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We’re all in this technology game for pretty much two reasons.

  1. We are not satisfied with how things are or used to be. We tend to be consistently hungry for the next step in technology, whatever form this may take.
  2. We secretly wish we were in Star Wars/Star Trek (delete as appropriate).

Well not much tends to make me sit up and spit my coffee from my nose these days but the following video, and I suggest you watch it all the way through, brings both together rather successfully. There’s nothing educational about this but LOOK AT THE BIG ROBOT DOG!

Thanks to 37 Signals for the spot.

Hi all, I’m a new poster to the odeworld blog. My name is Peter Marshall and I’ve recently joined the ode team as a software engineer and was prompted by Mr B to blog a couple of observations that peaked his interest. So here goes!

I saw an announcement today for another £100 laptop for school kids, the “Elonex One” that will be running the Linux OS. This also comes hot on the heels of the Eeepc from Asus and they’re both very impressive.

I can also say, from first hand experience, that there is a lot of interest in these small PCs from my children and their friends. The interest to own one is being driven by the children; it doesn’t appear to be a parent led thing as in “lets buy a PC because its educational”.

I am also seeing a significant change in the way my children use and collaborate on work at school.

I think its beginning to turn into a movement driven by and for the student.

The government and schools always thought that they had to provide email for pupils. I distinctly remember there were government led initiatives to provide an email address for every school child (they failed). It became apparent it was unnecessary. No school child uses their school email address (even if they have one). They have always sourced their own.

The same has happened to documents and files. Schools thought they had to provide networks and file space and protection and all kinds of administration and support for children to upload homework files etc. Well, they don’t. Not anymore. My children use Google docs to collaborate (IN REAL TIME) with their mates to create work.

They also don’t bother to use the school network anymore. The school network naturally restricts how much space they can use to store work and students moving from the mindset outside school of web hosting services that freely grant upwards of 100GB of space to a school model that perhaps gives them 50MB and you can see why.

I can see that moving forward the only service the school has to provide is high speed access to the internet. Both the Asus Eeepc and the Elonexone devices come with full wireless internet access. Aside from any mindless controversy I think schools will very soon start to provide blanket wireless access points for pupils. In fact, it’s inevitable.

My children have made videos of their friends explaining all about pathogens for their biology homework. They upload the videos on to Youtube or Vimeo and present them in school (the school has not blocked Youtube…yet!).

Before the lesson most of the class has seen the video and rated or commented on it (because the link was shared using social networking sites in a peer to peer fashion). All this happens long before the teacher saw it in class.

What does this imply? That the teacher in this instance has become the slow link in the learning chain. And it will take a fundamental shift in thinking to make them once again an intrinsic part of the learning loop going forward.

From the students perspective a lot is changing very fast and the technology is naturally appearing to facilitate it. Demand and supply. I can see children progressing and branching in their own direction at such a pace I fear schools and the education sector are just getting left behind.

These small incredibly cheap PCs come with Linux, access to open source collaboration tools and wireless access and I think they are going to cause some big changes.

Go and see the video here: Biology video about Pathogens from Pierre Marshall on Vimeo.

This week BBC Radio 4 are running a series of broadcasts on intellectual property called “Mine all Mine”, starting today, focusing on “the global war between the defenders of intellectual property and those determined to share it”.

It’s a look at the legal implications of digital delivery of virtual content and should be really interesting. The 4th and 5th one are of particular interest to us.

My Idea -Monday 25 February 15:45-16:00
Most scientists and inventors want to protect their work with patents, filing hundreds of thousands every year. But without patents could the world have cheaper healthcare and more efficient cars?

My Name- Tuesday 26 February 15:45-16:00
Trademarks have to be protected, but should anyone be allowed to trademark a colour or a phrase? And is it really a sin to buy a fake Rolex watch?

My Music- Wednesday 27 February 15:45-16:00
The music industry has been revolutionised by the internet explosion. With free music available online, why should anyone pay for it?

My Pictures-Thursday 28 February 15:45-16:00
Anyone with a broadband computer can now download and watch virtually any movie free of charge. This is illegal, but the chances of being prosecuted are close to zero. Some consider this the death of an industry, but others call it healthy anarchy.

My Words-Friday 29 February 15:45-16:00
Plagiarism has become a nightmare for teachers, publishers and journalists. Anyone from a lowly GCSE student to a high-profile writer can easily copy a chunk of text from a website, and it is equally easy to catch someone doing so. But there are those who defend the free exchange of other people’s words as a basic liberty.

