Transformative Technology (T.V. via games console)

T.V. was a bit rubbish the other night despite the many channels we now get through Sky and Virgin cable (lots of channels does not always mean lots better content) so I downloaded BBC’s iPlayer onto the Wii (which is network connected via a USB Ethernet connector to the broadband at home) and we watched some episodes of Silent Witness that I’d missed the previous week.

I was blown away by the simplicity of the installation and use (I know a lot of work has gone into that simplicity) and I was also pleasantly surprised by both the smoothness of the streaming (it only rebuffered once in the whole two hours and very little jerkiness) and the quality of the picture. As a geek and a YouTube advocate of course I’m familiar with this type of interface now as are many people these days.

..so…we have what I believe is something a bit special. A ubiquitous and relatively cheap technology for gaming that already exists in most living rooms which is being used to provide on demand TV content delivery. The XBox 360 has similar simplicity and ease of use for Sky content and my colleague used that last week for TV content, so we now have a number of devices on which on demand TV content can be delivered. The next step of course is to make the experience more fully interactive, knitting together the content and websites and providing content based on feedback and user interaction, also mixing and blending together sophiticated games and TV content seamlesslessly, then of course there is the 3D experience which is due to be big this year.

Coming back to the here and now the main big thing for me is that the BBC is now really mining the area of rich mixed media environments through providing its iPlayer on so many different platforms and devices and through blending different media types and delivery mechanisms to explore new ways to tailor delivery to suit the individual. I think this is putting the BBC in a very strong position and I admire the work they’ve begun to explore this blending of online and broadcast content and tailored delivery.

It shouldn’t all be about consumption though and the idea of people, for example, sharing ratings on programmes, giving recommendations, having back channel chats and peer group discussion around a programme seems like a concept that could be tapped into to provide a more interactive experience for those that want it. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Convergence v Specialism

I’m very interested in the trend with devices such as XBox 360 towards a convergence of media types and delivery with it’s support of Sky TV through the XBox and broadband via Sky Player – Stephen Nuttall from Sky was quoted as saying: ‘Our partnership with Xbox is a further example of our commitment to put choice and control in the hands of customers.’

I’m particularly interested in the ‘blurring’ or perhaps integration is a better word between the different media types so the idea of interactivity around watching a football match whilst downloading stats and also interacting with other fans is cool, also concepts around adding value to experiences through ‘back channel’ activities is something becoming more prevalent, as is the concept of ‘on demand’ services.

I think the really interesting stuff will be when the boundaries between an interactive TV experience, a gaming experience or an internet experience all disappear to the extent that they become platform neutral and coherent rather than bolt on things. The announcement of the Boxee box earlier this month is a step in the right direction, this really is opening up the rich resources and putting power int he hands of the users. It also means that you no longer need to get content ‘produced’ on a TV channel in order to get your content to a large audience, consumers become producers.

I’m very interested in using gaming technology and interactive TV in more powerful ways to develop engagement and learning, supported with internet they become extremely powerful tools.

Diddit and other online badness

I’ve come across Diddit.com which is suggested to be the next big thing for adventure junkies and others who like to brag. Those in the ‘know’ are claiming it’s going to be the next Facebook. Basically people can post up ‘brags’ or diddits about things they’ve done and also about things they want to do (wanna dos). They can also write stories. I think it’s very appealing and I get the idea of it. I think it would be great to have a SocialLearn strand to this and it definitely has a nice social dimension to it.

I’ve read two articles recently about the perils of online environments. The most recent by Catherin Blythe  in the Independent. These things are interesting to read and interpret but the Indy in particular has been going on a bit of a facebook rant and I’m not sure I agree. I think that online interactions can add to the interactions you have in the real world and enhance peoples lives. They should replace those though and maybe that’s where the problems arise. Online interactions are less passive than watching TV, so you gain something over TV from them. Similarly face to face offer opportunities over those so again you gain a richer interaction. Telephony for example has been around for generations and so we’ve always have a level of remote connectivity.

I feel that the problems are not from technologies themselves but how we use them. I think that we need to develop the correct protocols for new technologies to embed them correctly into our (and others) lives. I can go for periods without using Twitter but when I do use it I value it. My followers number only 50 and are people I either know in real life or would expect to know in real life through work or other means. I don’t have any fantasies about having a huge following and making eclectic friendships online, mainly because I’m very happy with my real world friends and I feel ‘grounded’ with that group. but by virtual interactions enhance that experience and draw me closer to them.

I do however agree that abuse of TV and prolonged passive web browsing could damage peoples ability to correctly make inferences. I think over use of any single media is dangerous – but that’s not down to the media, it’s down to the people.

Teaching…going back to basics

I was looking at a news story from Channel Four News recently about the Open University which has been involved in this debate about ELQ (Equivalent or Lower Qualification). Where the government is reducing or removing funding for students to study if they already possess a qualification at that level (e.g. second degrees etc.). I won’t get into that now as it’s a bit political but suffice to say I’m against it because I think it will inhibit lifelong learning for those who want to study at higher degree level to retrain in a new area.

Anyhow the news story contained snippets of old Open University folk in kipper ties showing things like wave form motion using a tank of coloured water. I am fascinated by these. I worked in the video production unit here when I first joined the OU and created animations for BBC programmes. We used to (in our spare time) watch the old video footage, including things where Professors had, for example, impressive sets of braces which could display different mathematical formulae as they talked about them. I really found it amusing and it did present quite dry subjects in a quirky way (which didn’t always work!).

 My theory now is that with technology we need to explore ways to go back to basics and to recreate this atmosphere. I think that the OU should be thinking about research into remote experimentation and remote instrumentation, actively engaging students in live experiments using the power of video, online media and interactive T.V.

 I’m currently involved in building a new centre for ‘ambient technology research’ at the OU and I have been enthusing (?) academic colleagues about how we could use the labs to do live experiments that we could stream and in which students could engage and actively participate and influence the outcome. This could open up our curriculum into new areas previously not explored by the OU (i.e. very hands-on activities in area such as physical sciences, sports, food, etc.) and also to help with student engagement and participation, making a more ‘virtual campus’ environment that can be achieved through a VLE or other simplistic online tool.

It’s an idea, it doesn’t need to cost a lot to do, it may be nonsense but we’ll see! – watch this space.