Leading the Way in Academic Publishing: Vivian Marr and Oxford University Press

May 8th, 2012 by Katherine_Marshall | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Leading the Way in Academic Publishing: Vivian Marr and Oxford University Press
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Vivian Marr, Head of Language Acquisition at Oxford University Press, joined us for our penultimate visiting speaker session, during which we were treated to a whistle-stop tour of OUP’s rich history and given an in-depth look at Vivian’s own area of expertise:  the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Founded in 1478, OUP began life as a humble printing press and is now the biggest academic publisher in the world.  The Press is a department of Oxford University and is governed by a board of Delegates (academics from the university) who must approve every proposal before it can be commissioned.  Despite OUP’s traditional ethos and governing structure it is, without a doubt, fully engaged in the digital era and this came through in every part of Vivian’s presentation.

As Vivian pointed out, OUP is very active in the digital market and this is best seen in the various ways the OED has been utilised.  In her own words- “…dictionary is content: how can this be exploited?”  The OED has long been established as a print product but in 2000 it was finally digitized and launched online.  Since then OUP has produced more than 11,000 digital products including online reference works and mobile applications.  Being so digitally minded, this strategy has allowed the Press to increase their customer reach and further cement their status as a truly global publisher.

OUP are constantly seeking to add value to their dictionary content and this has led to the creation of the Global Language Solutions (GLS) programme, which Vivian is currently responsible for.  The GLS programme was launched in response to requests from technology companies to provide content other than English.  The programme draws upon OUP’s strong brand identity and works by indentifying and sourcing high quality dictionary content in multiple languages, which is then customised to form a common data structure and licensed to leading brands worldwide.  Vivian’s passion for this innovative programme was very apparent and resonated within the class as she spoke.

Thursday 19th April was certainly a jam-packed presentation but Vivian’s enthusiasm and experience shone through at every point, making for an interesting and inspiring session.  It was encouraging to learn how such a long established publisher is constantly seeking new ways to exploit content, proving that Oxford University Press deserves its title as the world leading academic press.

– Katherine Marshall

Read it. Live it.

December 4th, 2011 by | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Read it. Live it.
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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’ – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Black text on white paper has been the format of the book for centuries. The ebook mirrors the same format on a screen with few enhanced versions featuring related multimedia content. Readers must use their imagination to experience the story beyond the text on the page. But what if instead of reading the book, you could live it?

Simon Meek and Tern Digital, a subsidiary of Tern TV, attempted to do just that when they developed a digital extension of their popular children’s show on Channel 4, KNTV, in 2008. The site offered what Simon calls ‘a window into the world behind the show’. featured character profiles, games, videos, and The Potato – ‘State-Approved News and Gossip’ from KNTV’s fictional land of Slabovia. Later, the idea to capitalize on the social networking scene came with the creation of Slabspace, a digital world in which members could enter the world of Slabovia. Slabspace offered Slabovian identities, jobs and a theatrical community to further involve the fans of the television series and website. While the project only lasted 18 months, and Slapspace showed the potential of a television station’s digital department and encouraged Meek’s interest in interactive storytelling through multimedia.

In 2009, the gaming company Quantic Dream released the video game ‘Heavy Rain’, creating an interactive storytelling platform. ‘Heavy Rain’ has four main characters embroiled in a mystery with the central theme ‘How far would you go for the one you love?”. The game’s plot is dictated by the manipulation of the characters by the player. Players can explore their environment, steer dialogue and control the characters during dramatic action scenes. If a character dies as a consequence of the player’s decisions, gameplay will switch to another character’s perspective and the story continues. ‘Heavy Rain’ turned the reader into the writer, taking control of the narrative to shape its conclusion. While the game did better than expected and led to an emphasis in plot and story, Meek admits the constant evolution of the video game development process is often not conducive to good storytelling. So how do you tell a good story and inspire audience interaction?

This is where Digital Adaptations comes in. Digital Adaptions, a new company with Meek as Executive Producer, seeks to transform the storytelling process by creating the entire narrative as a multimedia project. The concept is simple: generate a physical representation of the plot, setting, and characters of a novel and let the audience immerse themselves in the story. Their first project, John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’, set for release in 2012, uses details from the novel to build the environment of London in 1914. The reader is given the opportunity to witness the events and follow the plot of the novel through the eyes of Richard Hannay, the main character of the espionage thriller. The player can take time to explore the environment, including Hannay’s personal quarters, constructed through details found in the novel. The dialogue of the novel is recreated using voice actors from the Citizen’s Theatre, recorded as they acted out the book in play form. Digital Adaptations maintains player interaction through the illusion of control; however, unlike ‘Heavy Rain’, the player only controls the character within the bounds of the original plot and completes key events to reach the conclusion.

‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ is built on the idea that a reader desires something beyond the traditional feeling of reading a novel from a page, with Digital Adaptations spear-heading the movement to expand the storytelling experience. Whether they are successful in their venture or not remains to be seen, but the enthusiasm of the class during Meek’s visiting talk bodes well for the project.

Many thanks to both Simon Meek and all of the visiting speakers this semester.

Alicia Rice