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Supporting EdTech Journalists

There are many active contributors to conversations about educational technology, elearning, online learning, whatever learning. Some folks do it while gainfully employed (Stephen Downes, Alec Couros), others have made it part of their consultancy work (Jay Cross, Harold Jarche), and some (edsurge) who are VC funded. There are numerous ways to support these folks in their work, ranging from buying their books, inviting them to present at conferences, and engaging them with consulting work.

I’d like to focus on one individual in particular – Audrey Watters. I’ve frequently listed her work as valuable, even critical, in bridging academic, startups, and corporate activity in learning/education. She is without peer in her insightful coverage of the edtech space. If you need convincing, have a look at her recent series on top trends in edtech 2012. Audrey is a journalist, full time. As a community we need her work and the work of others like her who have made journalism their job.

I encourage readers to support her directly through a donation page. It is important that people like Audrey are rewarded for what they contribute to our field. Plus, ’tis the season for giving! Another less direct option involves inviting folks like Audrey to speak at your conferences (offer an honorarium) so that at least part of their efforts are sustainable economically.

Who else do we need to acknowledge that is advancing edtech journalism? Perhaps we should consider an annual “edtech support” event to demonstrate our appreciation for journalists.

7 Comments

  1. Scott Leslie wrote:

    George, I applaud your shout out to Audrey (and others) and the urge to support them. And the suggestions on how to show support are fine as far as they go, but really their relative paucity points to the larger issue facing industries like journalism (and many,many more to come) in the disintermediated, disaggregated network age – how to consistently support the dedicated efforts of professionals like Audrey while continuing to expand all of the network dynamics that, to use Benkler’s phrase, increase “voluntary private action out-side of markets.”

    Crowdfunding offers one intermediate model, albeit still somewhat market-driven. Writers could be pitching a series (say in Audrey’s case, something like “10 investigative reports on the influence of venture capital on educational technology”) and an amount they’d need to be able to write them. Alternatively, communities/networks of people could be using upvote mechanisms like digg/reddit to surface the topics most in need of investigating, but attaching dollar amounts to each vote (or else requiring an initial buy in to get a vote, a la “Awesome Shit Club” http://www.awesomeshitclub.com/)

    Neither of these are perfect; they run the risk of amplifying the libretarian/market-driven techno-utopianism which abounds, that moves even further away from ideas of a commons that is simply more than the sum of its individual parts. They can contribute to “echo chambers.” As well, they can continue the tendency to only give voice to those who can pay for one.

    Part of what we have to get over, though, is the illusion perpetuated by journalism (and every other industry) of their mythic “objectivity.” Which is not to say that individuals inside of journalism (and other industries) have not consistently fought to put what they saw as the public’s good ahead of corporate or commercial interest, but that when you exist solely within that kind of model of exchange, there is inevitably only so much you can bite the hand that feeds you.

    I could go on and on but will leave it here for now. But we need to come to grips with the fact that we cannot simply reap the benefits the network brings without facing the disruptions too, and that if we understand the depth of disruptions we are in the midst of, then its not just about re-arranging the deck chairs, but imaging whole new sets of relations, which might even mean giving up some choices too.

    P.S. Audrey, if you are reading this – I have no money to send you right now, but you’ll always have a place to stop if your near, a home cooked meal and even a beer or two. I mean this sincerely, as meager (and cheap) as it sounds. At the end of the day, you can’t eat either money or solidarity, but I know which I’d rather have.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  2. gsiemens wrote:

    Thanks for your reflections Scott. Excellent statement: “we need to come to grips with the fact that we cannot simply reap the benefits the network brings without facing the disruptions too”

    Part of the challenge that I face in my own thinking, and you’re right, paucity rules here, is that I still see value in the work that journalists do and I don’t yet see a model going forward that produces similar benefits via networks. The generation of value in networks is at odds with how people function. A quick illustration, reaching way back to my youth. I grew up on a farm in Mexico. My dad was a “do everything” person which was the norm of the region in which we lived. We literally did not have specialized labour – no hotels, no restaurants, no garages, etc. If you needed help fixing your tractor or mixing concrete to build a structure for housing young calves, you would lean on your networks of friends/family. In some instances cash was exchanged for the help, in others it was barter (or obligation based – “I’ll call you when I need help”).

    In our area, of ~100 villages with an average of 50 farms per village, had one or two grocery stores, a dairy/cheese company, and gas stations. Basically, you farmed and milked cows. That was the economy. Economies like this do not grow. That may be fine in many instances. Growth is a reflection of the market-driven economy. When I returned to visit this region, after being away for ~15 years, I was amazed at how rapidly the economy had developed and specialized. Suddenly, the region had mechanics, restaurants, etc. While the informal networks were effective for farming and worked well, once individuals acquired an aspiration for growth and wealth, the inefficiencies of those models had to be replaced by something more attuned to growth models, namely, market economy with specialized and efficient labour. Efficiency matters when growth is a target. And, of course, it is a curse as all that is not efficient by the metrics of production must then be subverted or marginalized. A lazy strolling afternoon to visit your neighbour and hang out while you build a fence (wonderful social fabric formation for community) has to be replaced with “pay someone to build a fence so that you can do what makes more money”.

