Investigating the delivery of eBooks and other learning content via smart devices as a short term solution to help the University support students during the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
With the recent situation around the COVID-19 outbreak closing the OU campus and affecting many of the normal business services, including closing the warehouse, means there is an unprecedented challenge to delivery of printed materials, particularly for those with accessible requirements who need alternative printed packs to support their learning. In normal times these printed packs would be produced, printed, packaged, and delivered to students homes. However, currently this is not possible and has meant that many of the materials are going to be distributed by the module websites in PDF format.
While this will work for many students, it will not be suitable for all and therefore other versions of the materials, such as human-voiced DAISY books, will need to be produced in a very short timeframe. This places a huge demand on the University and means novel approaches will be required to deliver the content on time for those students that require them.
In order to assist with this, we have prioritised the work we are doing in the Smart technology project to bring forward all elements of research and experimentation on eBook and digital learning content delivery via smart devices to assess whether we can assist supporting students at this time. We will be testing multiple approaches to evaluate whether we can deliver content to be consumed via smart devices, including looking at the following specific areas:
While it is entirely feasible that we will not be able to contribute anything of particular value in the short timeframe required, it is important that we try and anything that we do identify and document in this period will be useful for future work in this area. There are numerous opportunities in the use of smart delivery of content and the hope is that we can find methods that allow us to support students in the short term, even if this is not to the exact same quality and level of robustness that we usually would at the University.
In short, anything we can do will help and we will endeavour to share this knowledge as widely and as quickly as possible with colleagues.
After spending a few weeks looking into the various areas of most importance, it would appear that we have hit a dead end, in that they all suffer with the same key issue: copyright blocking and service delivery.
Specifically, it appears that while the various devices and platforms are more than capable of handling the technical specifics of what we would have liked to implement, they are all essentially blocked due to the intellectual property restrictions in place, in addition to the respective companies (publishers and technology partners) wanting to protect revenue by selling audiobooks on the platforms and blocking the upload and delivery of a user's own (or in our case, the University's) eBooks.
We can break down the specific issue in slightly more detail as follows:
So, despite the devices generally being technically capable, there is quite some way for the various services to go before we could utilise them without first forming a specific partnership with the individual companies. Whilst that is something that we may look into in the future, in light of the current situation with COVID-19, it looks extremely unlikely that we will be able to do something in the relatively small timeframe available. It does, however, highlight the need and potential for such services going forwards, particularly if the lockdown situation in many countries persists.
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