I hope they don’t mind me cutting and pasting their listing into this blog. That would be ironic, eh?

What ode is attempting to do is pretty new, in the education sector at any rate. When you are trying to do something never attempted before you are keenly aware that you are unlikely to be the only person thinking in that manner.

There are almost certainly business people out there cleverer, better funded, more smartly dressed and considerably more successful with women than you’ll ever be. At least that’s how it feels when one company after another announces it’s involvement in this space.

But the reality is you shouldn’t fear the competition. You need to flip that thinking on it’s head and approach it from a completely different angle. And here’s why.

Like any business we keep an eye on what our “competitors” are doing – what new features have they added? What content have they got? What markets are they trying to break into? What are people saying about them? Do our customers use them? And so on.

Feeling a bit sick of riding this paranoia roller coaster I emailed one of my personal heroes, Seth Godin, internet marketing guru extraordinare, and asked for his advice on dealing with this issue. This is what he said:

  1. the enemy isn’t the competition
  2. it’s obscurity
  3. they help you
  4. they legitimize the space
  5. just do a great job

I never really expected a reply (I mean, this is a man that advises Google and been described as “the Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age” by Business Week) so once I’d got over the shock at his quick and valuable response I realised that what he said made enormous sense. I reprint them here with his kind permission.

The enemy isn’t the competition, it’s obscurity

In this new information age customers can move between products and brands faster than at any other time in history. We are digital magpies, flitting around looking for the shiny stuff.

The ability to make quick choices, to gather commentary on services and products and bask in the glow of a million and one paths has never been easier. As consumers we are empowered. As businesses we have to integrate widely and cheaply to earn people’s interest.

It’s not enough anymore to rely on catalogues and pull outs in magazines to sell our message. We have to focus our attention on taking our products to where the people are, and they are splintered across multiple niches now, not just a homogeneous mass silently consuming in front of the TV.

So the message here is that if you are going to focus anywhere, forget what others are doing and concentrate on making people aware of your product. When there are 1000’s of companies all using megaphones to shout at potential customers they understandably tune out and become ultra selective.

Understand where YOUR people hang out, LISTEN to what they have to say, make your product FLEXIBLE enough that you can tailor it to multiple needs. People want to talk about good products more than ever these days. There’s kudos and respect being gathered by consumers out there – make your product worth talking about and the real enemy, obscurity, will fade away.

They help you, they legitimize the space

You may be the only chocolate umbrella company in the world but on a global platform you will likely be a lone voice. This doesn’t make your product awful but it makes it harder to acquire customers. When customers are actively blocking out marketing noise you may remain forever niche without the funds or reach required to take your Chocobrella™ to the next level.

But then you hear that Mars is making a range of confectionery based outdoor apparel – liquorice scarfs, toffee wellington boots and nougat gloves. Initially you will panic, because they are a global corporation with huge marketing budgets, R&D departments and national distribution networks.

But instead what they are doing is raising the awareness of sugar laden weather wear, a wave which you can capitalise on.

Suddenly you have options – people will start searching for similar items on Google, you can work your niche appeal and create bespoke Chocobrellas™ for the more discerning client, lifestyle magazines will start to run comparison articles on this new trend for edible clothing and so on. They have justified your idea and will expand your market for you.

They are not the competition, they are simply a different angle on the same market. Soon others will join in and before you know it you are playing in a million dollar marketplace that previously didn’t exist. This isn’t to say the hard work has finished (see point 1) but your choices suddenly become infinitely more appealing.

Just do a great job

This is the killer point though. Forget what the competition is doing, it’s out of your hands after all, and expend your energies on being the best you can be.

It’s not enough to say your product is good (“Product X will save you time!”), it has to be truly good (customers are spontaneously telling each other Product X saves them time without prompting from you).

People will have passion for it, they will champion it, they will spread the word – the tools are all out there for consumers to do that on massive scale.

I’d add one more point: A competitor might be a collaborator

We are building ode in such a way that it can be broken up into elements, re-packaged or white labeled and inserted into almost any web based technology for any number of reasons.

We can open up ode’s functions and data bit by bit, exclusively and/or publicly to whoever we like. We are in favour of collaborations that are mutually beneficial. In this day and age products that offer openness and willingness to participate will win. So before you label someone a competitor – could they really be a collaborator if a middle ground can be found?

So, Seth did a great job of when answering my email and now I’m telling you about it thus making him look cool which I’m happy to do. Simply by taking a minute to answer my email he has likely won some new fans. Now go and buy Purple Cow, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers and his new book, Meatball Sundae.

