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BBC suspends net learning project


Sid Walker
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Essentially, I am delighted to see BBC Jam disappear. As a former language teacher, I was disappointed with the materials that were produced for learners of French - all noise and gimmicks and little evidence of sound pedagogy, especially what we have learned about computer assisted language learning over the last 30 years. As a commercial producer of software, I could not compete with the BBC, which benefited from the injection of £150 million for BBC Jam (“Money for Jam”), which derived from licence payers' money that could have been spent more wisely on producing the high-quality educational broadcasts that the BBC does so well. I saw my income from my commercial activities drop to zero over a period of two years - and so did many other small operators.

The whole Digital Curriculum initiative (which embraces Curriculum Online as well as BBC Jam) has been a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money. It's resulted in a lot of money ending up in the pockets of hi-tech consultancy businesses that would not have had the slightest interest in education if the money had not been freely available and propping up failing educational software producers.

You cannot compare closing down BBC Jam with closing down the NHS or schools. BBC Jam has helped drive producers of educational materials out of business. This could be compared to driving the companies on which the NHS relies, e.g. producers of hi-tech equipment, drugs etc, out of business. State schools rely on commercial producers: builders who build the schools, furniture manufacturers who make the desks and chairs, and publishers who produce books and computer software.

Another thing: The shift towards Web-based materials at the BBC has resulted in the closure of the unit that produced the excellent series of TV broadcasts for adult learners of foreign languages. Shame! Producing such high-quality educational broadcasts is what the BBC is really good at.

Edited by Graham Davies
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Essentially, I am delighted to see BBC Jam disappear. As a former language teacher, I was disappointed with the materials that were produced for learners of French - all noise and gimmicks and little evidence of sound pedagogy, especially what we have learned about computer assisted language learning over the last 30 years. As a commercial producer of software, I could not compete with the BBC, which benefited from the injection of £150 million for BBC Jam (“Money for Jam”), which derived from licence payers' money that could have been spent more wisely on producing the high-quality educational broadcasts that the BBC does so well. I saw my income from my commercial activities drop to zero over a period of two years - and so did many other small operators.

The whole Digital Curriculum initiative (which embraces Curriculum Online as well as BBC Jam) has been a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money. It's resulted in a lot of money ending up in the pockets of hi-tech consultancy businesses that would not have had the slightest interest in education if the money had not been freely available and propping up failing educational software producers.

You cannot compare closing down BBC Jam with closing down the NHS or schools. BBC Jam has helped drive producers of educational materials out of business. This could be compared to driving the companies on which the NHS relies, e.g. producers of hi-tech equipment, drugs etc, out of business. State schools rely on commercial producers: builders who build the schools, furniture manufacturers who make the desks and chairs, and publishers who produce books and computer software.

Another thing: The shift towards Web-based materials at the BBC has resulted in the closure of the unit that produced the excellent series of TV broadcasts for adult learners of foreign languages. Shame! Producing such high-quality educational broadcasts is what the BBC is really good at.

I could not disagree with your more on this issue. This is what Lord Puttnam has to say about it.

David Puttnam

Monday March 26, 2007

The Guardian

The new 10-year BBC Charter came into force on January 1 this year. Under the Charter, the second of the BBC's new public purposes, set for it by the government, is "promoting education and learning," while the sixth purpose includes "helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services." A strong BBC online presence is imperative if it is to deliver on these purposes in any meaningful way in the digital era.

Yet the new BBC Trust has instructed the corporation to suspend its online learning service, BBC Jam - a piece of news somewhat overshadowed by the Blue Peter debacle, but of far greater significance for the children of this country.

Equally worrying is what the episode says about the early direction of travel of the Trust itself, as it comes hard on the heels of an earlier decision to water down plans for the BBC's iPlayer in the wake of a market impact assessment by Ofcom that would appear to have been heavily shaped by the submissions from commercial publishing companies. So here we have a situation in which at least two of the BBC's public purposes are already at risk of being diluted by the very Trust that was put in place to advance them.

