Thinking about Thinking and about Educational Commerce--Interviews with Stephen Downes and Larry Augustin

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Steve Hargadon

unread,
Nov 29, 2006, 1:37:12 PM11/29/06
to Fedora Education Initiative, k12ope...@googlegroups.com, EDTECH - Educational Technology
http://educationbridges.net/k12opensource/wp-content/uploads/StephenDownes.mp3
http://educationbridges.net/k12opensource/wp-content/uploads/StephenDownes.ogg

http://educationbridges.net/k12opensource/wp-content/uploads/LarryAugustin.mp3
http://educationbridges.net/k12opensource/wp-content/uploads/LarryAugustin.ogg

While it becomes clear that Stephen Downes and I have different
experiences and different opinions, my interview with him was quite
fascinating and also illustrative of a principle about blogging and
podcasting that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately.

Will Richardson has written and said many times that blogging starts
with reading. What that means to me is that when I read other blogs, I
am exposed to someone else's ideas, and it starts a creative process
where I think about what they have written and can agree, disagree, or
expand on their thoughts. Like Doc Searls says, blogging can be like
tossing a snowball downhill--if an idea starts to gain speed, it will
grow and expand, building on the original idea kernel. The magic of
blogging is that it seems to allow for diverse and multiple voices to
quickly combine and create innovative, compelling, feedback-rich
threads of thought. So for me, blogging is ultimately about thinking,
and I love thinking.

The interview with Stephen provided me with a lot of opportunity for
thinking, and largely because he and I come from fairly different
perspectives. Since two of my four children have had some
homeschooling, you'll hear me try to mitigate what I think are some of
the common perceptions about homeschoolers/homeschooling. But the
issue that really has lingered with me for some days is the discussion
on commercial companies and the educational system.

Granted, folks in Canada are probably more used to government-run
solutions than we in the States, but it sorrows me to think--if
Stephen is representative--that we have determined that the form and
function of for-profit businesses forces them to make decisions which
are not in the interests of anyone but themselves. I guess it sorrows
me because it has partly become true, but also because we largely
don't seem to be able to see beyond some current mindsets about
business. There was a time when we really admired certain companies
(HP and the "HP Way," for example), and in my mind it's been a long 15
years during which individual stock-trading seems to created a mindset
that values only quarterly profits--and believes that profit is the
one measure that benefits everyone.

Another sad trend in the commercial marketplace over same period of
time has been the use of "lock-in" as a customer strategy. Granted, as
customers demand lower prices and more value, "lock-in" looks
attractive to the supplier because of the costs of marketing and
acquiring customers is hard to shoulder on a single low-cost
transaction--but it has given the proprietary software industry a
pretty bad reputation in some areas, and deservedly so. Placing an
emphasis on "lock-in" seems to directly minimize the effort to create
a satisfied customer who continues doing business because of their
positive experiences. Is there an alternative to "lock-in" when
customers want more and more, but to pay less and less?

There is a fascinating opportunity for discussion here, especially in
light of the other interview I want to point out, one I recorded with
Larry Augustin on the business of Open Source, who is an angel
investor and is on the board of a number of companies based on Open
Source software. Because Free and Open Source software is so much at
the heart of both the Internet and Web 2.0, it might seem that some of
the core values of the movement would make their way back into the
business world. Google may, in many ways, be the great test case of
this, with their "don't be evil" motto, the general trust people place
in them, and their willingness to give away services. But with
increasing power and information will come the temptations and
pressures to create financial gain in areas where there won't be
general public agreement as to how Google should act. Can they keep to
a high road and satisfy all their constituencies? It will be
interesting to watch.

Some questions:

* Do we believe that companies operate only on the pursuit of
selfish interests? That would obviously be too broad a generalization,
but Stephen gives the impression that no for-profit companies can be
trusted.
* Do we think that a free market, even with the problems we see
today, ultimately produces the best long-term result?
* While many talk about "selfish interest" being the driving force
behind a free-market economy, might we not argue that "choice" and the
freedom to make choices is just as compelling a rationale for the free
market, and a better framework for providing moral guidance?
* Is a government bureaucracy, like the one Stephen describes to
handle all school purchases, just as likely to produce negative
results as the free market? What would be lost with centralized
decision-making and what would be gained?
* Is there an alternative to commercial marketing to schools? Does
the shilling of educational technology at trade show exhibition halls
help or hurt schools and students?
* Does it ultimately come down to just being a good/informed consumer?
* What companies have you dealt with in the school market that
have been "purpose-driven" or are ones that you trust? Are there many,
or are there few?

These, and other interviews, can be downloaded or listened to directly
at http://edtechlive.wikispaces.com/Recordings+List

--
Steve Hargadon
st...@hargadon.com
916-899-1400 direct

www.SteveHargadon.com - (Blog on Educational Technology)
www.K12Computers.com - (Refurbished Dell Optiplexes for Schools)
www.EdTechLive.com (Podcasts, Workshops, & Conferences)
www.TechnologyRescue.com - (Linux Thin Client Solutions)
www.LiveKiosk.com - (Web Access and Content Delivery Solutions)
www.PublicWebStations.com - (Disaster & Shelter WebStation Software)
www.K12OpenSource.com (Public Wiki)
www.SupportBlogging.com (Public Wiki)

Peter Rock

unread,
Dec 10, 2006, 5:56:08 AM12/10/06
to k12ope...@googlegroups.com, ste...@downes.ca
On Wed, 2006-11-29 at 10:37 -0800, Steve Hargadon wrote:

> But the
> issue that really has lingered with me for some days is the discussion
> on commercial companies and the educational system.
>
> Granted, folks in Canada are probably more used to government-run
> solutions than we in the States, but it sorrows me to think--if
> Stephen is representative--that we have determined that the form and
> function of for-profit businesses forces them to make decisions which
> are not in the interests of anyone but themselves.
>

> Some questions:
>
> * Do we believe that companies operate only on the pursuit of
> selfish interests? That would obviously be too broad a generalization,
> but Stephen gives the impression that no for-profit companies can be
> trusted.

I finally got around to listening to the .ogg file of your interview
with Stephen. First, thanks for doing these interviews. I find many of
them to be interesting and informative.

I would say I agree with Stephen on this one. I don't think Stephen is
saying that all companies act with disregard to others, but many do. By
default, a corporation's mandate is to seek the maximization of profit.
There is nothing evil about this - it is just a fact based in law.
Unless explicit steps have been taken to move away from this mandate,
any corporation that *doesn't* do what it can to generate the most
amount of profit for it's shareholders is actually in violation of the
law. Thus, any CEO or board that gets an itch to "do the right thing"
can be let go or even worse. So this is not really a matter of
possessing an overly pessimistic view of corporate business (which
perhaps Stephen, myself, and others are thought of as having), but a
matter of the current structure of corporate existence - at least in the
U.S. This structure needs...well, restructuring. I've got no problem
allowing only-for-profit corporations to exist so long as we wake up and
treat them as a short-term tool to be used until no longer needed, and
then discarded. Unfortunately, that is not the current structure.
Corporations have way too much power. Many have outlived their
usefulness and now do more harm than good.

An interesting book on this is "The Corporation". There is also a
documentary as well.

http://www.amazon.ca/Corporation-Joel-Bakan/dp/0140290044

http://www.thecorporation.com/

Peter.
(http://gnuosphere.blogspot.com)

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