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Commercial Interests

Page history last edited by Gary Hall 7 years, 3 months ago

Whither the Book?
Whether or not we are finally witnessing the much anticipated evaporation of the book as the primary technology for the transmission of knowledge, we are certainly seeing a number of rather destructive consequences emanating from the digital ‘disruption’ of the publishing industry, where shake-ups, land grabs and competitive reconfiguration (such as Penguins’ proposed merger with Random House) are now the order of the day.

 

Italian writer and editor Alessandro Ludovico tracks some of the associated anxieties in his book, Post-Digital Print: The Mutation of Publishing since 1894 (2012).  His chapter ‘The Death of Paper (Which Never Happened)’,

0Ludovico-PostDigitalPrint.jpgtells of the Parisian cartoonist Villemard imagining in 1910 the classroom of the year 2000. Villemard’s postcard – titled en l’an 2000 – depicts students being taught via headphone, while in the background books are thrown into a grinder that converts them to audio material. Villemard’s fears may still appear exaggerated, but now that screen resolutions are approaching those of paper book technology, many argue the only remaining obstacle to be overcome is  the speed of textual navigation books allow, and their function as a memory aid – since print still enjoys measurable superiority in these areas (although even that may expire soon). While these changes in educational media forms are not the only issue for Higher Education, they should be considered pivotal. After all, it is the technologies of writing and printing on paper with their long histories that have done so much to shape the institution; and so, as educational ‘content’ lifts increasingly off the printed page, who can say how things will settle?

One simple way to answer this question is to analyse the activity of the major commercial players, whose priorities during this period of change will have dramatic consequences. With the technology and media sectors converging ever more rapidly and large reserves of finance capital being invested, it seems that, following on the heels of the newspaper, music, music film and publishing industries, it is now the turn of Education to feel the harsh winds of ‘creative destruction’.

 

A cursory glance at the UK Association for Learning Technology (ALT) sponsors page shows who the country’s major public and private players are in Digital — albeit not quite Open — Education.  Adobe, Blackboard, BTL (producers of SecureAssess and OpenAssess), Desire2Learn, Pearson, Microsoft, Google, Intel and a panoply of government agencies focused on the skills, competencies and accreditation systems necessary for participation in the global economy, fully understand the enormity of the transformation currently underway in secondary and Higher Education Institutions. They appreciate the size of the ‘opportunity’ that a digitally facilitated transformation of learning presents, be it for individual business or overall GDP growth. A related page on the same site, on a ‘large scale curriculum redesign conference’ which ALT also hosted, is similarly illustrative,  as are the individual PowerPoints relaying stories from Leeds City College, and provided via an open-access repository.  What is under discussion here, effectively, is technology’s place in large-scale processes of ‘change management’ within educational organisations. In very significant ways, it is primarily about transfers of capital from one place to another (and instituting management systems that allow these transfers to take place smoothly), and only secondarily (if that) about the provision of great education to as many students as possible.

 

News Corp unveils education unit Amplify

In 2010 News Corp spent $360 million on its education business, Wireless Generation. In July 2012 it was relaunched under the larger umbrella venture, Amplify.  From Autumn 2012, Amplify was piloted in New York schools through the giving away of free tablets and free content in partnership with US telco AT&T. The project is headed by News Corp executive and former New York City schools chancellor, Joel Klein, who earned News Corp veteran status managing the response to the company’s hacking scandal. With this calibre of senior management on board and prior-year revenues of $60 million, there can be no doubt that News Corp regards this as extremely important business. And, indeed, Amplify’s strategy of giving away free tablets has since been extended to schools across the US.

 

‘Murdoch, best known as a media and newspaper baron, has been an outspoken critic of structural weaknesses in U.S. public schools.’

(Reuters July 23rd 2012)

 

Google Academy launches media incubator – creator space
In July 2012, Google UK announced it would trial creative studio spaces as part of Google Academy. As incentives to participation, ‘creator space’ offers cash packages of up to $5,000 for equipment as well as mentoring and F2F ‘peering’. Google has also highlighted how members can use the four million Creative Commons open IPR licensed videos available on YouTube in productions. The programme will operate globally with offices and activities in many countries.

Google is widely known as an advocate of open IPR: it recognises that the effect of networks is to drive the price of content IPR to near zero and for value to instead reside in statistical analysis of its usage. (But of course only in so far as this applies to the IPR Google helps to share and disseminate – a lot of its own algorithms, data and business practices remain far from open.)  In line with this, if promoting traffic in order to sustain and improve its data analytics is one of Google’s main primary business activities, another is the selling of IT and knowledge management infrastructures to blue-chip companies and the public sector. Further illustrating its ‘openness’ agenda, Google are reported to be the main backer of UK non-profit lobbying initiative, Coadec (‘the Coalition for a Digital Economy’), which is pressing UK Government towards copyright reform.

 

 

Creator space also appears to be a PR front for Google’s extensive free online learning packages. Called ‘PlayBooks’, these are structured programmes teaching creatives how to make a variety of productions using video, with YouTube the default distribution platform. Google has many irons in the educational fire but creator space demonstrates how its overall business rationale plays out in the media arena, and raises serious questions for other open educational projects, particularly in the area of media. 

 

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