Joe Nocera, writing in the New York Times about how Amazon sent him out a free, no quibbles replacement Playstation when the one he had ordered was stolen on route to his house, says that Amazon’s success is not down to discounting or functionality or ubiquity (although of course all these things help) – it’s down to absolute, unwavering focus on the customer.

“I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, on the Charlie Rose show

Until I saw it written down like that I hadn’t really ever stood back and understood just how much this novel attitude is threaded throughout the Amazon experience. So much so that I don’t even notice it anymore, I just take it for granted. If I want to buy ANYTHING these days I always go to Amazon first (and usually last too).

But what really floored me was this:

“According to Forrester Research, 52 percent of people who shop online say they do their product research on Amazon.”

When I read that I thought that’s completely astonishing. Half of all internet shoppers check with Amazon before buying, as if Amazon is a trusted and wise friend. And I realised, like a splash of water to the face, that I do too. And I do it instinctively. I tend to do it in this order, mentally creating a set of benchmarks against which all other retailers must meet:

  1. Price
  2. Stock availability
  3. Customer reviews
  4. Preview and/or photo

And before I know it I usually then meander down to see what categories it sits in, have a little go on the sort/filter, check out what other people have bought and perhaps other items by the seller or band or author etc.

Basically I go in there to do a little research and before I know it I am deep into their site adding things to my basket, which means Amazon wins.

Even the basket is focused on my needs as I can leave things in there indefinitely until I’m ready to buy. I’ve never abandoned a basket on Amazon (and this is in an industry where there is typically a 50% abandonment rate of shopping baskets!).

They’ve made the online ecommerce experience so trustworthy that they get probably 9/10ths of all my online purchases.

We can all learn a lot from this approach. I can strongly recommend reading “The Institutional Yes” from the Harvard review for more insight into the Amazon experience.

As a visitor (or stand owner, it wasn’t too clear) at BETT I was emailed a link to a web survey this morning which at the end promised me exclusive access to a NERP report (National Education Research Panel) concerning the “new technology outlook (for schools) in 2008” driven by data gathered from “422 primary and 272 secondary schools cross the UK” in Dec ’07.

Amongst the usual bar charts and stat heavy paragraphs I soon noticed that mobile learning was taking a real hammering and schools were instead focusing heavily on front of class ICT.

In Primary Schools “…mobile devices continue being of little value or not utilised by the majority of Primary schools.

In Secondary Schools “…little or no investment is planned for mobile devices“.

This contrasted massively against the move towards more teacher-centric (or should that be static?) ICT utilities:

“Broadly, it can be determined that primary schools are more likely to value teacher-facing technologies such as IWBs, while secondary schools are more likely to value the core ICT infrastructure.”

“Secondary schools are mostly likely to make large investments in learning platforms (22%), and IWBs (23%).”

Again and again mobile ICT learning came out badly and teacher led ICT learning came out strongly.

Initially this led me to wonder if the fault lies with the mobile device manufacturers for making their products too expensive when compared to the (perceived) benefit it brings to the learning (“Secondary schools are…most likely to identify mobile devices as offering poor value-for-money“) . Or does the emphasis lie with mobile content publishers for not producing assets that capture teachers imaginations?

“Registration systems and mobile devices are more likely to be perceived as offering poor value-for-money.”

You could simply read into all this that teachers think the cost to benefit ratio is too high. But when you see this data alongside the drive to IWBs and VLEs it starts to look more than a cold financial decision: are schools afraid to move from a teacher controlled, front of class model (the interactive whiteboard) to a distributed, more student controlled model (the mobile device)?

Is it fear of letting go some of that control that is pushing mobile learning further and further from their minds? ICT has exploded into classrooms since the late 90’s and I can imagine schools are only now starting to get a true handle on it all. So is m-learning just a technology too far right now?

Or is it the perhaps unspoken idea that somehow the outside world of ipods, mobile/smart phones, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, Palm Pilots and so on are intrusive, chaotic and blur too obviously the boundaries between study (work) and non-study (play)?

Or is it something more practical? The small size of these devices could be an issue – after all a teacher can at least physically monitor a laptop screen or a Whiteboard – who can tell what’s going on on 30 small mobile devices in the classroom?

I don’t know – I’m not a teacher. But it’s obvious something fundamental has to shift and I think it’s a mindset, from LA level to Classroom teacher.

Of course data such as “…more than half of primary schools indicate the best delivery method for curriculum content in 2008 is via websites” and the emphasis on IWBs and VLEs is great for ode in general, it’s still a little disheartening that mobile learning investment is on such a downer.

