Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BBC Jam (French) – a sticky mess

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.

Nothing changes, this was a problem with ‘A Vous la France’ (BBC), where a crew seems to have simply gone out to film, then someone had to build a language programme around what was shot. It was, in fact, impossible to learn French from that package.

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!

 Subscribe to RSS


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nest to zero learning?

10:29 AM  
Anonymous John Brown said...

I'm married to an amazing woman who speaks five European languages and a smattering of several others. Across our 35 years together we've had quite a few conversations about how best to learn languages. In the end there's no substitute for choosing the approach that most closely mimics how we learn our own native tongue - trial and error in a rich language environment with emotional engagement and plenty of feedback from people who want to communicate too. That doesn't sound too much like either e-learning or conventional classroom teaching. My French (no- qual) is better than my Spanish (proud possessor of an O Level here... a modest success from conventional secondary school teaching)

I learned my French from:

(i) a Jacques Prevert dual-language Penguin poetry book
(ii) listening to my wife telling other people [in French] stories I already knew [in English]
(iii) reading Agatha Christie novels in French on French soil [vital ingredient=wine?]
(iv) bravely buying stuff in French shops, dictionary in hand
(v) talking with French people about anything and everything whenever I could, whether I had the words for it or not [they've always been so forgiving

In the midst of it all I took a BBC French intermediate radio/book course called 'Viens de Paraitre' which I stuck with for 60% of the course - it helped a bit. But in fact, nothing substitutes for immersion in your chosen tongue (if you'll pardon the expression).

My wife learned two of her languages (Swedish and Spanish) backwards according to most teaching methods - i.e. she spoke it for a few months and picked up vocabulary and idioms - only getting to the formal structure of the language some time later and consolidating her practical learning in the process. Which is rather close to how English kids learn English.

A lesson here I think for all who aspire to learn (or teach) a language.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

You've set me thinking - we may be getting closer to this with synthetic environments. If we let learners free in an environment like Habbo Hotel, then picking up conversational French would be possible. This kinda happens with the hybrid English in these worlds. There is in fact an existing French Habbo Hotel but as we're off to Paris tomorrow, we'll give it a try when we get back.


11:01 PM  
Blogger Graham Davies said...


A personal view: by Graham Davies

 The BBC Jam page at http://www.bbc.co.uk/jam/ opens with a Flash-driven sequence consisting of menus bouncing up and down – very jazzy, but this can create problems (see below). 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 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 site displays 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").

Laurillard continues:
"Completely open-ended program structure can make students anxious - they like to know what they are supposed to do. It must always be possible to deviate from the default route, but it should be clear what it is, so that they can just follow it through. This saves students having to make decisions at every turn, and may also encourage them to consolidate, rather than keep moving on."

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.

Laurillard D. (1993) "Program design principles", Hull: TELL Consortium, CTI Centre for Modern Languages, University of Hull. This document is incorporated as Annex 1: "Program design principles" into Laurillard D. (1996) Formative evaluation report, Hull: The TELL Consortium, University of Hull. The document is available as a downloadable file from: http://www.hull.ac.uk/cti/tell/eval.htm

A waste of money: by Graham Davies

Don’t forget that BBC Jam is costing licence payers 150 million pounds – across all the subjects, however, not just the French. The BBC actually asked for 170 million pounds originally, but it was reduced to 150 million. Money for Jam, eh?

You can read the whole story about Research Machines' formal complaint to the Commission about BBC Digital Curriculum (i.e. BBC Jam as it is now known) and the subsequent decision.
See also the BBC's summary:

BBC Jam and Curriculum Online: by Graham Davies

Furthermore, the BBC Jam website is “approved” under the DfES Curriculum Online initiative:

My personal view of Curriculum Online is that it is nothing short of a scandal. The process whereby an e-learning resource is "approved" works thus: the supplier fills in a complex electronic form describing the resource and uploads the completed form to the Curriculum Online website. A few days later the resource is then listed as an "approved" resource. In theory, the resource should be evaluated before it is approved, but in my experience as a supplier only two spot checks of our products have been made by BECTA during the last three years, many months after they were uploaded to the Curriculum Online site. It was clear from the feedback from BECTA that they didn't understand the purpose of the resources and appeared to be interested only in their technical specifications rather than their pedagogical value.

There are companies such as Schoolzone and Evaluate (owned by The Guardian newspaper) that offer an evaluation service to suppliers of Curriculum Online products. However, such companies charge the suppliers exorbitant fees for evaluating their products, so a positive evaluation report does not necessarily mean that a product is good, merely that the supplier could afford to pay for its evaluation.

The BBC's involvement in Curriculum Online created an uproar among software publishers when it was announced some years ago. The main publishers' associations objected to the BBC spending licence payers' money on developing free online resources and this eventually led to legal action. To cut a long story short, the BBC won the right to spend your money in this way, subject to certain restrictions. To quote from the BBC site:

"There was concerted opposition to the proposal for a new online curriculum from commercial companies. A judicial review was sought by educational software companies who argued that the use of state money to fund the BBC's plans would be illegal under European law. In early 2003 an out of court settlement was reached. In 2005, the online content was piloted in hundreds of UK schools."

The BBC is clearly shifting its emphasis from TV broadcasting of educational materials to online resources. The unit that produced the excellent TV series for adult learners of languages (e.g. the series for learners of Greek and Mandarin Chinese) has now been closed down. There was resistance to this from the Association for Language Learning, but obviously not enough.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"BBC won the right to spend your money in this way"...of course they did, as a public service organisation that is what they are there for. Free from the money grabbing weasel ethos that drives (by necessity) every private company, they can make what is actually superb content. Private companies have been making the stuff that not made in house.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

'Superb content' - see my post on BBC Bitesize - the content is inaccurate, badly designed with no quality control and an absolute disgrace in educational terms.

Why are all the supportive BBC posts anonymous? Doesn't take much to figure out they work for the BBC. And how many people work for the BBC? About half!

10:24 AM  
Blogger Komail Noori said...

I like it.

Komail Noori
Web Site Design - SEO Expert

2:04 PM  
Blogger One said...

An admirable read indeed..

5:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home