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The last time we professed love for a website was a big old gush about moo. We even went mini card crazy at BETT 08 so we are still devoted fans.

ode moo cards at BETT 08

(True story…my hand holding our Moo “golden ticket” card for some reason comes out 2nd and 3rd in a Google image search for “moo card”. Sorry, Moo!)

Today we love… Commoncraft.

For those of you not familiar with Commoncraft they make short instructional videos on a range of (mostly) technology subjects and tools that otherwise confuse, infuriate or alienate most “non-techies”, such as Wikis, Twitter, Blogs and RSS feeds.

If any of those words sound like jargon a) you are missing out on some really useful and interesting technology and b) keep reading to find out why.

In their words: “Our product is explanation. We use video and paper to make complex ideas easy to understand. We present subjects “in plain English” using short, unique and understandable videos in a format we call Paperworks.

You may not recognise the terms in the videos below, or you may have heard them mentioned and been too intimidated to admit you don’t really get them. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone has to start learning somewhere.

Why do we like Commoncraft so much to give it our coveted “Who do we love today” link?

  1. Each video looks (deliberately) amateur and therefore removes that psychological barrier that often exists between trainer and trainee.
  2. Each video doesn’t last long so you can give it your full attention.
  3. They allow you to embed the videos under their creative commons licence.
  4. Recently, in an ode way, they’ve started to sell each “little bit of explanation” as a business tool for those that want higher resolution versions.
  5. They make learning enjoyable without being patronising. Not as easy as it sounds.

I wish I could have shown people these videos when pitching ode. Perhaps then there would have been slightly less blank stares when I mentioned things like “I am going to do a blog”.

Yep, ode would be proud to sell Commoncraft video to schools and colleges.

Wikis in plain english

Blogs in plain english

RSS in plain english

Google Docs in plain english

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John Davitt has included a short paragraph and link to ode in his BETT 2008 review in the Guardian Educational Link supplement.

I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting what he says about us as we’re all glowing with pride here, even if it is only a small mention, as it is alongside some august company.

Little bits of learning

Another company that may have caught the spirit of the times is Ode with its strapline “little bits of learning”. While most other suppliers are working on systems encompassing everything, Ode simply hopes to tag and share small and varied learning resources by working with content holders (blog.odeworld.co.uk).

http://education.guardian.co.uk/link/story/0,,2266345,00.html

In the article itself John has actually posted a fairly damning revue of the BETT trade show this year. The major issue as he sees it is the link between government “interference”…

“The heavy-handed compulsion for all schools to have a learning platform by the end of the year has removed the chance for schools to try some different approaches to find what suits them best.”

…and how the industry reacts e.g. the overwhelming dominance of giant VLE/LMS systems that attempt to provide all singing all dancing solutions.

By fixating on these tools he argues that the smaller more interesting elearning products are squeezed out. Potentially to the detriment of the teachers themselves.

It’s always been a bit of an in joke at each BETT I’ve attended (and I’ve been going for years now) that most of the people you might speak to if you are manning a stand are likely to be industry people who have faked their badges. John is saying we should face up to it.

“Perhaps it’s time to stop talking up Bett as something with mass-classroom appeal and accept it’s become more of a business-to-business event.”

Well, we had a blast running our stand and you might have read about it on our blog, but I guess that’s because we weren’t actually there to speak to teachers as such. We were looking for potential content partners to sell their content through the ode platform. We were quite open about that. We did speak to many teachers though as they too seemed to be intrigued by what we’re trying to do.

(And because they now have these big empty VLEs and nothing to go in them).

BETT was good to us this year but will have our own stand next year? Nope and, currently, neither will the BBC. We do hope to attend Teachmeet 09 if we can, rightly highlighted by John as one of the true stars of BETT 08.

If we do our job right and build a worthy kick ass platform for education that our users love and evangelise we simply won’t need to. Especially if BETT keeps leaning further and further towards B2B.

Also when I see EMAPs bland corporate response at the end of John’s article where they seemed to claim Teachmeet was their idea “…building on the success of the TeachMeet, our plans for 2009 are already underway to develop this feature further.” – it wasn’t, Ewan Macintosh takes all the credit for his unconference here) I don’t really warm to them.

Teachmeet 08

I’m at the lovely Teachmeet 08 gathering at Olympia, ably unorganised by Ewan McIntosh.

18:12 ish. I was chuffed that Ewan described ode as “funky”.

Things are moving quickly so this might be pretty incoherent until I get a chance to come back and clean it up a bit.