The origins of BBC Jam lie in the late 1990s. Former director general Greg Dyke first spoke in 1999 of a BBC "digital curriculum" which would bring out "the creativity and originality of the children who use it". The following year, the BBC got the thumbs-up in a public consultation on its plans. The idea went through many iterations and debates until, in May 2002, the BBC put in an application to Tessa Jowell to launch a new public service.

But not everyone was happy. Some established commercial players were alarmed by the BBC's plans to make material freely available. In January 2003 the minister gave approval, subject to 18 detailed conditions designed to limit the BBC's market impact. Meanwhile, the Department for Education decided to compensate the industry for any potential loss it might suffer from the BBC's £150m service by ring-fencing £530m over the same five-year period for schools to spend on commercial e-learning products.

But still the matter wasn't settled. The plans were referred to the European Commission because, it was claimed, BBC licence fee money (a form of "state aid") was being used to intervene in a commercial marketplace. The EC took nine months before finally giving the green light. In October 2003 the service was allowed to crank itself into action. What emerged was a learner-centred service aimed very directly at kids, not a bank of resources for teachers. In January 2006 the first elements of the new service - now called BBC Jam - went live.

But the row over commercial impact didn't go away. There were allegations that the service wasn't "complementary" to the rest of the market. Europe got worried. The BBC was asked to stop rolling out new Jam material and the UK government urged to review the service.

That was three months ago, and Europe was getting impatient. There were even rumblings that Europe might take unilateral action and close the service down. So the new BBC Trust took the initiative. It suspended the service with just six days' notice and asked management to bring forward fresh proposals for a new service. These will be subjected to a new "public value test" with a "market impact assessment" as required under the new Charter.

If you want to be generous, it's possible the Trust had no option if it didn't want to become entangled in a legal fight that could have paralysed the BBC's education service for the foreseeable future. But the current position is unnecessarily cruel.

Thousands of children have been left stranded. Not just some 173,000 who registered but the many more who dipped in and out without registering.

But now it's about to disappear. And for what? Nobody seems to know what the complaints to Europe precisely alleged. But there's not been a shred of evidence that companies are actually suffering because of the BBC. Some are doing very well, others less so - but to suggest any cause and effect related to Jam is fanciful in the extreme. It is entirely unclear what will happen to the £530m in ring-fenced funds - presumably now the BBC "threat" has been removed, the government will be thinking of releasing what's left so that schools can spend the money on what they choose.

Nor does Europe's concern for the wellbeing of industry appear to extend to those new media companies who were actually benefiting from the BBC's investment. The BBC had promised to spend half of its content budget for Jam - £45m - with external suppliers. The Pact vice-chair Andrew Chitty, whose company Illumina derives 50% of its overall work from the BBC, was quoted last week as estimating that pulling Jam would cost the new media industry £20-30m in addition to further revenue from rights ownership. In the meantime, the BBC must honour its production contracts with external suppliers. There is a real risk that some of the smaller independents could go under if the BBC does not act quickly.

It's hard to imagine an education service which has been the subject of so much politicking and so much shadowy commercial and bureaucratic self-interest - and yet where the interests of the most important party - the children - have been so badly marginalised.

One of the tasks of the Trust, quite properly, is to balance the benefit of new digital services against the likely impact on the commercial marketplace. To judge by the BBC Jam debacle, the early signs are that the judgment calls of the Trust may become neurotically weighted toward the commercial impacts, at the expense of true public interest.

http://media.guardian.co.uk/mediaguardian/...2042548,00.html

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What so educationalists on the forum think about the suspension of BBC Jam?

BBC suspends net learning project

It seems to me a similar argument could be used to close down the NHS - or government-funded schools.

I agree with you Sid.

This product has been taken off the market after pressure from the British Educational Suppliers Association. Not content with the e-credit system that has forced schools to spend millions on inferior software and online content, it has now removed the main provider of free content on the web. It hopes that schools will now pay for material that in the past they could have obtained free from the BBC website.

