Making it easy to view learning content on a TV, smart screen, or games console.
The availability of smart screens in student homes and workplaces is on the rise and the ability to put our content onto these screens is becoming more of a concern than it may have been previously, when students simply loaded up a DVD or VHS to watch such content. These days it is common to have access to a Smart TV, a Smart Screen, or a TV using a smart streaming stick or connection via a games console. However, it has become less common to view our learning materials on them as we have moved the majority of video content onto our VLE and it is primarily viewed on a small laptop or mobile phone screen. We are not yet offering the necessary flexibility that our students are asking for, which is frustrating for them when they have seen the film, music, and publishing industries offer the exact same type of flexibility and services in the very same way in the past decade (and beyond.)
There is a clear opportunity here to improve the student experience by making our content available via streaming, casting, or mirroring it from a smart device, or via dedicated video apps and services. For example, any iOS / Android mobile or tablet can use AirPlay / casting to play a video from a smartphone or tablet on a TV screen that has the requisite technology (which almost every Smart TV does) while viewing additional and complimentary content on the device itself. This could allow a student to use the supplementary material, be it a module guide or similar, to enhance their learning experience and to interact with it in a different manner than simply viewing it statically on a small screen. If we were to allow a student to use a video in the VLE, we could allow them to use a Smart Display, such as an Echo Show or Google Nest Hub, to interact with it via voice and to control playback and ask questions about the content at the same time.
In addition, games consoles are now essentially subsidised high-end PCs and their ability to access content is ever-improving. With the imminent Chromium version of Microsoft's Edge browser, which is about to be launched on Xbox, there is the potential to use full-bodied versions of interactives and other materials, yet still having the ability to chat in the background using Skype, all on a TV sized display and done wirelessly from the sofa, or using a range of accessible controllers.
To take advantage of these opportunities no additional equipment or specialist software is required. We simply need to tell students about how to better take advantage of the devices they've already told us they have access to and to make some minor amendments in our back-end services. We don't need to worry about changing the experience entirely, or even having to make changes to individual pieces of content. It is potentially an easy-win.
The options in this space are all commercially available right now and from our surveys and wider research we know that they are in student's homes, workplaces, and other places of study. We are under-utilising them, when we should be thinking about them in the exact same way that we thought about the use of TV and VHS in the 1970s and 80s, when we revolutionised and disrupted how people thought about studying at home.
Work has begun on this area of research, but due to the OU campus currently being closed, we have had to postpone this work until we can access our specialist on-site network again.
The Smart Tech project was born out of the need to understand more fully the potential benefits of smart device usage on student success and to assess whether there are changes that we can make to the production and delivery of learning materials to assist in this aim.Discover more about the project