I attended the Microsoft Silverlight event today in Bletchley Park. For those that aren’t familiar with Silverlight I would describe it as a rich media environment for allowing rendering of applications and media. It’s basically a direct competitor to Flash but they probably wouldn’t say that themselves. They’re about to release version 2.0 and have tried to go for a more open approach, allowing developers to use Ruby, JSON, Javascript and providing SOAP and REST inferfacing. It’s also cross platform (or will be with Novell releasing clients for Mac and Linux and Solaris) and works with Firefox and Safari (but not supported under Opera although it should work).

OK plug over, now on to what I thought of the event…firstly Silverlight itself may be interesting but I’m not sure what it gives me over Flash, although it’s XAML under the bonnet and the benefits they claim are to do with the fact that design and code can be brought together better through it and also that it’s powerful, for example you can change the XAMP and push out design changes rapidly through it to allow easier methods of customisation.

There was a lot of 3D visualisation and rendering stuff which was fantastic to watch but not my area of interest. The Deep Zoom technology is cool. See The Hard Rock Cafe site for info.

To cut a long story short however the event was targetted at developers and designers not Academics, in my opinion a bit of a mistake as the event ended with a demo of Grava. You wont find much about Grava online but it’s Microsoft’s Academic authoring environment and anyone who has seen the LAMS environment or eve the work done by Grainne at the OU on Compendium LD will know about work being done on Learning Design authoring tools which may seem like competitors to this tool, however this tool seems to be very much based on rich media. I don’t see much pedagogy behind it and I’m a bit concerned that Microsoft are creating yet another tool built from the inside out and not asking people about how they’d like to learn. It’s a very broadcast centric view of the world. The tool maybe has a niche and it might prove to be very useful at filling that niche but I’m not sure that it’s built on solid principles of the learning experience. The activities are very sequential and there’s no framework to assist with the design process.

I’ll write more on this later (and on the venue which was great and very inspriational!)


About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

6 Responses to Silverlight….

  1. Grainne says:

    HI Will

    interesting – look forward to hearing more. I think the approach we are adopting with our Learning Design work which very much builds in user experience and the development of an empirical base to support the developments we are doing is important and is the right one for LD which is far from trivial and very much tied into teachers tacit knowledge, practice and experience.

  2. willwoods says:

    Yes, to be fair to Microsoft they are (through events such as the one this week) trying to bring the academic community in to do just that, and the tool itself isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ app, if used correctly it can make quite fantastic activities for students, the examples they showed were bio-sciences ones and I think it’s definitely benficial in that area where it helps to have the visual images and to be able to manipulate these. They’re also working with publishing houses on methods of producing paper or ‘artifact’ versions of rich media material in meaningful ways. I think that’s an interesting area of exploration. I think they have to build academic tools from the outside in rather than from the inside out if they want people to take up and use these.

  3. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Microsoft’s Grava

  4. Mark says:

    Hi Will – thanks for the feedback. The event was targeted at Developers and Designer Academics primarily (not “designers and developers, not academics” :-)) as they will be teaching this in their courses, e.g. Computer Science.

    I’m sure as Grava matures we will be running more focused events for those who are interested in learning technology like yourself. That said, I will pass this post onto Andrew Sithers who presented to see if we can connect you with the Grava folks as I’m sure your input would be really useful in shaping the product.

    Feel free to ping me at if you have more feedback or questions

  5. willwoods says:

    Hi Mark,
    That explains my confusion! – I would be really pleased to help shape and improve it as I think it’s got great potential. Don Williams (Microsoft Research U.S.) came over a couple of weeks ago and saw our learning design ‘product’ and research work and seemed guenuinely impressed by it. I hope we’ll be able to push things further in the coming months.

  6. Pingback: Three tips for Microsoft about developing better software… « Weblog of Will Woods

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