No doubt, members of the British Educational Suppliers Association will now be making donations to the Labour Party. It might also gain it support from the Guardian who are the owners of one of the largest companies, Learn, in this sector.

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If education damages business it is a fair indication that it is doing its job.

Education is about the free exchange of ideas and passing on the knowledge we have *for free* to the next generation to make of it what they will.

And business by law is about maximising profits for shareholders. They want to sell knowledge to our children. They are not happy with the idea of people giving it away.

I appreciate that the BBC itself is involved with some shady entrepreneurs as a result of New Labour's policy that profiteers know best.

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What so educationalists on the forum think about the suspension of BBC Jam?

BBC suspends net learning project

It seems to me a similar argument could be used to close down the NHS - or government-funded schools.

I agree with you Sid.

This product has been taken off the market after pressure from the British Educational Suppliers Association. Not content with the e-credit system that has forced schools to spend millions on inferior software and online content, it has now removed the main provider of free content on the web. It hopes that schools will now pay for material that in the past they could have obtained free from the BBC website.

No doubt, members of the British Educational Suppliers Association will now be making donations to the Labour Party. It might also gain it support from the Guardian who are the owners of one of the largest companies, Learn, in this sector.

Actually I never saw the service while it was operational. If it had 170,000 registered users, that suggests considerable interest.

I do however strongly support the idea that education should be free.

One of the great things about the internet is the possibilities it opens up for making good educational material universally accessible. Many students prefer working largely on their own.

I'm not enthused by the argument that an online publicly-funded education facility presents 'unfair' competition to the private sector.

Fundamentally, I'd argue that knowledge should not be a scarce resource sold by the old to the young. It should be available to anyone who wants or needs it.

In a mixed economy, the appropriate boundaries between the public and private sectors is always a matter for debate, but I think in this case vested interests are defeating the common good.

There is another, related issue, however. In more enlightened times, Government might have set up a new public agency to deliver free educational resources. This should not necessarily be the role of the BBC.

The BBC has more of a news service function. It is not truly tax-payer funded.

Finally, the BBC has a fast-growing credibility problem, caused by its evident infilitration over the years by operatives of the self-styled "intelligence agencies". The WTC-7 fiasco was the last straw for many people. Why pay for information that's blatantly false?

The determination of these unpleasant forces to foist false flag operations on an unwitting public - using institutions such as the BBC to purvey disinformation about matters as serious as mass murder - means they have an interest in dumbing down (not enhancing) the state of public education.

Edited by Sid Walker
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What so educationalists on the forum think about the suspension of BBC Jam?

BBC suspends net learning project

It seems to me a similar argument could be used to close down the NHS - or government-funded schools.

I agree with you Sid.

This product has been taken off the market after pressure from the British Educational Suppliers Association. Not content with the e-credit system that has forced schools to spend millions on inferior software and online content, it has now removed the main provider of free content on the web. It hopes that schools will now pay for material that in the past they could have obtained free from the BBC website.

No doubt, members of the British Educational Suppliers Association will now be making donations to the Labour Party. It might also gain it support from the Guardian who are the owners of one of the largest companies, Learn, in this sector.

It's interesting you say that John.

While I know we are on the same side in this debate, I'm going to play the role of purist and upbraid you for using enemy language to define terms in this issue.

Publicly-funded educational resources made freely available to all-comers is not a 'product' that can be withdrawn from consumers like a discontinued line.

It's a free service that can be (and has been) set up by government for public use - then subsequently denied to the community by a political/judicial decision following pressure from commercial vested interests.

Edited by Sid Walker
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So what do you say to my daughter, whose little home-based educational software business has taken a nosedive and who is now spending three evenings a week stacking shelves in Waitrose's in order to pay her mortgage?

