclusive development, solid overarching quality control system and a decent API and the world could grow organically, presenting fresh educational experiences around every corner.

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There’s a great interview with the author of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” at Guy Kawasakis blog.

Essentially it’s a list of 6 things that certain ideas or products have that propels them to great things. He quotes JFK sending a man to the moon as a good example:

  1. Simple A single, clear mission.
  2. Unexpected A man on the moon? It seemed like science fiction at the time.
  3. Concrete Success was defined so clearly—no one could quibble about man, moon, or decade.
  4. Credible This was the President of the U.S. talking.
  5. Emotional It appealed to the aspirations and pioneering instincts of an entire nation.
  6. Story An astronaut overcomes great obstacles to achieve an amazing goal.

But what intrigued me more was the idea that excess knowledge can bring confusion, paralysis, procrastination and can break the back of a good idea.

How many ideas have been dismissed, shelved or diluted because someone in a position of knowledge said “but it’s too hard, there’s already someone doing it, there’s no demand for it or our research shows it just wouldn’t work“.

“Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators.”

Chip Heath

When ode first started to happen we developed an “elevator pitch”. In essence this exercise is part of any agile development that is supposed to summarise your whole idea.

It’s the pitch you would give to your CEO if you happened to bump into them in the elevator (I know we’re in the UK but “lift pitch” doesn’t sound nearly so glamorous) and they turned to you and uttered the words you never want your boss to utter: “Tell me all about this idea you’ve had. Quickly.

Your response has to encapsulate your whole strategy in all of about 30 secs. Not easy.

So we got the team together and came up with this:

“For educators who want to plan and deliver inspiring and engaging learning experiences ode is a digital content store that gives you trusted content on demand. Unlike all other educational e-content repositories our product offers a comprehensive range of commercial and peer generated material which is pedagogically sound and meets the needs of the modern educator.”


That was the work of at least 12 bright, competent people and me. It does summarise much of what we intend to achieve with ode but if I really want to let someone know what ode wants to be I give them the Hollywood pitch:

“Online content store for educational digital content”

That sentence gives the idea a physicality (the Internet) , a sales model (store), a market position (education) and a saleable commodity (digital content).

Now the Hollywood pitch won’t guarantee you immediate understanding in everyone but the vast majority will have just enough information to make it sticky in their minds. There’s no over-communication.

We’re not interested in achieving a spiritual advancement for mankind, pushing the back the envelope of engineering, furthering man’s ambition to walk amongst the stars, rapidly expanding our knowledge of our universe and developing new technological advances.

We just want to put a man on the moon.

Former Director of GLOW John Connell blogs about the Long Tail

“The simplistic view would be to see the long tail in curricular terms: the interactive Web means that, in theory, every learner should be able to learn what they want when they want, without having to worry about the structural constraints that are inherent in any formal system of education. But this doesn’t work – as yet – in reality. Why not?”

Wow, that practically is ode. The man’s a visionary. The liberation of content will set in motion the idea of the continuously changing curriculum, that is all about reacting to learning demands minute by minute (rather than government by government ho ho).

By the way Chris Anderson’s book is a great read and is one of the most exciting Internet economy theories I’ve ever read. The original article will tell you everything you need to know.

The content you stream or download from ode will be packaged to be useful across many different media players.

Primarily all content will be SCORM 1.2  or 2004 compliant so you can plug it into your VLE, theoretically it doesn’t matter which one. You will also be able to display content from your ode content library from your laptop to an Interactive whiteboard or across your network.

And then there’s mobile phones, ipods and so on.

Or you can start getting really clever.

Dik, our Senior Content Guru, recently got a Nintendo Wii (none of us are even remotely jealous) and wondered what it would be like to use Educational content with the wonderful Wii remote, which supports Flash 7 in Wii’s Opera browser downloaded through WiFi.

Well wonder no more. When you isolate content and have hardware that can show it (Iphone? PSP? Gameboy DS?) you can really start to have some fun. Just look at her face as she learns with a console! A text book just can’t compete.

This blog has gone up early, well before product or even beta release and for good reason. We’re as interested in discussing technology in Education as we are in building ode. We think the two go hand in hand.

We also want to bring people round to the whole idea of ode and “on demand” personalised teaching, what it might mean for your students and you as an educator.

I was unable to get a chance to speak to anyone on the Heppell.net stand at BETT (not important enough yet I guess! Too intimidated by all the big educational brains swarming around it) but I have been reading up on his thinking and there was an article recently in the Education Guardian Link section (which is new I think) where he says:

“Freedom, space and expectation allowed tiny technology companies to change the world. Now we need that same freedom, space and expectation to transform learning” – Professor Stephen Heppell in the Education Guardian, Jan 9th, 2007 (www.Heppell.net, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Heppell and http://rubble.heppell.net/weblog/bett/)

That’s where we want to be. We want to be that small but disruptive force that powers a new way of educating. People talk about fresh thinking but we aim for fresh action. There is a difference.

Just a quick post to thank everyone who spared some time to talk to me about ode. I deliberately sought each of you out for many reasons – I already knew who you were by reputation or I liked the look of your content or you had been personally recommended as someone to talk to by a colleague.

But all of you got ode, which was very comforting. I don’t think a digital download service for education is that scary or radical and many of you commented that you felt this, as a way of selling your digital content, was a natural progression.

I hope to speak to all of you again when the rush of BETT has calmed down over the next few weeks and we can talk more in depth about our plans. I spoke to loads of folks but I hope you don’t mind me name checking those of you that really stood out below:

Sunflower Learning – fantastic multimedia science resources

Sunflower Learning

Gridclub – Very popular Primary level interactive games and activities

Gridclub

Educationcity – Interactive Online media makers

EducationCity

Boardworks – PowerPoint presentations across the curriculum

Boardworks

Channel 4 – Clip bank video resources

Channel 4

Digital Worlds -Embedding GIS across many subjects

Digital Worlds

Birchfield Interactive – Multimedia resources and Interactive lesson builders

Birchfield

Crick Software – Reading and Writing software for children of all abilities

Crick

Daydream Education – Digital Wallcharts and Whiteboard resources

Daydream

Sensei Media – 3D animation content, packaged for mobile delivery

Sensei media

Brain Pop – Animated movies and interactive content

Brainpop

Rising Stars – Educational book and software publishers

Rising Stars

Sam Learning – The UK’s most popular Online Subscription service for schools (congrats on the BETT award!)SAM Learning

Smart Learning – Educational resources from Foundation to Key Stage 3 (congrats on the BETT award!)

Virtual Image – Using virtual 3d images to improve mathematical skills

Riverdeep – Interactive Educational Software builders

Dyslexia Action – UKs leading provider of dyslexia support

Q & D Multimedia – Multimedia resource creators at Foundation level

Timeline Studio – Timeline software “Capturing time visually”

Moodle – We ♥ Moodle.

Moodle

If you want to know more get in touch!

Welcome to the ode blog, the new home of our Online Distribution Engine technology. This is my first ever post and we’ve only just started coding so no screenshots, no witty asides or links or YouTube videos of us miming to anything yet. But don’t worry – they can’t be that far away.

Let’s just get this thing going.

If you need to know more browse the pages above or get in contact. Loads more will be added on a regular basis so add our feed or just pop back now and again to catch up on all the progress.

My name’s Chris and over the next few months I’ll be your guide through the development of ode.