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I’m not a big fan of simply reporting news on this blog (hey, there’s a million blogs out there better at it than this one) and in interweb time I’m about a billion years too late (it has even been reported on proper TV and everything!) but I felt this resonated with ode.

1) Stripping DRM from files can only be a good thing. Content is no longer confined to a monitor screen or book page.

2) Apple needed to add something else to the mix if they want to up the price but I’m not overly convinced by the “higher quality files” sales pitch – is it just me or does the current 128kps level sound perfectly fine? I do most of my listening through earphones (whilst distracted by something else) or in the car (background engine noise). Even burning a CD from a playlist of “lower quality” files doesn’t make it sound awful through my perfectly acceptable mid range stereo.

I wonder…perhaps it’s my ears that are the problem. I can just about tell the difference between 128kps and 256kps but in all honesty, who cares? Still, I read that in trials the higher quality files outsold the lower quality files by 10-1 so what do I know? The price difference is low enough to make that extra 20p acceptable.

But would that matter in the classroom? No DRM is the issue here – we want educators to move the content around between devices, to gain as much as they can from content they’ve bought. It will depend on the content and the publishers – some content just won’t really be that usable offline, such as interactive flash games or video clips.

But I take my hat off to Steve Jobs – he’s managed to get the price rise the labels were asking for and managed to come out of the DRM argument with barely a scratch on him. All MP3 makers will now be forced to adopt the aac file format. And considering I have owned 2 ipods now and both of them broke just out of warranty of course (grr) I would like to try another MP3 player without the music I’ve bought being obsolete, thank you very much.

This news is great as it backs up our desire to get people using the content they buy. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t protect where necessary but market movements such as this will see a further blossoming of digital content sales.

But what really caught my eye was the following slide:

“84% of digital consumers stated that they agreed, fully or somewhat, with the statement: ‘It is important to be able to transfer files between devices’ ”

That’s basically everyone saying “we want to choose what to play our content on”. The people have spoken.

Searching for “ode” on Google brings back the following:

“Results 110 of about 27,700,000 for ode”

27 million results. At about 10 results per page that’s about 2.7 million pages. I don’t even want to think where we come on that scale because at this point, who cares? Even so that’s a whole stack of links.

By the time I had clicked through to the 1,789,345th page I gave up. Plus at 2 secs a page load that works out at 3,578,690 seconds of time in total looking at those pages which is 59,644 hours which is 2485 days which is just over 6 years.

So either I’m travelling back in time to write this blog post from my 50 foot schooner moored of the coast of Monaco whilst working on my tan or it means I’m lying. Because for most people beyond a point numbers cease to have any meaning or function beyond curiosity. Or maybe Google is lying and hoping no one EVER clicks through to see the last page when there’s more than a 100 results. Or maybe they’re showing off.

This is why I think numbers of results/results pages are a poor guide to content selection.

A major component of ode is it’s search ability – you type in “Counting to 10” or “Climate change” or “Spanish MP3” you get a list of results back. That’s a concept we’re all familiar with. But what if you have hundreds or thousands or results to show?

And this isn’t good enough for a casual knowledge browse – we want people to buy content. Our users told us showing lots of pages or telling them there were hundreds of results actually turned them off.

So we continue to debate whether to show page numbers at all and even how many results have turned up. Even back in 2001 Jakob Neilson said:

“Users almost never look beyond the second page of search results. It is thus essential that your search prioritize results in a useful way and that all the most important hits appear on the first page.”

One argument suggests that announcing these figures is good way for the user to gauge how useful their keyword is – do they need to add further keywords e.g. “Counting to 10 + Key Stage 2 + Animals” or that an advanced search is called for?

Personally I’d be a happier customer if what I wanted turned up on the first or second page, or that sorting and filtering were set on my profile (“only show me results from Key Stage 2” or “Only show me results that are tagged video”).

Is it sometimes better to be reductive than expansive? What if we said “The search term you entered was far too broad – have another go and this time be more specific” (with a link to carry on anyway of course)?

Caroline Horn reports in the Children’s Bookseller this month on the rise of digital books and content in education in an article entitled “On the crest of a digital wave” (pages 9+10 – seems to only be available in the off line magazine, sorry).

Whilst the majority of the article concerns e-books she looks beyond that at different media types:

“The introduction of whiteboards and broadband to schools makes the education market a significant potential user of digital resources…the education market is one of the least exploited markets in terms of digital content and resources

Hey, this sounds like my sort of thinking.

Her thread opens up the necessary debate that we shouldn’t attempt to replicate in ICT how we used to be taught before the internet and the rise of technology, but that we should embrace a new way of thinking about how we use content.

A book by necessity of it’s physical structure places certain constraints on the educator and learner.

What we are seeing is a move away from pre built and ‘closed’ material to a provision of ‘atomised assets’ that can be manipulated, reused and published in an online environment”.

Dr Martyn Farrows, Simulacra

Dr Farrow has commercial interests in pushing this point of view (and so do we, therefore I’m all for this particular debate) but that doesn’t invalidate the premise that more and more ICT thinking is looking at the manipulation of content as the end goal as opposed to simply the delivery of that content under a structure.

