OK, so clearly there’s a move on in the world of elearning conferences and events to shake academics out of our usual torpor. As everyone knows, we don’t have much to do, and what we do pull off shows not a skerrick of imagination or even rudimentary competence.
So let’s get the email about Blended Learning 2012 out of the way first. The event seems like a reasonable affair, but it’s clear that the pricing structure doesn’t anticipate someone like me getting along. Seriously, $2,499 for a two-day event? Digging a little further it turns out that the target audience is a bit more elevated. “This event,” purrs the website, “has been specifically researched and designed for … ”
Vice Chancellors, Deputy Vice Chancellors, Directors of Learning and Teaching, Heads of Schools, Directors of IT, Heads of M-Learning, Heads of E-Learning, LMS Implementation Managers, Heads of Flexible Learning and Heads of Blended Learning
$2,499 is obviously everyone’s idea of a reasonable two-day expense at that level. Interestingly, this sum would go most of the way towards buying an entire semester of teaching at adjunct rates for a tutorial’s worth of students. In fact, set against this, two days of executive conference attendance would want to provide some pretty staggering insights into elearning to get a similar return on investment.
But the real problem is that despite the fact that I’m not any of the above, the email was personally addressed to me and the subject line was this:
Kate, are you designing your course to appeal to the modern student?
Well, gosh, no. Was I supposed to? But since you asked, I design all my courses by looking at nineteenth century photographs of pinched and miserable schoolchildren with chalk and slate tablets, and I go from there.
The thing is, if you’re inviting me to something that costs $2,499, you really don’t want to know about courses I design or the students I design them for. You want to know about budgets I control, and that’s why you’re selling the vendor tickets to this networking event at an even more impressive $3,399, so they can hang out with the VP-IT and the CIO.
But if you persist in directing this email to the trenches, then you do need to understand how many of our research projects started with internal seed funding not much more than this, and how many institutional teaching awards offer prizes less than this.
Which brings me to the other resistable offer in this week’s email. This one came in an email from Campus Review, the weekly higher education magazine* that describes itself as Australia’s:
only dedicated higher education magazine written for the sector by an independent voice. Written with editorial integrity by respected journalists, and strongly focused on issues relevant to the sector including teaching and learning, technology, management, finance, recruitment, conferences and industry events, Campus Review is in touch with its readers.
It’s a bit of a performance to remember the password to CR, but I’ve always appreciated it as a source of credible, sensible coverage of Australia’s higher education news.
So I was genuinely surprised to discover that CR were emailing to check whether I’m “ready for the demands of the Facebook generation”, and on the presumption that I’m not, to invite me to a Blackboard webinar that will help me catch up to the realities of modern life. (Just a note to marketing: I live with the Facebook generation. They’re currently 10-12 years old, and they’re Directioners. If you don’t know what I mean by this, do look it up.)
The painful irony of this communication is hard to overstate. I don’t mean to single out any one LMS, but Blackboard really aren’t renowned among either educators or students for the engaging nature of their social tools. It does seem as though they’re now having to tackle the increasing tolerance of their client institutions for platform solutions that include compensatory social tools alongside the campus LMS. Or, as Blackboard would like us to see it:
As institutions grow they develop a complex ecosystem of diverse platforms, this becomes a roadblock to delivering a customised student experience and institutional agility. Student’s [sic] expectations are high, they assume you will deliver 24/7 service, Facebook-type eLearning interfaces, and course materials to their mobile devices. Benchmarking for this is now too long a process, seeking out proven practices and implementing them without delay is the only way to keep agile and ready for change.
This is a genuinely subtle proposition, presented as a planning emergency. I’m sure TEQSA would be interested to read that Blackboard have now decided that Australian higher education can no longer afford the time it takes to benchmark.
The short version of the invite is this: because the terrible design of social tools native to the typical LMS has encouraged faculty and institutions towards a more open-minded ecosystemic approach, we now need to know more about all of Blackboard’s other tools that will deliver us from the messy solutions we devised to deliver us from the campus LMS in the first place.
This is complicated enough. But what I’m really trying to figure out is why this opportunity was presented to me as such an antagonising email from Campus Review. I understand that they have many commercial sponsors, as well as all their academic subscribers, but I also can’t help noticing that one of their current lead articles is a feature on academic conflict of interest in relation to commercial partnerships, to which I say: right backatcha.
A little while ago, I suggested that a company that had acquired a controlling stake in the critical infrastructure of the small Australian higher education sector would operate discreetly. I’m now less sure that this is the case, and I’m genuinely uncomfortable at the revelation that the CR subscriber list has proved to be such an obvious commercial asset to the national Blackboard getting-to-know-you strategy. Or have I missed something?
I’d really welcome a clarification from anyone at all on this, but in the meantime here’s my plea to anyone else who’s planning to send me a faux personalised email alerting me to the “Facebook-type” tendencies of “the modern student”: please stop telling me how to do my job, and please stop these disingenuous attempts at telling me that I don’t understand how the modern world works. I do, really I do. It is my absolute privilege to meet and work with “the modern student” every single day, and if you ever want to bring your vendors along to find out how we’re all getting along together (and how we’re already using Facebook-type free public tools to do it), they’re welcome to pay us handsomely for the opportunity, and we’ll put it towards something worth promoting.
* UPDATE: Yesterday I described CR as a weekly newsletter, and created the wrong impression for non-Australian readers that it normally comes out as an email, and the Blackboard advertisement was just included in that. So I’ve clarified that CR is a weekly web-based higher ed magazine in Australia, and the email that I received from CR was on the single topic of the Blackboard webinar, headed “Are You Ready For The Demands of the Facebook Generation?” I opened it because I was genuinely interested to know CR’s views in the context of this question. My objection to the tone of the webinar promotion is aimed at Blackboard; my confusion about CR’s reponsibility for the email and its header is that I think it’s at odds with their statement on independence. Surely Blackboard can send their own emails?