18:35 Ian Usher is talking about Moodle. We like Moodle…we really want to provide tools that work with Moodle in the future. He had a quick word about content and content providers. To paraphrase… “teachers don’t like buying a “big fat box” of it”…he mentioned ode too. (edit- It went by in a slight blur but hopefully it was mentioned as an exception to the existing content provider paradigm. Here is Ian’s blog post about Teachmeet)

Right now a great mashup of Subterranean Homesick Blues just finished playing in his presentation.

It’s all very interesting with other things talked about so far…Resources for Innovators in Schools plus a look at the Asus EeePC.

Unfortunately, Alex Savage was due to speak but had to leave to catch a train.

18:45 Blogging in a primary environment using Honeycomb is being presented by Vivien Bailey.

18:50 Yacapaca sounds pretty neat!

PS – After a long day on a stand at the trade show, the beer is tasting good 🙂

20:28 Just heard Derek Robertson‘s great talk about games in education in Scottish schools…really good. Had a small nap…but I’m back!

Now for some pizza.

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:

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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.’

Ends

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.

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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

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

ode winter

Yep, it is mighty chilly at Ode HQ right now. That’s not a surprise seeing as the winter solstice is only a day away.I took the above photo from from Ode Towers this afternoon…with the windows shut and the heaters on and reminisced about 2007…prompted by Mr B’s post from yesterday.

We’ve put a lot of work into laying the foundations for exciting things in 2008. I won’t repeat them all as Mr B covered them pretty well yesterday. One of the things I’m most excited about (with my “software development” hat on) is the Application Programming Interface (API) that we’re working on to help expose the content that will be stored in the Ode databases. What this means is that Ode platform partners will be able to incorporate Ode features in their own websites. We’ll be able to build some nice tools to enable you as a user to find the content that you want (cross platform search widget maybe?). For that matter nearly anyone with the nous will be able to build tools that interact with Ode (Moodle plug-in anyone?).

The other thing that I like about how were are building Ode is that we’re very interested in making a system that is developed in conjunction with those who will end up using it. Here at Ode Towers, we refer to it as User Centred Design.

“The central premise of user-centred design is that the best-designed products and services result from understanding the needs of the people who will use them. User-centred designers engage actively with end-users to gather insights that drive design from the earliest stages of product and service development, right through the design process.”

We’ve already been talking to a range of educators and content partners about what we’ve been up to but I’m looking forward to the prospect of opening the shutters a bit wider in 2008 and inviting beta users to help us improve what we have built already. One way of getting in on the fun is to visit us at BETT in London (we’re on stand N30).

Also in the interests of openness, my New Year’s resolution is to write more on this blog about how we’re building the system…so expect to be reading a bit about web standards, lean development and user stories from time to time in the new year.

All the best to you and your’s…see you in 2008.

Well, 2007 is drawing to a wintery close. This will be my last blog post before the new year.

It’s been an incredible 12 months for the ode project. We’ve gone from a simple idea born out of an excited conversation between two friends to a fully fledged platform development team, working hard to make it a reality.

Looking back I can’t help but think, even though we’ve had to learn under pressure, manage any number of trials and scale hurdles on a daily basis, I’ve never had so much fun at work.

Genuinely, the people on the team, the ideology, the challenges, the momentum, the sheer promise of what we’re trying to do makes it all worthwhile. Every day is another little adventure. There’s no feeling like doing something you love and believe in.

So what does 2008 hold for us?

  • We’re at BETT 08 on stand N30. If you are attending please come and say hi.
  • We’re opening up the beta platform to invited teachers and schools from January onward. One way of getting on the list is to see us at BETT.
  • We’re launching our “proper” marketing website, of which the blog will become part. Look for that early next year.
  • In April we’ll be starting personal ecommerce, giving teachers who are signed up to us to use credit/debit cards to buy content. This is a big step as we’ll finally be a “shop”.
  • In the summer we’ll be trialling educational accounts so schools can pre-pay in lump sums as invite their teachers to use ode.
  • We aim to go live for the winter term 2008.

Through out the year we’ll be announcing content partnerships. The companies we are speaking to represent a wide range of types of content and serve different areas of the curriculum. We want our users to have the benefit of variety and quality so we try to source the best content suppliers and get them as excited by ode as we are.

We will also hope to announce a very exciting platform parnership, one that will open ode up to a huge number of teachers and prove ode as a significant player in the industry.

Because it’s worth stating: we’re very serious about being the number one pay as you go digital content marketplace for education.

So with all that in mind, raise a glass in memory of 2007, have a brilliant Xmas and fantastic new year. 2008 will be our year. See you then!