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I am a big fan of blogging about ode.

I believe in the right to be transparent about the development and not to be too “stealth” about the whole thing. It helps create conversations where there would ordinarily be no conversations at all.

I know for a fact that it has sparked some really interesting debate with those who have stumbled across it. It has also opened doors with a number of industry players who like what we have to say and they are intrigued enough to get involved, which is great.

We’re using our blog as a communication method to show what we are like as a team, our philosophy, our ambition and our commercial progress. I believe it gives more than any bland marketing website could give.

But yesterday I found out that the blog almost put off a potential supplier we really wanted to talk to. She didn’t explicitly not like the blog per say, but she didn’t “get it” (or at least “get what ode was about just from the blog”). I guess this must be a common pitfall of a commercial blog. In essence it’s fairly random and not a very straightforward way of delivering a clear message.

I think perhaps the supplier in question is used to pure marketing websites that say in no uncertain terms “We do A, B and C”. No ambiguity. No mixed messages. No wading through posts full of exposition about teddy bears and Google toilets.

In retrospect I can understand why this running commentary didn’t give her the comfort zone she needed. But not to worry. We will (eventually) build a “proper”marketing website with FAQs, Screenshots, marketing blurb etc. Maybe a platform blog can’t exist without one?

So until then I’m taking this opportunity to present some simple facts:

  1. ode is a website/platform that will allow educators to download or rent individual bits of learning content that other people have made. You buy it, we take our cut, the rest goes back to the content owner.
  2. We are a team of experienced elearning folks who are having the time of their lives creating what we hope will be the next big digital educational platform. We’re based in Oxford, UK and invested in/incubated originally by Harcourt, who are now Pearson of course.
  3. ode is being built now and we will be at BETT to show off progress so far and gather interested beta users and hopefully more content and platform partners.
  4. This is what we look like…

ode_team3.jpg

Back row from left: Dik Knights (Senior Content Architect), Stephane Ferenga (Digital Content Manager), Chris Bradford (Head of ode/Co-founder), Anthony Glass (Project Manager), James Christie (User Centered Design Consultant), Steve Jones (Rights Assistant).

Front row from left: Samir Sipraga (Senior Web Developer), Tony Pinchbeck (Software Developer), Ed Wong (Product Manager/Co-founder), Maria Newton (Testing/QA) , John Smith (Lead Developer).

Not forgetting Garrett Coakley who just started as a Web developer and Eylan Ezekiel as our Business Development Manager.

But to finish on a good note…Eylan met with said content supplier who after an in depth conversation is now apparently very excited by ode and the opportunities it presents. So sometimes you simply have to talk to people to cut out the noise!

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Steiff Bear

“(Our) reason for starting ode (was) to make a difference, to create something awesome, to celebrate what technology can do in the modern classroom for the modern student and, of course, for the modern teacher.”

I spoke to a very happy Mr B the other day and hence I’m not surprised by the heartfelt entry that he posted last week (even though he’s supposed to be on paternity leave). Not being a daddy myself, I guess I don’t really have quite the same perspective on why we’re doing ode but I definitely agree with the quote above from his previous post.

Why the teddy bear picture? Well, I was recently in Munich where I purchased a little Steiff (creators of some of the first teddy bears) teddy for the newly arrived Little Miss B. It occurred to be that when she gets it, this bear will be not just a new little friend to chew on…it will be one of the first teaching aids in her young life.

The swing tag on the teddy says:

“Babies discover the world every day anew and the Steiff baby articles help them to do this….By touching, feeling, probing everything in reach…babies are also learning to “grasp” the world…The toys are made of easily cleaned, robust materials…allowing each growing child to make some of its early discoveries in safety.”

That got me to thinking…Knowing her dad and also the age we’re living in, she’ll have her first Internet connected device before too long. I’ll be interested to see in the years (or weeks!) to come how soon technology starts to influence Izzy’s education.

At the moment, the humble teddy bear provides the type of development that a digital resource cannot provide. Will educational technology ever provide a replacement for the teddy bear? My natural reaction was, “No way” but then I recalled the “Shift Happens” video that was going around a while back and that you can see below…

Here’s the link to the US version

Figures such as, an estimated 40 exabytes (4.0 x 1019) worth of information was produced in 2006, which is more than in the preceding 5000 years combined and that we currently have the technology to transmit “10 trillion bits per second”…That’s 10,000,000,000,000 bites per second or 1,164 gigabytes per second, down a single optical fibre strand, taken at face value are amazing.

Meanwhile back in 2007, whenever I come across anyone who doesn’t “get” ode…and that is less and less frequent these days…I tend not to worry too much. Safe in the knowledge that what we’re doing now is only the tip of the iceberg as far as educational technology is concerned. While we’re not quite up to 10 trillion bits per second bandwidth for each user, it is getting better all the time. Wireless and handheld technologies are becoming more widespread and educationally relevant too.

Hopefully, in a flattened world ode will develop alongside the convergence of fast data transmission, cheap storage and other effects of the commoditisation of IT. Further to the premise of the Shift Happens presentation, the service that we launch in 2008 will be barely recognisable in 2013. Maybe, when Izzy has children of her own, maybe they will have their own digital, teddy replacements…perhaps some type of electronic environment that stimulates their developing senses that she downloads from ode??? Or maybe they’ll use their mother’s handed down Steiff teddy!?