Edited by Graham Davies
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Forget about the political issues surrounding the suspension of BBC Jam for the moment, and forget about the commercial implications. Let’s focus instead on the QUALITY of the BBC Jam products. I am a retired teacher of modern foreign languages (German and French). I cannot judge the quality of the whole range of BBC Jam products, but here’s what I wrote in a review of BBC Jam French in November 2006:

START OF MY REVIEW

The BBC Jam page at http://jam.bbc.co.uk opens with a Flash-driven sequence consisting of menus bouncing up and down - very jazzy, but this can create problems. It took me some time to work out what I had to do in order to call up the French materials and then find out whether I had to register as a user in the boxes inviting me to do so or just dive straight in. I decided to dive straight in.

The navigation is confusing. Essentially, it's driven by a beach scene image with hot spots. The user has to explore the image to locate the activities. I didn't like it as it was unclear what I should be doing, but it might appeal to spotty 14-year-old males who like a trial-and-error approach.

There are video sequences, which are irritatingly slow to load, even on my 1Mb broadband connection. These are linked with a series of multiple-choice exercises, with zero feedback apart from a tick or a cross.

There is a cartoon strip (bande dessinée), which is just a linear presentation. I learned very little from this, apart from a few new French words such as "vroummm!", "boum!", "cool", "super", "crii!", and I can now recognise different motor car sounds. I've also driven my neighbours mad with the loud throbbing music in the background.

I looked at the crossword puzzle based on motoring terminology. It's slow. Entering the letters takes time. And how relevant is this language to teenagers?

Have the designers of BBC Jam learned nothing from the development of computer assisted language learning over the last 30 years? A lot of effort has gone into flashy presentations and not enough into the pedagogy. It's mainly linear point-and-click stuff, but dressed up with flashy presentations. The slowness of interaction will probably frustrate youngsters used to fast action video games.

The BBC Jam French materials display two fundamental weaknesses, namely a lack of structure and a lack of a clear contents page indicating what's there and where it can be found. Above all, the site breaks the No. 1 rule of instructional software design insofar as it fails to provide a "default route" (v. Laurillard 1996:36: "the route through the material that the author believes to be optimal").

Providing a clear indication of what a software package contains and where it can be found saves teachers time. My frustration with BBC Jam French is due to a large extent that I haven't a clue where I am and where I am supposed to be going. I don't have the time or patience to find out things by trial and error.

END OF MY REVIEW

Another reviewer, Donald Clark, wrote:

START OF CLARK’S REVIEW

Thought I'd try the new stuff from the BBC as I have kids at the right age. Confused from the start. Menus that bounce up and down on the screen may look good but the designers need some serious help on interface design. Basic design errors abound. For example an icon with a tick on it is the confirm button, yet the meaning seems to be 'you got it right'. You have to press exit twice from each section, one would have sufficed. There's also too much loading time, this was disruptive with endless countdowns and waits. Some just didn't load at all, with no explanation.

First episode is a few cartoons - linear and next to zero learning. The second is video broken down into phrases, but some edit points are in the middle of words!

Identifying the parts of the car was fine, although the vocabulary (windscreen wipers, licence plate, gears etc) seems a little advanced for this age. In another you have to identify words as you hear them, but this is just identifying what's said, divorced from the meaning of what's said. In some interactive exercises when you get things wrong there's no formative feedback to tell you why or what the right answer is. The 'make your own comic' is fine, but is an exercise in sorting sentences and takes too long to navigate and complete. The DJ game is simply to identify masculine, feminine and plural, this is OK, but the vocabulary is too complex at this stage.

The whole thing is VERY clunky and clumsy in navigation, style, interaction, vocabulary and learning. 'I was fiddling around with it for ages and nothing happened. It was just a movie. It was crap. It's confusing. I didn't know what to do. I felt like it was, like, I should have been getting involved more as I was getting a bit bored. I thought it'd be better cause it's BBC.' Carl (12 years old). Oh dear!

END OF CLARK’S REVIEW

Source:

http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2006/...ticky-mess.html

What appears to have happened is that the BBC commissioned a team of graphic designers, Web designers and multi-media specialists to produce a product that is essentially pedagogically unsound. If you compare BBC Jam French to the BBC’s broadcast TV programmes, to which I referred earlier, it’s crap. If it were a commercial product no one would buy it. The “rush to the Web” has resulted in the closure of the excellent units that produced broadcast TV programmes for learners of languages. Jobs have been lost and the expertise has now been dispersed to other TV stations and to commercial companies.

