BBC Jam, £75 million for what?
It was with a heavy heart that I tried to log in to BBC Jam, last time was a depressing experience. The whole experience was of an over-engineered project, where visuals and animation took priority over everthing else, including learning.
But here goes. Damn, I’ve had to register again, as my previous registration details had mysteriously disappeared.
You get used to looking at ‘loading’ screens in BBC Jam. Huge amounts of time are spent waiting on something to happen. Then, as many things are introduced with an annoyingly elaborate flash animation, if you repeat something you get this stuff over and over again. This ‘animate everything’ approach disappeared from web design years ago.
Not another robot!
An annoying floating robot (circa 1950), with one of those synthesised voices that remind you of cheap children;s TV, explains a settings toolbar without actually showing it on the screen. What is it with the BBC, robots and tinny voices? It’s the same in Bitesize – they’re everywhere. And why talk through a screen navigation sequence without showing the screen? In any case, the curiously dated robot crashed out with an error message before I could finish the session (just two minutes in). This happens a lot in BBC Jam.
Long linear tour
I then took the tour. A linear animation with zero interaction and no user control. If you miss something, you’re lost. Even the simplest of video and animation delivery on the web has some rudimentary user control.
Design and technology The menu system on this module is a real hoot. I clicked on ‘food for though’ and got nothing but bouncing menu items and coming soon messages. Thoroughly confusing and a complete waste of time. The linear video and animation sequences were as dull as dishwater.
Fieldtrip for SEN (Special Educational Needs)
The laboured animation at the start (you get used to this) has a dog that puts a VHS videotape (dated or what?) into a VCR and, you’ve guessed it, a video appears on a TV screen. By the way the back button doesn’t work. It has the wrong symbol (fast rewind) –should’ve been a vertical line and less than symbol to take you back to the start. Damn. an error message has appeared “A script in this movie is causing Adobe Flash Player 9.0 to run slowly” Not again. In a way I was glad as the content was dire. Largely a scrappy set of linear video and animation resources and horrific load times. I do the ‘game’. It’s a deadening experience wit pythonesque animation – again this is something that’s really common in BBC Jam – scrapbook animation. It’s tedious.
Confused from the start. They’ve improved the front-end menu since I last looked but it’s all hopelessly over-engineered. 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) was far too advanced for the age group. 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 far 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!
For a detailed critique from a language teaching expert see:
The introductory menu is very strange. Loads of animation with buttons flying about, but when they settle, try clicking on the large orange button, nothing happens – classic design error – something looks clickable, but it’s not. You have to look for the barely visible, small rectangle below. Then I get the inevitable loading screen. This time it says the user-friendly word – ‘Processing…’. I do feel as though I’m being processed.
It gets weirder. One of its ‘star’ businesses is Eidos! I’d love to tell you about the other businesses, but hardly anything loaded and worked. What the BBC case study doesn’t tell you is that Eidos was days away from bankruptcy when this was being filmed. Their bank wanted to pull the plug and it was sold off cheaply after massive losses, missed deadlines and bug–ridden releases (a bit like BBC Jam). As an assignment you are asked to do a SWOT analysis of this now defunct company – that WOULD be interesting, if you had the real and current data to view!
The only interesting bit was the ability to explore the Eidos offices, but again, it was a lot of effort for very little reward. Why were all of the Eidos senior staff posing about for BBC film and photo-shoots at the very time the company was sinking - they should have been trying to get their lamentably late games out.
In general, the whole thing is a scrapyard mess. The repeated animations are annoying – same images over and over again – it makes you scream with rage. E-learning is about the user being in control. This is what you get when TV people create interactive content – thinly disguised broadcast material. Interactivity is the name of the game. Here you spend more time hanging about waiting, often on just simple pieces of repeated animation, than learning. Most of the time it’s like an animated PowerPoint in extreme and painful slow-motion. Try the Library – you may lose the will to live waiting on search results.
At last, something that is really, really good. Don’t know who did the content, but it was well designed and the simulation approach to learning worked. It was way beyond the other content in terms of its focus on learning. It has a consistent interface, sadly lacking in the other content, good structure and a strong focus on learning by doing. Only a couple of niggles – figures should be lined up when presented in columns and some of the video sequences were overscripted.
Is the content worth the £75 million spent?
NO, NO, NO. It’s plagued with:
Horrific loading times
Strange and confusing navigation
Too many linear sequences
Misjudgements on content
Perhaps the wider debate boils down to:
Was the government & EC right to proceed with BBC Jam? NO
Was the early content up to standard? NO
Was the later content up to standard? NOT MUCH
Was the content hopelessly behind schedule? YES
Is the content produced so far worth £75 million? NO
Did the BBC break the government and EC rules? YES