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

From: Kevin Donnelly
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC digital curriculum service in England
Date: Sun, 10 Oct 2004 15:30:20 +0100
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On Sunday 10 October 2004 11:49 am, Ian Lynch wrote:
> I have just received the BECTa report to the DfES concerning the BBCs
> plans to provide free (as in gratis) on-line curriculum resources to
> schools starting January 2006.
> Why this is important
> I believe the investment is £160m and so there will be substantail stuff
> available and if it only runs on Windows computers or in IE or with
> Media Player ....It will further lock schools into proprietary products.
> On the other hand if you read the paragraph below, perhaps there is a
> hint of wanting to promote new ways of doing things - read FLOSS type
> developments. The report is a typically waffly glossy of 20 pages. It
> says in the covering letter that the report will be on line at
> http://www.becta.org.uk/industry/ but I couldn't find it just now. You
> might be able to get a hard copy by writing to BECTa, Millburn Hill
> Road, Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7JJ
> The most relevant part to FLOSS and open standards is paragraph 4.3.2 on
> page 7
> 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.
> For example, it would be possible to produce a downloadable software
> voice recorder music tool which could be made generally available, This
> would require the use of a microphone. Such technology is both
> accessible and affordable.
> However, it is also possible to produce downloadable assets and
> applications that require sophisticaed equipment such as highh end heart
> monitoring equipment or sophisticated industry standard software such as
> that used to produce realistic 3D animations. These technologies are not
> generally accessible and affordable for schools and homes.
> 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. 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.
> 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. Who knows,
> they might be already thinking along these lines. I have an "industry
> consultation" meeting at BECTa in a couple of weeks so I could try and
> organise a meeting then but it would be interesting to know what others
> think about this and hence the post here. I'll also post this to the
> SchoolforgeUK list to see what folks there think. Might be relevant to
> OOo and other community lists too. The more representation we have the
> stronger our arguments will be.

There are three aspects:
1) will the material run on non-Windows platforms like Linux?
2) will the material use a free authoring/delivery system (eg something other 
than Flash)?
3) will the material be made available under a free licence?

(2) and (3) would be ideal, but ensuring (1) would be the most essential IMHO.  
As Alex says, for better or worse, Flash is now considered the default method 
of presenting learning resources, but it does at least have a Linux player, 
and some versions of the Studio can be run on Linux through WINE.  

(2) is something that might be encouraged over the longer term, if an 
alternative free system can be made viable.

Good arguments can be made for (3), but I'm not sure how open they are to that 
(and there may be counter-arguments about "dumping", as Alex notes).  But 
Graham's point about free software methodology is very promising here.  For 
example, if the material is built in such a way that different languages can 
be slotted in, à la gettext, this would mean that porting it to a different 
language would be a matter of editing the onscreen text, and recording 
additional sound, where necessary, and this would be considerably simpler 
than redoing it from scratch, or even re-editing the source files.  This 
would apply to any minority UK language (eg Punjabi), and would neatly get 
around the dumping argument, as well as being inclusive towards minority 
groups (which both BBC and BECTA should be interested in).


Pob hwyl (Best wishes)

Kevin Donnelly

www.kyfieithu.co.uk - Meddalwedd Rhydd yn Gymraeg
www.cymrux.org.uk - Linux Cymraeg ar un CD!

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