For example “As a Teacher I have X numbers of digital assets – I want to farm a set of MFL MP3s out to my class’s mobile phones, upload my lesson plans to my PDA and display my video clips inside PowerPoints I have built…” and so on.

“Schools will become more confident in exploring internet-based resources beyond their defined VLE…making more use of “device-independent, browser-based, Web 2.0 style interactivity”, including social networks, self publishing and browser based toolkits.”

ode will provide a massive amount of VLE content from many publishers portfolios but we will not restrict them to VLE display only – each asset will be playable within ODE itself as and when they need to by constructing playlists. Some of our users (and I won’t name names) rarely use their VLE due to it’s complexity and heavy handed nature.

“Prior to having this Kaleidos installed, we have also had Moodle installation. I set this up, primarily for a single online A-level ICT course, so we could be as flexible with our students as possible. This hosted externally on a dedicated server. In essence, give or take 4-5 months, both were installed at the same time. This was 18 months ago.

At present in a staff of 80, 2 occasionally use Kaleidos. No others do…(Moodle) is used by 80% of our staff regulary and by about 90% of our 1100 students.” (you may have to log in as guest).

So it may depend on how the VLE is perceived in the school as to how well it’s used.

Ultimately it may be the publishers job to give educators access to content and platforms to allow them to personalise the learners experience using that content and stand well back.

“…the business model is more about transaction-based micropayments or licensing of individual digital assets on demand, rather than consumption of pre-built resources.”

Dr Martyn Farrows

So points me to “The coolest photo of Earth’s atmosphere you will see today“.

I’m a sucker for a new wallpaper and anything with a nice egg shell blue sky in always works for me as I find all that empty clean space calming on a monitor screen. Same with any decent photo pointing upwards or from really high up pointing downwards.

I clicked the link. And the Digg submitter was right – it was the the coolest photo of Earth’s atmosphere I saw today. The only one, but still, the thought was a good one. Right click > set as Desktop > minimize screen > aaahhh, what a great view.

I then saw that this was the EOS NASA online image bank and there was a link to more content. Aha, I thought, if the other images are as good as this one then I am in wallpaper heaven – cities, mountain ranges, coastlines – all in high res and screen filling goodness.

So I clicked the small link “view images index“. It took me to a page with a few thumbnails and the worst most pointless content selection browse I have ever seen.

I could only assume that they have made it deliberately hard to get any use from this part of the site. And I usually don’t mind random meanderings through content delivery sites but after a couple of clicks I was so annoyed I simply stopped.

EOS website navigation

Now NASA must have one of the worlds largest image banks containing some of the most incredible images ever seen. So why spend billions on the camera to take them and then what looks like 5 minutes thought to organise them for public viewing on a webpage?

Ironically it probably took ages for some poor web editor to manually hyperlink each of those numbers to a page. Or more likely there’s a CMS routine that sticks a new number on the end of the list everytime a new batch of images gets uploaded.

Their “mission statement” as they grandly state it is actually fulfilled: ” The purpose of NASA’s Earth Observatory is to provide a freely-accessible publication on the Internet where the public can obtain new satellite imagery and scientific information about our home planet.” …but to satisfaction? Not mine, certainly.

And underneath each of those links were some astonishing images. This is a classic example of when you have too much content – how do you present it in an understandable fashion?

To be honest I am happy to wait for all those thumbnails to load onto the same page or divided by a simple taxonomy or a perpetual page like Unspace.

I can only assume it won all those “Webby” awards for it’s content and not the site itself.

There’s an interesting article on the BBC site that debates with itself about the impact of having an abundance of technology in the classroom. One side argues for the need to change the way we educate to accommodate the modern digital native and the other claims that all this electronic wizardry is expensive, unreliable, truculent and, frankly, not as productive as we all think it should be.

“There’s always this awful thing when you have planned that lesson on the IWB (Interactive White Board) and something goes wrong because there is something wrong with the system. You either have to be extremely organised and plan two lessons – one on paper and one on the white board – or you have to depend on all your resourcefulness as a teacher to pull something out of your hat.”

I imagine this happens more often than we think. Now an IWB is not going to increase the quality of learning any more than a blackboard. Or even an empty book. It’s the vitality of the content that makes it come alive.

She says if the students were doing a project on spiders – they would have a picture of thousands of spiders running across the board. What they really should be doing is going outside and putting their hands in the dirt.

Yes they should. The dirt option should not be ignored, but the 1000’s of spiders running across the board has only recently been available as a teaching aid, as a piece of digital content, literally in the last few years.

What should be happening is a combination. Let’s be honest, unless you’re a fly, or have been bitten and now have a head swollen like a balloon, spiders are pretty static and dull most of the time.

But if you can augment the reality of hunting round the school playground for a real one with the BBC Archive clip of a Trapdoor spider pouncing on it’s prey or a time lapse video of a spider building it’s intricate web…well, you’ve enhanced the experience for the learner.

ode will place these elements well within reach of the teacher so they can build enhanced learning experiences around the bits where you get your hands dirty.

PS: Don’t watch this if you don’t like MASSIVE HAIRY SPIDERS.

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.