Hey, that’s the end of my first odeworld blog post in quite some time! Did I make sense?

I know this is a commercial platform blog.

I know this is supposed to be about ode and digital content and elearning and all that jazz.

But sometimes you need to step back and ask yourself why we do what we do. My reason for starting ode with Ed Wong was to make a difference, to create something awesome, to celebrate what technology can do in the modern classroom for the modern student and, of course, for the modern teacher.

But now I have a new reason. A brand new reason to do what I do and do it as best I can.

Last week I became a father for the first time.

Her name is Isabella (Izzy for short). She was born at 2am, Saturday 13th October, weighing 8lbs and 14oz. She is healthy and happy. What I do from now on is for my family, to make sure my daughter has an education that will complement her as yet untrained digital native mind.

So forgive me for this utterly off topic post. Normal(ish) service will resume again very soon but just for now I hope you’ll allow the indulgence of a new Dad and help me celebrate her arrival.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Izzy less than 24 hours old

ODE is continuing to gather interest at a phenomenal rate and we’re increasingly being asked to present the idea to a wide variety of excited potential suppliers and partners. And the first thing that has to happen is we have to describe, simply and succinctly, why ode is the best thing ever, ever, ever.

And 9 times out of 10 that calls for someone, usually me, standing in front of a group of people who would rather be somewhere else and talking at them whilst they doodle or stare blankly out of the window.

Traditionally we’d be called upon to do a Powerpoint presentation. Now if you’ve ever had any sort of office job I’m 99% sure you’ll have sat through presentations so boring you have to keep repeatedly thrusting a biro into your leg under the table to keep you awake. How many of the following do you recognise?:

  • A presenter who monotonously reads each bullet point from the screen.
  • A complex 3D bar chart with a tiny and pointless legend that looks awful more than 12 inches away.
  • A presenter who speakssoquicklyyoucan’tunderstandwhatthey’resaying or someone who speaks….so…..slowly…er…that…er….you…um or someone who speaks so quietly that you soon lose the will to live.
  • Any of the following generic sound effects: an audience weakly clapping for a few seconds, a rocket taking off, a screech of car brakes or bullet being fired. Often accompanied by a literal interpretation using cheap clipart.
  • Animated GIFs, zany and wacky fonts (I’m looking at you Comic Sans), zealous over use of the zoooooom animation.
  • The presenter talking to themselves as they try to navigate their own presentation (“Now where’s that button. It was here a minute ago. Talk amongst yourselves…Oh here it is. Oops, that’s opened the internet, hang on where was I…”)

So what makes a great presenter and a great presentation? Can you have one without the other? If you can do at least some of the following you’re half way there I think:

  • Prepare and rehearse your first few sentences – I find the first few minutes terrifying and then relax quickly after that.
  • Open with a statement of intent and/or shock your audience into paying attention. Don’t worry too much about an agenda, who cares?
  • Don’t use a stock template, that’s lazy and they’re often bland and uninteresting. Create your own and be consistent for every slide – do not chop and change backgrounds and fonts on each slide.
  • Ditch the bullet points. Everyone reads them immediately before you even have a chance to go through them and it will encourage you not to read from the screen.
  • Don’t use sentences. Use bold statements and snappy copy. Use the words as a prompt to a subject, not as the subject itself.
  • A good tip if you are speaking in a large auditorium is to have the laptop in front of you and the screen behind. Then you can use the laptop to prompt yourself but are addressing the crowd not the screen.
  • Plain white background with a large black font works. Alternatively jet black background with a large white font works well too. Keep it simple.
  • Instead of trying to open a live website take screenshots beforehand and fill the slide edge to edge – box out in red areas you want your audience to focus on.
  • Stay away from fancy animations unless they’re intrinsic to your “narrative”. ‘Fade’ and ‘Appear’ should suffice. No harm in speeding them up either.
  • Tell a story, it’s more interesting – have a clear narrative curve from your opening slide to the last.
  • Try to avoid taking questions until the end as this will ruin your flow.
  • To respect people’s right not to have to endure rather than enjoy your presentation keep trimming it down until each slide contains just the core message.
  • If you use images or screenshots make them high resolution. Try to picture what they might look like 12 foot away at the end of a boardroom table.
  • Assume the surface you might be projecting on is going to be utterly dreadful and in full sun glare, thus rendering your slides useless. Oh, and the sound won’t play, the screen won’t connect and your internet connection will be slow if not non-existent. Contingency is vital.
  • What you think is a funny slide will likely not be on the day. Trust me.
  • Make the end obvious and clear. Be interesting, be enigmatic, don’t be afraid to leave on a cliffhanger – this may lead to some interesting debate.
  • Drink heavily prior to your presentation.
  • I’m joking! Everything in moderation.

Watch and learn from the masters:

Seth Godin presenting to Google:

Watch Dick Hardt and the 1 second per slide and you’ll see how it could be done with a little imagination and grace:


Guy Kawasakis 10-20-30 rule is worth following too:

To see how to destroy a passionate and exciting talk see “The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation” by Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google:

http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/ Read the rest of this entry »