Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Education in a Networked Economy: Convergence, Commercialization and Collaboration

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 09, 2002

Being a collection of links that together express a theme.

Study: College Too Pricey for Many As someone who still owes money on my student loans, the cost of an education is a personal issue for me (and one of the reasons I am an advocate of online learning). According to a study by the Lumina Foundation for Education, only five states have four-year public colleges that low-income students can afford without financial aid. The article also spends a lot of time on criticism from "higher education groups" who counter that "fifteen million people from all income levels attend college at two- and four-year schools." The educators also express concern that the study will discourage potential students as people often over-estimate the cost of university. I don't know why serious journalists offer fallacious arguments in response to studies like this. Fifteen million is a large number (though a small percentage) but it includes students in two year programs, a demographic specifically excluded in the Lumina study. A serious and considered response to the study would have made for better journalism.

Where, for example, will the high cost of education take us?

While you're browsing through this link, take a look at the offerings of CNN's "education partners" (Harcourt and Riverdeep) listed in the right hand column. On the one hand, including education resources with news articles is good. But on the other hand, some of these educational resources have more to do with political and corporate agendas than they do with learning (raising the question of what these education partners think education really is). In particular, look at the Media Literacy offering from Holt (Harcourt) which offers a seriously inadequate guide for assessing news articles. Or the evaluation rubrics (Holt again), one of which includes a metric for judging student-created advertisements. Critics from the other side of the political spectrum may want to criticize Riverdeep's Picking Responsible Stocks, a guide to ethical investing. Some of the resources are good - Holt's World Map, for example, and Riverdeep's Volcano Lab (which is a lot of fun). But really: until they separate learning materials from political and corporate content, commercial education providers will be viewed with suspicion. By AP, CNN, January 7, 2002.

Degrassi Community School Continuing on the topic of media and learning: for those of you unfamiliar with Canadian television, Degrassi Junior High (and later, Degrassi High) was a widely popular program a decade or so ago describing the issues faced by students. A significant part of the purpose of the program was to inform students and to give tools to help them cope. A worthy cause. The Canadian Television Network (CTV) is back with Degrassi: The Next Generation. Why it was advertised at 1:58 a.m. I don't know, but the television site led me to the site and the site made me think of an early (1995) web innovation, The Spot, one of the first online communities. An innovative website by an advertising agency, The Spot featured journals written by the cast and a set of message boards and other features. The Degrassi website follows this format, encouraging students to 'enrol,' decorate their own lockers, create journals and take part in 'juicy gossip' and other fun. This is an innovative website - follow the 'media immersion' link and be sure to take the school tour (I'm going back to sleep now). By Unknown, CTV, 2002.

Line Between E-Learning and E-Commerce Blurring Educators should understand that convergence is about more than merging television and the internet. Of course, it is that and the merging of other media. But convergence also means blending different fields of endeavour. It's about a record company launching its own airline or a media icon launching a restaurant chain. Or in education, as this article suggests, it means a blurring of the line between e-learning and e-commerce. Or between e-learning and e-government.

Consider, for example, PostalU. As summarized by Vicki Phillips in this month's VUG, "Global postal agencies and suppliers can access elearning ranging from continuing education to degree programs online using the portal and elearning platform. PostalU is offered in a partnership between LearnSoft (Canada) and the Universal Postal Union of Berne, Switzerland."

We want to be careful here. Education has always had a social and political dimension. We want to teach not merely facts, but also values. So not all convergence is bad: if we can teach children responsible citizenship through the convergence of learning and politics, so much the better. The risk, though, is that students - and especially children - will become pawns in the larger struggles over ideology and philosophy. Convergence also makes this possible. Education may join commerce, sure, but education becomes commercial - or becomes a commercial - then there are implications that should make us uncomfortable. By Unknown, E-Learning Advisor Zone, May 8, 2001.

Unplanned Obsolescence and the New Network Culture As summarized in DEOS by John Hibbs, this article makes two key points: "With the advent of network culture, however, that logic [the factory model of education] is obsolete. We must rethink the entire educational process... and... Since government and foundations cannot provide necessary resources, virtually everyone involved in the education business will have to become entrepreneurs." This article is an intelligent analysis of the changes sweeping education. Commercialization is one aspect. The cost of learning is another aspect. There is an irresistable urge toward change, but what change? To even survive, educational institutions must work together, must collaborate. Network economics make that essential. But collaboration and convergence are not steel rails pointing in a single direction. We need to understand the purpose of learning before we jump headlong into arrangements that may compromise our vision. By Mark C. Taylor, Chronicle of Higher Education, mirrored in DEOS archives, January 7, 2001.

Lansbridge University: Canada's First Private E-University Gains Accreditation Consider the story of Canada's first private for-profit e-university, Lansbridge University, which received accreditation in June. "Public education and public health are seen as rights in Canada," suggests Michael Gaffney in this article. "Private education is seen as an attack on Canadian social philosophy." But in an increasingly borderless world - and in a world of convergence, Canadians may have no choice. And the publicly funded system appears ill-equipped to stem the tide. "Not for profit entities do not have profit making as a core competency," elucidates the Canadian CEO. "They have scarce resources that come from donations and grants. They are hard pressed to find arguments to put these resources into risky ventures." If Canadians - or anyone else - want to preserve a public education system, then they need to make choices that allow them to compete with entities like Lansbridge. By Vicky Phillips, Virtual University Gazette, January, 2002.

KidsKonnect Perhaps what we need are more sites like this. KidsKonnect (we will ignore the spelling) is a collection of online teaching resources reviewed by parents and teachers. As the site says, " When using the Internet many educators have resorted to bookmarking specific pages that children can work with, never allowing them to do unassisted searches. This method is safe, but it doesn't allow for any exploration, for any problem solving on the child's part. What we have tried to do at KidsKonnect is to find quality sites in an array of topic areas, making sure all the links and advertising banners are appropriate."

Education is undergoing a transformation. Part of this is forced by rising costs, part of this is forced by new technology and increasing competition. To survive in a networked economy, schools, colleges and universities must look for partners. Otherwise they will be priced out of existence.

But while partnerships provide benefits, they bring risks. Collaboration begets convergence. Convergence begets commerce. Not all commerce is bad: education is now and always will be a multi-billion dollar industry. And not all commerce is about money. Political organizations, labour unions, foundations, churches, and a multitude of other special interests all have a stake in shaping education. Online education makes commerce with external agencies not only possible but necessary. Forming partnerships may involve subsuming the social and educational objectives of our schools and colleges to the needs and dictates of external agencies.

Educators and administrators need to make decisions about what is essential to education. They need to be as clear about the purpose of education as they are about the process and product. They may need to take sides or risk being taken by one side or another.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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