Jump to content
The Education Forum

BBC and the Digital Curriculum


John Simkin
 Share

Recommended Posts

Last month the European Commission approved the government’s plans to give £150 million to the BBC to produce free teaching resources. The new service will act as a central repository, allowing teachers to select, organize and personalise materials.

There is no doubt that this initiative will dominate e-learning in Britain over the next few years. One of the reasons that the European Commission has approved the plan is that at least 50% of this material will have to be produced by non-BBC organizations. Although it will be difficult to organize, it is vitally important that classroom teachers play a significant role in the development this material.

The BBC is holding two one-day for independent producers on the 24th and 25th November 2003 in west London. For further details see:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/info/policies/digital...urriculum.shtml

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I have grave doubts about the provision of free digital learning materials by the BBC. The materials are not free, of course. We, the public, are paying for them via our annual licence fees. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Furthermore, the leading publishers' associations (the Digital Learning Alliance) have expressed their concerns about the possible damage that will be done to producers of priced commercial products, particularly in view of the aim to distibute the free materials via the Curriculum Online (COL) initiative - which has also been surrounded with controversy. COL got off to a very bad start: its launch was delayed until January 2003, with the result that for a period of several months in 2002 schools were starved of funds for software purchases and stopped spending, almost driving a number of small publishers to the wall. The atmosphere of controversy regarding the BBC's involvement in COL and the threat of court action from the software publishers against the BBC did little to improve things. Tom McMullan describes COL as being a government plan for "backdoor nationalisation of the UK educational content marketplace" (Wired to Learn, Adam Smith Institute):

http://www.adamsmith.org/policy/publicatio...ucation-pub.htm

The BBC should concentrate on what it's good at, namely producing worldclass TV programmes and providing an excellent news service.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have grave doubts about the provision of free digital learning materials by the BBC. The materials are not free, of course. We, the public, are paying for them via our annual licence fees. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

The BBC should concentrate on what it's good at, namely producing worldclass TV programmes and providing an excellent news service.

You are of course right that the BBC web content is being produced with taxpayers money. However, I think it is very sensible of the government to use organizations such as the BBC to produce free online resources. I would argue that most of the best educational resources come from government funded projects (along with that being produced by the classroom teacher). Take for example the excellent Learning Curve (Public Record Office) website.

My concern is over the role that classroom teachers will play in the production of this material. The main reason that the Learning Curve is so good is that Tom O’Leary, the man who runs the website, has recruited a team of excellent teachers to produce the material. My experience of the BBC is that teachers only play a marginal role in the production of its educational materials.

The Digital Learning Alliance is understandably concerned about the role that BBC is playing in the production of online materials. While this is happening they will indeed find it difficult to make a profit out of its materials. However, it is not only the BBC that is undermining their efforts to make a profit out of educational resources. Pressure groups and charitable organizations are also willing to provide free materials. So also are a large number of teachers who are so committed to online learning that they are willing to give their time and effort without payment (see for example, the membership list of the Association of Teacher Websites).

Thank you for the link to Tom McMullan’s article, Wired to Learn.

http://www.adamsmith.org/policy/publicatio...-jan-02-doc.pdf

McMullan makes some interesting points and I agree with some of his criticisms of government policy towards online education. The problem for the Adam Smith Institute is that it is supposed to be committed to the free market and is totally opposed to government subsidies. Yet in this article it supports Curriculum Online. However, this is only a government subsidy to bail out large commercial organizations in serious financial trouble. It seems that the Adam Smith Institute is not so keen on the free market when it applies to the production of online resources. I personally believe that the large amount of money being poured into Curriculum Online is a far greater waste of taxpayers money than that being spent on the BBC.

The problem for the Adam Smith Institute is that it is impossible to apply capitalist doctrines to online education. Without government subsidies, it will remain impossible for commercial companies to make a profit while organizations and individuals are willing to produce materials free of charge. Until the arrival of the Internet it was impossible for individuals and small organizations to compete with the multinational corporations in the education marketplace. Now, because of low overheads, they have a distinct economic advantage over the big players. This is indeed the real revolutionary significance of the internet. Although they are not aware of it, teachers are on the verge of a grassroots revolution. This forum, and others like it, will play a vanguard role in this revolution.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The BBC is an excellent organisation, and I have been involved as a consultant to the BBC in the production on online learning materials. What I found frustrating, however, was the way in which the Web environment chosen by the BBC for the delivery of the materials forced the designers to make compromises that I found pedagogically undesirable. This was partly due to the constraints of the Web itself and partly due to the difficulties of programming in a Web environment. I was involved in the production of a series of CD-ROMs for the universities TELL Consortium in the mid-1990s. When I demonstrate these CD-ROMs to teachers now their reaction is often: “Oh, I didn’t realise that it was possible to do that!” The problem is that most teachers (and many designers) who have got into ICT in the last 10 years have only been exposed to a Web environment and know nothing about the remarkable progress that was made in interactive learning in the 1980s and early 1990s. A lot of expertise and knowledge has now been lost. If the BBC materials in which I was involved were reversioned on CD-ROM they could be improved immeasurably.