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Derek writes:

If education damages business it is a fair indication that it is doing its job.

Graham replies:

Great thinking, Del! How do you feel about education wrecking Sainsbury's, Waitrose's, Tesco's et al? Where will you buy your groceries?

Derek writes:

Education is about the free exchange of ideas and passing on the knowledge we have *for free* to the next generation to make of it what they will.

Graham writes:

I agree. And I also think that teachers should work for free, just as my daughter has been doing for the last two years attempting to keep her little, home-based educational software business going without drawing a salary from it.

Derek writes:

And business by law is about maximising profits for shareholders. They want to sell knowledge to our children. They are not happy with the idea of people giving it away.

Graham writes:

Alongside the major publishers there are hundreds of educational software "mom and pop" businesses working on a shoestring budget. They have no shareholders, their partners or employees draw small salaries. I am still a partner in such a business. The most I have ever drawn in one month over the last 25 years is 1000 pounds. Currently, I am drawing zero. The sikhs who run our little corner shop don't have shareholders either. They are open all hours and they are not driving big BMWs.

Derek writes:

I appreciate that the BBC itself is involved with some shady entrepreneurs as a result of New Labour's policy that profiteers know best.

Graham writes:

I am familiar with the way the BBC works. I was a consultant to the BBC in the development of the German Steps package - which was produced on a low budget, not with the mountains of cash that were made available for BBC Jam and which just resulted in it being wasted. The members of the team that I worked with at the BBC were hard-working and competent. Here is the German Steps URL

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/german/lj/

I believe that you might actually be able to learn some basic useful German from this package. I wish BBC Jam French was still online. I challenge anyone, as an autonomous learner, to try and learn useful French from BBC Jam. It's all glitz, with no substance, and it shows little understanding of MFL pedagogy or methodology. If you dip your hand into your pocket and shell out 25 quid for a CD-ROM to teach you or your kids basic French you'll get good value for money. I spent 25 quid on a EuroTalk CD-ROM in order to pick up some basic Polish before going to Krakow a couple of years ago. It did the job. It was money well spent.

Edited by Graham Davies
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Forget about the political issues surrounding the suspension of BBC Jam for the moment, and forget about the commercial implications. Let’s focus instead on the QUALITY of the BBC Jam products. I am a retired teacher of modern foreign languages (German and French). I cannot judge the quality of the whole range of BBC Jam products, but here’s what I wrote in a review of BBC Jam French in November 2006:

I am unable to judge the quality of the modern languages material but I did use the sections on English and Maths for 5-6 year olds with my grandson. It seemed superior to commercial products that you had to pay for. The main advantage of BBC Jam was that it could be accessed at home. The subscription sites only catered for schools and wealthy parents. As we know, it is what takes place in the home that really matters.

So what do you say to my daughter, whose little home-based educational software business has taken a nosedive and who is now spending three evenings a week stacking shelves in Waitrose's in order to pay her mortgage?

It is not the role of government to protect every small company. We live in a capitalist society where we are all victims of market forces. I would claim that as a result of pressure from the big companies (I saw this at first hand when I was working for the Guardian's Learn website) the government has interfered too much in the market. For example, the government's decision to ring-fence £530m for schools to spend on commercial e-learning products. One of the consequences of this policy was for schools to spend money on very poor resources. If companies could not survive with this help from the government, it would seem that the products they were selling, were not wanted by the schools.

The BBC in fact were sub-contracting a lot of their Jam material to small companies. As has been reported in the press, most of these companies will now go under. It is the multinational companies who will benefit most from the decision to take Jam off the market. It is the British taxpayers who will suffer as it means that £150m of their money will have been wasted.

What is more, the subscription model will not work in a free-market. Schools are not willing to spend money on materials that can be obtained free from other sites. This is why the government had to introduce e-credits. When e-credits come to an end these large companies using the subscription model will close down.