Perhaps ode could contribute a kick start to m-learning – after all little bits of learning suit little learning devices, right?

The scope for mobile learning is enormous. The Wolverhampton “Learning2go” project has done some incredible work and companies such as look really interesting. There’s even a dedicated conference, Handheld Learning, although anyone that promotes a conference by using a quote from a Guardian journalist that says “These are not new technologies, and the speakers weren’t saying anything they hadn’t said several times before” doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.

I am 100% sure that one day someone will crack it and break down the barrier. It may be a generational thing – a mobile savvy 7 year old in a classroom today could be a captain of m-learning industry tomorrow.

The growing buzz we were generating at BETT soon made us forget our tired feet and sore backs as our stand became swamped almost from the moment the doors opened. So forgive the ebullience of this post: we’re just having so much fun.

What surprised us (we all thought beforehand that we’d be lucky to get any visitors to our stand beyond people asking if we knew where the toilets were) was how many people deliberately sought us out. We’ve never shown ode publicly before and we assumed no one knew who we are; we had hoped to catch people’s passing attention at best.

Hmmm, that was a little naive in hindsight.

People who had read the blog, heard about us on the industry grapevine or seen our entry in the BETT literature, liked what they saw, made a bee line for us and were excited by what we are trying to do.

Some simply wanted to say “keep up the good work, I hope it succeeds”, others wanted to quiz us on technical details or put faces to names.

Others wanted to see what had only existed as words on a blog in 2007, others still brought friends and colleagues to the stand as they had seen some potential and wanted to open their eyes too.

It was a very eclectic mix of visitors, both private and public sector, and we loved speaking to you all. There’s no greater buzz for me than trying to sell something that I am passionate about.

And with ode, during the demo, there was ALWAYS a moment when they grinned. It might have been :

  • when they were informed all content in ode is NC Specifier tagged thus making it easy to find.
  • when they saw the playlist function.
  • when they saw a video streaming or an audio file playing directly from their ode library.
  • that content would be peer reviewed.
  • the idea that we would let users reduce what ode can do to make their experience as simple, direct or complex as they wanted.
  • when they saw how small and cute our business cards were.

Without naming names, one LEA Elearning Director said until he saw ode he was worried BETT would be yet another waste of time and that it has “made his show”.

Another Head of ICT commented that he was sick of paying £400 for a CDROM and his teachers only using £40 worth and that it was hugely encouraging finding a platform that would allow his school to buy only the £40 worth, thus freeing up funds for content from other brands.

We also had a representative from the Malaysian Government swing by. He loved the idea and wants to discuss integrating ode and it’s content partners products into Malaysian schools which adds an exciting new global dimension to what ode can do.

In fact we spoke to many international visitors today – BETT is probably the biggest dedicated elearning show in the world.

A Managing Director from a Greek educational publisher wants to discuss localising ode for the Greek market. Local versions of ode depend on the rights over content for this type of sale and local curriculum tagging but we fully intend to have ODE Greece, ODE France, ODE Spain, ODE US and so on. Eventually, of course. With all the technology/platform partners we could have gathered today we wouldn’t get anything real out the door until 3008.

By removing physical distribution as an issue (all the product on ode is virtual) publishers large and small can enter markets all over the world overnight at little cost. Which can only be empowering for any teacher in any classroom when the range of trusted professional content available at affordable micropayment level is only a few clicks away 24/7/365.

It is too soon to mention every supplier we spoke to although I will do a proper update next week when I have all the details from all 4 days.

But what’s the big announcement, I imagine I hear you cry?

We signed a deal yesterday with the UK’s biggest online teacher community, Schoolzone, who are now our “Official Community Partners”.

In a nutshell we will be integrating the ode shop into the Schoolzone website, so their 100,000 registered teacher users will have immediate access to all the fantastic disaggregated content from ode at the click of a mouse. We are really excited about this collaboration and are really happy to be working with the great team at Schoolzone over the next year. And I got to swan around the Press Office shouting “Hold the front page!” too. More news on this venture as it happens.

The official PR statement below:


Pearson Education and Schoolzone announce partnership deal in revolutionary web-based personalised e-learning store

Bett, London, 10 January 2008 – Pearson Education today announces that it has linked up with Schoolzone to be its exclusive schools community partner for ode, the next generation, free-access content store for educators.

