Old thinking about new web stuff?

I’ve been engaged in a very productive few weeks of meetings with colleagues looking at ways that the OU can use work better, explore new markets and reach out using new tools. The good side is that there’s lots of positive work going on both inside and outside the organisation. The bad news is that there is definitely some ‘old ideas’ floating around about how best to go about leveraging web technology.

An example of this is that the OU is investing in a strategic partnership with YouTube (sounds interesting doesn’t it?) well as far as I know this actually means that we’ll be able to publish larger files sizes without restrictions and we’ll be able to create ‘areas’ for our stuff, so the OU is putting up 300 course resource videos in a section called OUcourses, there’ll also be a section called OUlife and one called OUresearch (I think I may have got that wrong). This strikes me as a very old fashioned idea of how the OU should use Youtube, it’s the old file/folder model of the world and everything gathered into an OU specific area. I far prefer the model adopted by individual academics who publish course materials directly to Youtube and who benefit by the clickback traffic and other stuff, if people really want to get 300 course resources all bunched together they can browse OpenLearn or the OU public site? – The OU is also paying out to hire a helicopter to take a video of the campus to put an official OU Youtube promotion on the web. Again this strikes me as old school thinking of a very polished advertising video when what is really needed is some low-fi stuff and no corporate bling.

I’ve been looking at the Google Maps mashups as friends of mine are working on projects which involve using the Google Maps API to create useful resources, one is an IM locator service for people using OpenLearn and it’s now out and avialable (Alex Little developed this one), the other is using Gogole Maps to create a picture of species maps (of snails) in the UK for a project called Evolution Megalab (Richard Greenwood did this one). There’s lots of potential for the Google Maps API, especially in where it’s going with dynamic re-routing for journey and travel info and with live street level mapping info. Alex pointed me to a good site that deals with this it’s the Google Maps Mania Blog – I could spend ages looking through it (and will when I get more time). The easy use API and the ability to embed the code easily in host sites makes the Google Maps stuff a real winner in my book. I think there’s much potential for it’s use in the kinds of location/discovery/exploration learning context. Now for some new thinking about how it can be used!

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

3 Responses to Old thinking about new web stuff?

  1. Laura says:

    I have to argue against the old-school way of thinking for YouTube. I’m definitely involved and definitely nu-skool, ya know what I mean? I know where you’re coming from – an institutional approach to anything Web 2.0 is still a bit of a weird one but I think there’s value in it.

    On the YouTube stuff, a “strategic partnership” is perhaps taking it a little far as you’ve said. We actually have an brand agreement which allows us a few extra privileges and it’s not exactly a major investment but a contribution to an ongoing strategy around online and broadcast. The group at the OU who are working to get something up in the first instance recognise that categorising YouTube content isn’t that crucial, which is why we didn’t fret too much about the categories (there were no committees or year long surveys). The playlists will allow us and others to categorise content in numerous ways and much of the content will be viewed from outside YouTube if it becomes embedded in other sites.

    However we did think some categorisation would be useful as a starting point for people who land on the OU page or search for OU related video materials and want to understand what we do (they may be a minority but it doesn’t take much effort to provide the categories so if it helps some people, then great). It might help people sort through what is content for general viewing and what is content that only our immediate community is likely to find of interest.

    It also helps us think about how different areas of the university want to develop their external online presence – there are issues for researchers around ethics, quality, citations etc that make it a whole different ball game to how we may develop videos of campus tours for example, so some seperation of these videos in an OU branded space may serve purposes that we are only beginning to discover by doing this. Video might be stylistically/ editorially different to reflect this (similar to mainstream broadcast channel differentiation for example). And yes, this may seem an overally professional take on what is essentially a website known most for low-fi user generated content but this is only part of the story – it can act as both a delivery mechanism for greater public engagement with our materials and a publishing mechanism for video content for our staff and students while we await our internal cogs to grind. The OULife section is intended to be for content relating to staff and students experiences and hopefully will encourage conversation around topical issues and enable people to join in the discussions whether they are behind the campus walls or not.

    There will be a mix of low and hi-fi. Where hi-fi stuff is being created anyway, we may as well stick it on YouTube if its cleared at no cost. It may not suit the medium but then lots of unexpected subjects make for popular viewing in YouTube. For years people have been moaning that no one out there knows that the OU isn’t a virtual university but actually has real people and buildings – hence the low-fi campus drive by that was filmed.

    None of this prevents OU academics and students from continuing to publish their own stuff in YouTube – in fact we hope it encourages more creative use of video and helps to support this (eg creating guidelines around video production to support those interested in contributing but not necessarily media literate). Part of the reason for working with YouTube was a recognition that people are often more interested in using sites like YouTube than what their institution offers them internally or use external sites when their institution isn’t offering them an alternative (so the external technology becomes a a test-bed and springboard by innovators that eventually encourages greater take-up) and that the external and internal technologies can work together effectively. It’ll be interesting to see what the community of the University of the Air think about the OU YouTube space when it launches – there will probably be mixed feelings as when we launched OpenLearn. Lots of people will love it but it will also raise many questions.

    YouTube is just one accessible way to increase the reach of our materials – people could come to OpenLearn but they won’t find the video content in one place, it’s not easily searchable and can’t be easily embedded (it’ll cost us more to do that than make the video available in YouTube). They could come to the OU website (where we can and will embed our YT content btw) but why should they have to? If they are users of YouTube and interested in subject based educational content, it’s easier for them to consume it in YouTube and contribute through video comments etc in that familiar space and it is more likely they will find it. Not all the people interested in our content with be our students and staff, although they might have a past or future relationship with us because of it.

  2. willwoods says:

    Hi Laura,
    Wow, thanks for that reply!

    I’ll give a short answer although you really deserve a longer one…

    I agree there should be both low-fi and hi-fi resouces available and perhaps I’ve been a bit hardline about the OU corporate stuff, there is a place for it.

    If you want to merge lots of OU materials though why not create a mashup or use some aggregator to do that for you? – I still think the categorisation approach is institutional and not individual. It may help some people I guess, I’d like to run a comparison of a categorisation and taxonomoy approach versus a freeform aggregation approach.

  3. Laura says:

    Hi… I guess I’m seeing the playlist as the aggregator available to the YouTube user to display content in ways that are meaningful to them. It’ll be interesting to see where OU content ends up. I think there’s a place for categorisation and UGC (user generated categorisation) 🙂 Would be interested to hear more about a comparison between approaches – but won’t each approach suit different user needs and interests? The important thing is making sure your content can legally and technically be gathered, organised and shared by others. Websites have traditionally made mistakes in reflecting their organisational structure… I don’t think we are making this mistake here but aiming to provide some clarity and conventions that make sense to a certain audience, while recognising others will never even see or use these structures. Those who don’t, won’t be those seeking them…

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