Bitesize Study Guides

Tuesday 20 August 2013, 09:13

Ali Craigmile Ali Craigmile Senior Product Manager

Hi - I’m Ali Craigmile, Senior Product Manager in BBC Future Media.

In this post, I’d like to talk about some work which my team and I have been involved in recently: improving BBC Bitesize.

Today we're announcing the addition of a feature we're calling study guides in the Knowledge & Learning beta site.

This new content format builds upon the Revise > Activity > Test pattern of learning which is at the core of the Bitesize offer. It retains the Bitesized content too, but crucially (and this is what we're especially proud of) does so irrespective of the browser and device you have.

Bitesize study guides are fully responsive, designed from a mobile first perspective, are more accessible than before and they look great following a long overdue GEL makeover.

bitesize2.jpg Flashpoints - Poland, Hungary, Berlin, Cuba - Bitesize guide from National 5 History

Innovation

Bitesize has innovated continually since it started back in 1998. Each year we’ve have added new subjects to the site, and we’ve refreshed our revision, activity and test bites as the curriculum changed.

The 75 Flash activities we published in KeyStage 3 History, Geography and ICT subjects last year demonstrate this brilliantly.

However the numerous changes over the years has led to:
 
• a site which is difficult to maintain;

• a format, the Revision Bite, which meant different things to different people; and

• an over-reliance on Flash to provide interactivity.

There were also major challenges in the work that lay ahead of us in reflecting the fundamental changes to the curriculum in Scotland, and extensive rewrites to the National Curriculum in the other nations.

And the increase in mobile and tablet devices used by audiences, many of which don’t support Flash.

And finally, as part of the wider strategy to make BBC Online better for audiences we felt a new approach was needed to deliver key functionality we know they want. Therefore, last summer while the rest of the country was busy watching the Olympics, a small team was brought together to explore these problems.

We started by pulling together everything we could about our audience. We spoke to students and teachers in focus groups, looked for patterns in our server logs, at spoke internally with our producers too. Any insight we could get into what worked, and what didn’t – what was feasible, and where there were opportunities for a future Bitesize were scrutinised carefully.

As a student, I would like …, so that …

The outcome of this work was a small set of personas (helping us to understand our audience behaviours) and a much larger set of user stories (describing what our users needed).

If you’re a regular reader of the Internet blog, you’ll know that our teams have embraced the User-centred design approach.

The key benefit for me in having done this is that it’s been nigh on impossible to forget about our users and their needs. In every planning, triage, sprint demo and daily stand-up we do, 8 words come up more than any others: "As a student, I would like …, so that …".

At this point, we expanded our team to include design and development staff. We prioritised our user stories, and then explored each in turn, imagining what we’d need to build to realise them for our audience – identifying as we went any HTML pages and reusable visual components that we could incorporate into the build.

We built paper prototypes, and technical mock-ups when there were things we needed to see or test working too. As improved navigation and responsiveness were two of the more important improvements we wanted to achieve, these got a lot of love at this point.

We decided to build up on the Knowledge & Learning beta (launched back in April) we also pinned down any ground rules for the developers around browser support, accessibility and house style.

The types of responsive components that we defined which make up a Study Guide included: text, images, video, audio, poems, equations, quiz questions, foreign text, lists, tables, infographics, and more.

Development

The task of building these new components fell to our experienced team of software engineers, web developers, designers, and testers.

To complicate matters a wee bit, the Future Media Knowledge & Learning team is split between two cities: Glasgow and Salford. Working between these 2 office locations has called for some innovative ways of working. Our daily-stand-ups include a video conferencing component, as do our sprint planning sessions, demos, … pretty much any meeting I’m in some days.

As a result we were able to strictly adhere to our 2 weekly sprint cycle, and have been iterating through the product backlog for some time.

If you’re interested in the specifics of the technology stack we’ve building against, Robert Lee has blogged previously about this.

Content is King

In parallel with all of the activities I’ve touched upon, our editorial and production colleagues have been busy commissioning Bitesize study guides.

This week, we've published our first batch of these (in English and Gaelic) covering topics in the Scottish National 4 and National 5 levels. My colleague John Millner, has blogged about this ‘next big step’.

We’ve worked with John’s teams on a Production Guide, to ensure that they’re making the most of our shiny new components and we’ve liaised on their behalf with the team developing iSite, our in-house content management system.

We’ve also worked with them in developing our Curriculum topic dictionary, the glue that holds our content together, and the basis of our navigation. We publish this to the BBC’s Linked Data Platform for our in-house use, and we’ve released it on an open licence for external use too.

What next?

Over the next few months we will be looking at how improve our external linking, search, completing additional work on the design of Bitesize study guides from a student’s perspective, and to improve further the content management experience for our production teams (phew!)

We’ll also be adding more video clips to the Classroom resources section of the Beta and are looking to start migrating our existing Bitesize content over too.

Before any of that, we’ll be looking at how our new format is used (back to the server logs again!), and at any feedback we receive.

If you’d like to share your thoughts with us on this Beta, I’d very much like to hear from you. Please either comment below, or email us at knowledgeandlearningfeedback@bbc.co.uk.

Ali Craigmile is a senior product manager working in BBC Future Media.

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