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Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC digital curriculum service in England

From: Alex Hudson
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC digital curriculum service in England
Date: Sun, 10 Oct 2004 12:30:12 +0100

Hi Ian

(Thanks for bringing this up... ;)

On Sun, 2004-10-10 at 11:49 +0100, Ian Lynch wrote:
> The technologies required to exploit the resources available in the
> proposed BBC digital curriculum service should be generally accessible
> and available.
> For the purposes of this exercise the term "accessible and affordable
> technologies" is used to mean technologies (commercially or freely
> available) that have potential for general adoption in the school or
> home environment within the time frame of the proposed development.

I think even at this level we are going to be stuck. The most obvious
technology to use to deploy e-learning resources is Flash; which has no
free software equivalent (as far as I know) that even comes close.. 

> BECTa considered taking a more restrictive view, limiting the BBC's
> proposed development to those technologies that are currently available
> in the majority of schools and homes. After due consideration, it was
> decided that this restriction could unduly hinder the BBC's ability to
> innovate.

Do you know if they have/are soliciting any commercial feedback? I know
that most content providers to this sector would be strongly opposed to
the BBC doing this; it's not really within their remit and their ability
to 'innovate' could be seen as being anti-competitive. I would think it
would be fairly easy to garner support to oppose the BBC doing too much.

> BECTa believes that a key aspect of the distinctiveness of the
> BBC's offering could include support for and promotion of, emerging
> technologies and practices.

It would be possible to push this to turn it around a little and
persuade them to support free software. However, there is still the
practical problem of their being no good multimedia framework available.
I'm not sure whether or not we can sensibly make the argument if there
is no good alternative that doesn't require investment (although perhaps
you could make the argument that they should develop an alternative, a
la Dirac, but that is also a hard argument).

> So what does this mean? Its difficult to say, I think we should try and
> arrange a face to face meeting with BECTa and the BBC to discuss the
> exact implications of all this for FLOSS and Open Standards

I think that is probably a very good idea. I'm afraid, though, I'm not
terribly positive about the outcome - I've worked with providers and on
a lot of e-learning systems, and I'm not sure what outcome we can ask
them for. 

As an example, Learndirect have a pretty comprehensive systems
specification for many of their on-line courses which specify online
delivery. The basic spec. is similar to what you've outlined - things
which you can reasonably expect home users to have installed (which
generally didn't include Flash at the time, although I believe Flash is
now more widely available than modern browsers..). They now have sets of
courses coded to HTML which works pretty cross-platform (Netscape 4 was
also a requirement), and frankly they're not very good. Their later
content (focussed on literacy and numeracy key skills, that they got a
wodge of money to develop) is mostly Flash-based and, frankly,
light-years better than the previous courses. But, only the earlier
courses truly worked with free software :(

I think before requesting a meeting we ought to outline some kind of
game plan. What would we actually request that they do? For reasons I've
outlined above, "make it work with open standards" is a nice idea, but
I'm not convinced it's practical. We need to be more imaginative I



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