Friday, 10 August 2007

Teachers TV experiment on Eduserv Island

Via a Gavin Dudeney posting to the SLED list I discovered that the Guardian have got together with Teachers TV to offer a selection of video podcasts aimed at teachers. The expectation, as far as I can tell, is that people subscribe to these using iTunes but I noted that they also offer an RSS feed of available videos. Not only that, but each video is available in Quicktime format... perfect for viewing within Second Life.

The RSS feed contains about 50 entries. As a feed, I assume it is going to change on a regular basis. So making the videos available in-world needs to be more flexible than simply hardwiring a list of 50 media URLs into a scripted 'video screen' prim.

One of the 'usability' challenges of SL is how to do this kind of thing, given that one can't simply present an HTML view of the list on an in-world prim. One possibility is to grab the RSS feed, pull it in-world, and chat it to the end-user, letting them chat back an instruction to play the required video - '/1 play 47' kind of thing. Another option would be to present an in-world dialogue box - but very difficult, if not impossible, to do with a list of 50 videos.

I chose a different method for my experiment. Why not take the end-user out to a Web page, show them an HTML view of the RSS feed, let them select one of the videos in their Web browser - then bring them back in-world to watch the video?

That's what I've done... and it seems to work pretty well. A single 'play' script in the in-world video screen, and a small set of external Perl scripts to parse and display the RSS feed, save the chosen video and tidy up when you the video is finished with combine to offer a functional but simple approach to video selection.

You can try it for yourselves on Eduserv Island. Click on the screen to get started. Have fun!

Note that once you have selected a video, you are in control of the screen until you either click on the screen to end the video or you leave the area. Other people can't jump in and choose another video while you are watching. This is a bit like holding onto the TV remote to stop your kids changing channels half-way thru your favorite programme! :-)

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