Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Telcos, Media, Portals and their parallel in distance education

From my own unpublished work:

The role of the University, according the Dearing Report (Dearing, 1997) is “to enable society to develop and maintain an independent understanding of itself and its world”. Laurillard (1999) interprets this definition in seven components as:
society --> working beyond the nation state
develop --> carrying out research
maintain --> being responsive to change
independent --> without reference to politics or profit
understanding --> formalised knowledge to enhance action
itself --> human sciences
its world --> natural sciences

The interesting point of this interpretation is the additional meanings Laurillard assigns to "understanding". To her, academic understanding, as distinct from common experiential understanding, is a result of a "reflective" process. The pedagogical underpinning of this interpretation is that the university's role is more just the transfer of knowledge.

Brown & Duguid (1995) take the community's perspective. They argue that a central part of what Universities do is to grant degrees, as a kind of gatekeeper of qualification for the community. The general community's experience of universities is of a degree granting body.

However, what a degree really represents or may misrepresent is a complex issue. One of the most valuable aspects of a degree is not what can be assumed about the knowledge possessed by the holder of the degree but the experience of scholarly or professional community that it signifies. For example, certain assumptions may be made about a degree gained from an institution with strong research programs in the field compared with one from an institution that does not.

The research role of universities as knowledge creation agent is highly valued by academia and promotion is largely related to research activities. Until recently, teaching performance has been ignored in the reward structure in many Australian universities. It appears to be widely assumed that there is a strong link between research success and the quality of degrees granted by an institution. Nonetheless, the problem of maintaining quality of teaching programs has gained far greater attention in institutions with a strong research focus in the last decade, clearly as a result of trends in mass education.

Brown & Duguid (1995) summarised that universities provide:
1. teaching and learning
2. enculturation of students into a community of scholars and/or a profession
3. creation of knowledge by conducting research, developing and testing new knowledge and new ideas
4. a degree granting mechanism

Note: The ideas presented above were based on 1990's thinking.

Here is some ideas related to Telcos, Media and Portals by Leo Hindery at the Convergence 2.0 conference, summarised

broke it down into three columns using a powerpoint slide: Portals (AOL, eBay, Google, MSN, Yahoo!), Content Providers (ABC, NBC, Disney, et al.) and Non-Broadcast Distributors (Cable, RBOCs, Satellite, Wi-Fi etc.) Hindery points to the portals column and says that the $225 billion market cap represented by those five companies can be directly linked to lost money in the valuation of the companies from the other two columns. This imbalance, he says, will correct itself.

He predicts that fully two thirds of the $225 billion comes from advertising dollars. The problem, as Hindery sees it, is that the portals built their fortunes on non-proprietary content. The content providers will encroach on the portals territory and steal back the lion's share of the money the portals have accrued. He said of those 5 portals listed above, 4 would fold eventually, or be acquired.

Here are two reasons that Leo Hindery is wrong:
From Cable Guy Says Portals Are Toast
The fact is, right now, most people look to their broadband provider as nothing more than a pipe. They want the pipe separated from the rest of the content and services that are offered. Fewer people are using the email and web space their broadband providers give them -- knowing they can just get a Gmail or Yahoo mail email address and webspace and take it with them when they eventually switch broadband providers. People generally don't like their cable company or their phone company. It's rare to hear anyone talk favorably about them. The less beholden they are, the happier they are. Of course, at the same time, Hindery seems to (again, like a traditional cable guy) completely discount the fact that people go online for communications just as much, if not more, than content. People aren't going online to get Disney or Time Warner content -- but to email with people, to instant message with people, to read and post to blogs. It's about communications (what some like to call "user generated content" these days)

From Cable Dreams
But Hindrey is also missing that the business model of controlling proprietary content due to massive capital outlays and control of distribution channels is, well, no longer the only game in town. There's a new distribution sheriff in town, and his name is search. His deputy is the open Internet. Get used to it. It's not going to go away.

Return to education, and distance education in particular.

Can higher education institute still claim the high ground of "to enable society to develop and maintain an independent understanding of itself and its world"? How long will education institute remain as the gate keeper of qualifications? Or more significantly, how important is qualification when determining the success of an individual? Is there any change in pavements for "a cultural enculturation of students into a community of scholars and/or a profession"? Is that better done in a campus or is that better done in the workplace? Is teaching compatible to research? Can these co-exist within a higher education institute or be better separated out?

Are there any parallel between the potential change of roles of education institutes and the role of telcos & media? Is there any equivalent of "portals" (Google, Yahoo, etc.) in education space which will disrupt the "business model" of higher education institutes?

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