The only way to make money from education websites is through advertising. Yesterday's the Guardian reported that last year advertising online overtook national newspapers' share for the first time. Online advertising increased by 41% last year and reached a total of £2.016bn. In America newspapers have attempted to use the subscription model for their online versions. It has not worked. Nor will it, when newspapers like the Guardian provide it free of charge.

Educational companies need to learn from the experiences of the newspaper industry. If they don't, they will be forced to close as government subsidies will not last for ever.

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John writes:

I am unable to judge the quality of the modern languages material but I did use the sections on English and Maths for 5-6 year olds with my grandson. It seemed superior to commercial products that you had to pay for. The main advantage of BBC Jam was that it could be accessed at home.

Graham writes:

There is undoubtedly variance between different subject areas. Therefore the BBC Jam products need to be scrutinised very carefully by experts who are competent to do so, i.e. who have the relevant background knowledge of their subject areas and of instructional design.

John writes:

It is not the role of government to protect every small company. We live in a capitalist society where we are all victims of market forces.

Graham writes:

It's also not very nice of government, particularly this government, to introduce policies that damage small businesses like mine. They won’t get my vote again. Anyway, I am moving into other areas, such as designing websites for small local businesses. Here’s my latest: http://www.mirakel.co.uk. I doubt that the government can make much of an impact on small businesses like these.

John writes:

The BBC in fact were sub-contracting a lot of their Jam material to small companies. As has been reported in the press, most of these companies will now go under.

Graham writes:

Yes, but a lot of these companies are hi-tech presentation and multi-media companies, e.g. Illumina (as cited in David Puttnam's article above). I have worked with and for Illumina on a DfES-funded ICT training project. They are a good, competent company, but they are mainly concerned with presentation and publishing, not pedagogy or instructional design. I am not aware of the BBC sub-contracting any big names in instructional design, at least not in my area of interest, namely computer assisted language learning.

John writes:

It is the multinational companies who will benefit most from the decision to take Jam off the market.

Graham writes:

Who are the multinational players in this game? I know that RM played a key role in complaining about the money allocated to the BBC, and so did other members of BESA. But these are not really big players, are they, e.g. compared to Microsoft?

John writes:

It is the British taxpayers who will suffer as it means that £150m of their money will have been wasted.

Graham writes:

It's not too late to put the remaining money back into the production of high-quality educational TV broadcasts, which is what the BBC is really good at. As I keep saying, the units that produced high-quality TV broadcasts for learners of foreign languages at all levels have been closed down. So now we can enjoy more cheap-to-produce programmes about people buying and doing up their houses. No more high-quality broadcasts such as the last two in the series for adult language learners covering Modern Greek and Mandarin Chinese.

John writes:

What is more, the subscription model will not work in a free-market. Schools are not willing to spend money on materials that can be obtained free from other sites. This is why the government had to introduce e-credits. When e-credits come to an end these large companies using the subscription model will close down.

Graham writes:

My business is registered as a eLC supplier. We registered as an eLC supplier with great reluctance, however. I don't think you fully understand how eLCs have affected small businesses. They have caused us a lot of extra work, registering our products via an unnecessarily complex tagging tool, keeping records of schools that use eLC money to buy software, and providing monthly returns to BECTA. The result has been to restrict educational software to selected so-called "approved" products produced by a limited number of suppliers. The approval process is a mockery. There is little or no quality control. You just have to find the time to enter the details of your products via the tagging tool and upload them to the Curriculum Online website. As a result of the introduction of eLCs our turnover took a nosedive, mainly because we could no longer sell the high-quality products that we were importing from Continental Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia, as they aren't eligible for purchase with eLC funding. They are still sitting on our shelves. Remember we specialise in materials for learning foreign languages and we don't have the narrow UK-only focus of most educational software suppliers. I will be glad to see the end of eLCs, as all they have done is create a cosy clique of UK suppliers who have the time and staff to cope with the bureaucracy that they have created.

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