Giving It Away


The Knight Rider gif has nothing to do with this post but it might make you feel better. If you’re here from #ds106, that image is for you, the post is likely to be depressing although it does at least reference Gardner’s digital facelift talk.

What passes for deep thoughts on this blog

Here’s my fairly simple idea. School systems are paying corporations/speakers/consultants millions in the hope of finding short term, instantaneous solutions – essentially elements of the digital facelift1. That money should go toward improving teachers, building internal capacity, and creating teacher evangelists for concepts and tools. Instead we keep trying to buy shortcuts. We end up with tools/programs teachers don’t want and which many teachers don’t use. We end up paying companies to develop the expertise of their employees while our own employees lack funding for professional development.

What if we stopped paying for cheap, easy fixes?

Take Discovery Learning’s 150,000 “learning objects” for instance. Most teachers only use a tiny, tiny fraction of those videos.

What if we just paid people to find videos on the web and tag them in a way that makes them accessible? If that fails, what if we paid teachers to make the videos that were needed?

I know the quality might not be as good, but we really have to think about what aspects of quality really matter to students and teachers. Would homemade videos take care of lots of what we really need? I think they would. More importantly, you’d have a cadre of teachers experimenting with and learning about video- both how to make them and how to use them instructionally. Those are real people in your schools who would talk to other teachers and be able to do so with credibility. They could take real feedback from users, they could get other people involved. You’d be investing the time and money in your own people. Even if the products were bad at first, they would improve and, more importantly, your teachers would improve. The process helps people.

The very idea of teachers prioritizing the production of various kinds of media and really thinking about why they’d want certain kinds of media and what that media would need to be- is all gravy in my opinion. It’s the kind of thing that would work beautifully on a system like Google Moderator. Imagine teachers submitting media needs here and the school/county teachers voting up the needs. You have your creators building content based on what teachers really want and need. It makes for some interesting possibilities.

At the very least, a few places doing this at scale would produce a lot of content that would help create some tension in the current marketplace. Right now, big companies run things. They sell you product in bulk and there are few, if any, options to purchase things on the iTunes song-by-song model. Right now you don’t just buy the album, you are stuck buying the box set even if you only want the single.

It’s also worth looking at larger frameworks like the CMS/LMS etc. Are we creating environments that provide pathways for expansion as skills and interests grow? Too often it seems we look to the lower/est common denominator user and ask “Could that guy use this?” if not we move on, if yes, then it’s a viable solution. I think that’s short sited and doesn’t really think about what these frameworks can behave like. You can have ease of use for one level of user while still providing the opportunity for expansion and complexity in the same system as interest and skills develop. A low entrance barrier is often necessary but that does not need to eliminate the possibility for increased complexity and sophistication down the road. The two things are not mutually exclusive. Frustrating your high end users with software designed for low end users is a self-defeating action. One size does not need to fit all. There are other ways to create consistency for parents that don’t negatively impact the very teachers who are interested in doing interesting things with technology.


1 Although this includes reading programs, magical consultants and all kinds of non-digital “solutions.”

Comments on this post

  1. Sami said on January 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    I get exhausted by my own thoughts because they are too meta to be of any use to an average peon; that includes myself… but what if we built an economy of things people actually liked to do. So the economy was more about the experience of working and not at all about consumption — focusing on positive quality of life through positive work experiences. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about coercing kids through all sorts of toys and trinkets to pay attention to things they don’t give a shit about.

    • Tom said on January 18, 2011 at 11:13 pm

      Sami-
      I battle with that myself.

      It’d be a beautiful world. I’m all for it.

      This is post is focused on trying to make what we have better within the parameters that I believe currently exist (even then, this is pretty much pie in the sky dreaming). While I’d hope what would be made could be much more than toys and trinkets, I am part of the problem.

      Were I brave and good I would go join the Sudbury Day School but I’m not. At least not yet.

  2. Noise Professor said on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Insightful, but I think that re-imagining change (as you’ve done above) for the system that serves the vast majority of students, and that ostensibly provides the foundation of Democracy – an educated populace – is at least as brave and good. Not to take anything away from the Sudbury Day School, but admission is open “as long as there are openings available,” and as long as one has the money for an admission interview, application, and annual fee.

    • Tom said on January 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      Apparently the voices in my head are now commenting 🙂

      I fight this battle with myself all the time. Sadly, even playing both sides, I never win.

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