Ode, backed by Pearson, is working with more than 20 education content publishers to provide teachers with the means to buy, download and create personalised lessons. The platform will sell ‘little bits of learning’ on a pay-as-you-go basis, allowing teachers to buy or rent individual pieces of content on demand – videos, audio files, worksheets, presentations, exam papers, interactive tools, animated games and so on – the list could be endless.

Chris Bradford, ode co-founder, says: ‘ode is a platform, rather like Amazon or iTunes, that will give educators unparalleled access to digital assets. We’re building to launch in stages throughout 2008 to bring together a community of educators and content providers. The partnership with Schoolzone is a significant phase in the development of ode.’

Elizabeth Collie, Commercial Director of Schoolzone, says: ‘Schoolzone is the natural home for content stores like ode. Embedding the service into our site will enhance and enrich our community offering, while providing ode with a ready-made community of educators looking for content.’


About Pearson Education

Educating 100 million people worldwide and with offices in over 30 countries, Pearson Education is the global leader in education publishing, providing scientifically research-based print and digital programmes to help students of all ages learn at their own pace, in their own way.

In the UK, Pearson Education is the largest and fastest-growing educational publisher. It offers leading-edge teaching and learning resources under the BBC Active, Causeway Books, Edexcel Learning, Ginn, Heinemann, KnowledgeBox, Longman, Payne-Gallway, Pearson Phoenix and Rigby names.

About Schoolzone

Schoolzone is the UK’s busiest online education community, with a strong reputation for online teacher and curriculum focused search engines, peer group reviews and evaluations of digital content. The site receives over 30,000 unique users a day, making it one of the UK’s most used educational sites, as well as the biggest – it lists 41,000 educational sites reviewed by teachers, 6,000 events and organisers, 35,000 schools and colleges, 6,200 educational suppliers and many, many thousands of educational products and services.


More news next week about Friday and Saturday at BETT and James and Ed’s attendance at the cutting edge Teachermeet at BETT tonight.

We are contributing towards their pizza extravaganza. This is the first thing we’ve ever sponsored officially which makes us feel all grown up but to get our idea in front of so many ICT/elearning thinkers who are doing some brilliant and envelope pushing things is an honour and well worth it.

Have fun, guys.

I am writing this in our hotel suite after our first ever day at BETT. Our feet and backs hurt but what a day! We’ve had massive amounts of interest from an eclectic range of suppliers and spoke to lots of teachers about ode. Basically we’re exhausted but glowing with pride that our platform was received so warmly by so many people.

But you’ll have to excuse this short post as my feet hurt and there’s a Wagamama round the corner and I’m starving. I will post much more considered and reflective detail later this week when I’ve had time to absorb it all.

I’m also BURSTING to tell you about a deal we sealed today which we’re all excited about but I want to make sure we announce it right. So come back tomorrow for the news hot off the press.

Anyway, if you visited us today we are humbled and grateful for your time and interest – it was a genuine pleasure to speak to you all. Have some photos to tide you over until proper posts later this week.

The riot of elearning goodness and bottomless marketing budgets that is BETT

BETT show from the balcony

Our stand. It can’t compare to the carnival of excess on the lower floors but we like it. Plus the rolling green hills make us feel soothed.

Our stand 2008

Anthony entranced by our massively over the top 24″ imacs.

Anthony at the stand

An arty photo by Dik, clearly influenced by a quiet period

Stand up close

Huzzah and hurrah! Pop open the fizzy, call the red arrows and fire at least 12 guns in salute – Ed won an award!

The company incubating us, Pearson, have an annual bash called the “Growth and Excellence” awards. It’s divided up into 5 categories, voted for by a range of people from across the company, and Ed won in the “Innovation” category for his implementation of the Agile software development methodology with ode.

It’s the first time Agile has been used in the business and moving to that from the more traditional ways of working was a huge and complex task. Not only did he manage this process diligently and professionally throughout the last 12 months he did it so well other teams have started to adopt this way of working.

BUT, on top of winning that award, he also came runner up in the overall company “best in class” award. So a double pike with somersault to finish for Mr Wong there.

So big applause for Ed – very well deserved.

A very quick post to say we hope you all had a great Xmas and of course wishing you all a happy and prosperous new year.

Over the next week or so we’ll be working towards getting ready for BETT. If you come and see us (and I hope you will) you will be able to pick up one of our limited edition “invite” minicards.

There’s a special email address on them which you can use to join our trial. But I’ve cleverly smudged the email address out so you’ll just have to come and see us to get one and find out what it is, won’t you? 😉

BETT invite card

What is ODE?

ODE will be a webstore where educators can buy little bits of digital educational content and put them back together any way they like. Simple.