John writes:

“However, this is only a government subsidy to bail out large commercial organizations in serious financial trouble.”

I am not sure that this is true. I run a small software development and retailing business in partnership with my wife and daughter. We were not in financial trouble until Curriculum Online came on the scene – it’s delayed launch almost bankrupted us, and now I waste many hours coping with COL bureaucracy that eat into time that could be spent more profitably. Initially, I wanted no part in Curriculum Online, but I was forced to register for the scheme and to register the products that we sell so that schools could use their eLC funding to buy them. I had to sign a 40-plus page agreement and fill in a 9-page electronic “tagging” form for each of our products, making sure that I had not missed one of the hundreds of (often hidden) checkboxes that the form contains. I now have to make a monthly report to the DfES on products that have been purchased with eLC funding and the names and addresses of the schools that have bought them.

There is little quality control on products that appear at the COL site. I just complete the tagging form and upload the data to the COL site, and the product is listed there within a few minutes. BECTA carries out random checks, but so far they have only checked one of our products and they did not fully understand what it was about. There are independent product evaluation agencies appointed by the DfES but they charge around 300 pounds to carry out an evaluation for each product – a fee that a small business can ill afford (and which I consider unethical in any case). I have read some of the evaluations. Most of them are not up to scratch and one evaluation that I read conveyed completely the wrong impression.

John writes:

“I personally believe that the large amount of money being poured into Curriculum Online is a far greater waste of taxpayers money than that being spent on the BBC.”

Yes, Curriculum Online is indeed a disgraceful waste of taxpayers’ money, and the BBC is now tied into the scheme.

With all these free materials floating around, small businesses are struggling to survive. Many will go under in the next five years. On the other hand, free is not necessarily good. If you buy a product you expect it to be of good quality. If it’s free you may find it’s not up to scratch and you may find you cannot get technical support if it does not work.

One of the problems that I have identified with regard to free materials produced by teachers is that they are often compilations containing copyright material, e.g. PowerPoint presentations containing photographs and sound recordings gleaned from the Web. I found around a dozen compilations of this sort at a college’s public website. I wrote to the site managers, asking them if they were aware of the possible copyright breaches the materials contained. Their reply indicated that they simply hadn’t a clue. I directed them to the CIEL site and to the ICT4LT page for advice (below). They immediately withdrew most of the materials.

The CIEL website, University of Southampton:

http://ciel.lang.soton.ac.uk/copyright.htm

ICT4LT: General guidelines on copyright:

http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_copyright.htm

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes the BBC is excellent but working for them can be a frustrating business. I was subcontracted by the QCA to write a whole series of lesson plans on using e-mail in the classroom for Webwise back in the early days (no-one was using it at KS2 at the time in classrooms. and they needed some hard concrete evidence of activities that were in use in the curriculum in a real school). The site was pulled a couple of years ago because of lack of use by teachers - it was a little before its time - I will be reworking it and issuing it free of charge in the near future because its time has now come. But there was an slight wrangle over the decision to pull it or not and some people were not happy that a publicly funded company should make such a decision on "commercial" precepts when presenting the corporation as a publicly subsidised company with all the remits that go along with that...

The rights issue will be the biggest stumbling block to the whole enterprise though won't it? I really can't see how the BBC will be able to square selling premium content through DRM (Digital Rights Management) and yet have to make it available for different OS' media players like those (if built by then) for Linux. That should be an interesting one to watch out for. But that is going to be a general copyright issue throughout the internet anyway. The rise of Napster and peer to peer services, cameras in mobile phones etc vs the multinationals, infringement of personal freedoms and identity is going to come more and more to the fore as well in the interim as these materials are being spec'd out and built.

However, the divisions between online and CD resources are beginning to dissolve and the problem really still is one of publicity and dissemination. I think it may well be whoever pays for the spotlight will have it shine on them rather than others. But that's the commercial world for you.

Indirect suppliers will produce much of the BBC’s content. There is a history of this - mentioning no names - one of the last big contracts issued by the DfES resulted in months and months of legalese and a then a very short deadline for producing online content that was eventually bought in at the last moment to fill a need.

I should imagine it will be no different this time. When you actually break down the economics of the monies going out to making all the digital content it really isn't that much and the beeb will be keeping a tight reign on the winners of direct and indirect supply. I just hope a Dutch auction atmosphere doesn't occur with the smaller indirect suppliers fighting to meet deadlines and budgets. I do see the whole thing as a bit of a poison chalice and operational nightmare - it is a wildly ambitious project and it will be interesting to see what emerges...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...