    All of this to say, as long as we live in a specialized labour marketplace where efficiency of either product or knowledge is the key, we will not realize the network model and egalitarianism that you allude to. To reword your statement, we need to come to grips with the reality that we cannot function in a market economy without constant urgings toward specialization and efficiency. As long as market economies are the dominant mindset, and I can’t see anything else on the horizon that is primed to challenge or replace this in the near future, networks will be subject to calls for efficiency and specialization. Even now, Wikipedia is moving toward more management and structure, not less. Financial concerns arise annually as they initiate fundraising campaigns to stay viable. As such, networks are not the alternative or replacement that folks like Castells have suggested. Networks compete against hierarchy, not the market model of work/knowledge. Networks are also subject to the dominant principles of efficiency. The market economy is god. Eventually, even the revolutionaries conserve.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Scott Leslie wrote:

    The funny thing is I realize now that in another all too-frequent rush to make things more complicated (& sadly, find fault) I’ve said there was a “paucity” in methods without recognizing your post as very much an example of a new way of relating I am in part calling for. You are not Audrey’s editor or publisher, but having built up your own audience, a personal endorsement of the type you gave here (if it leads to people giving Audrey material support) is acting in a small way to vouchsafe & promote her & her reporting as a formal “paper” did in the past.

    We do what we can. That’s the funny thing about incumbancy, though, eh? It isn’t a passive thing, as much as the incumbent wants you to believe there’s no other way it could ever be. Peace.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  4. First, let me join in on the Audrey bandwagon. She’s become one of my favorite bloggers, and I admire her passion, her intelligence and her passion. And, her willingness to give it all away for free. But I wonder (and I haven’t asked her) why she doesn’t try to build a subscription model around her content. (Full disclosure: I’m grappling with that question myself these days…not blog related however.) I’d be curious your thoughts on a pay model in the world of open as well.

    I found Bonnie’s discussion of this on your xED book to be thoughtful and instructive, especially her response to Stephen. (See http://www.xedbook.com/?p=61) This part especially:

    “You have an ideological commitment to working open on the web, yes, and you’ve given thousands of hours and great leadership to that. But not everyone who otherwise may share your investment in MOOCs and learning may have a) that prior absolute commitment or b) the privilege of a (hopefully, and i mean that sincerely given the Monday NRC announcement, which bites) secure job that negates the need to build a career by, say, writing books.”

    Would we think less of Audrey (or anyone else for that matter) if she asked people to pay regularly for her ideas? Is her level of skill and thoughtfulness not worthy of a paying readership? Isn’t this part of the disruption that Scott refers to, the idea that there may be a new middle ground model to aspire to?

    Personally, as someone with a degree in journalism and a real interest in the profession, I’ve found the last few years painful and yet fascinating. I think Audrey’s case is a great example of the struggle to reinvent it.

    Would sincerely love your thoughts. Thanks.

    Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  5. monika hardy wrote:

    via George in comments: as long as market economies are the dominant mindset, and I can’t see anything else on the horizon that is primed to challenge or replace this in the near future

    near future.. up to us. no?

    we have all we need.. without the need to beg for what we need.. (ie:fundraising, grant writing..)…without paying more into the over the top resources of public Ed funding.

    perhaps.. now we can finally see that.. with placebo-like tech. getting us back to us.. back to the best parts of George’s farm community, to Shirky’s 7/10 day care centers, to Bunker Roy’s barefoot movement.

    perhaps it’s just.. prior to now.

    we just need to

    Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  6. Estoy de acuerdo con apoyar a Audrey que me encanta, pero otros lo hacemos totalmente de manera gratuita e investigamos, ayudamos, divulgamos….sobre educación, tecnologías…y aún estamos menos apoyados, ya que lo hacemos en castellano, creo que también y lo digo humildemente, deberíamos ser apoyados, gracias.

    Juan Domingo Farnós

    Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  7. This is a rich exchange already for what is purported to be a dead space (not George’s! blogs in general).

    I was an Audrey fan first! Beyond “knowing” her writing, it is valued even more because I have got to meet and hang out with her this year (as a number of you here).

    If its any measure, I gave some to her cause, and I dont even have an income now (my tip jar might be rolling out). THAT is how much I value what she does (not a slam, Scott).

    FYI Will, if you look at her page, there is a subscription option to do monthly pay pal. I for one would lose respect if all the writing goes behind a subscription. Blechh.

    I forsee some mixed models of donations, pay it forwards, not sure I can see a formalized system, though Scott’s idea is intriguing. You know some will game it.

    But praise the open web, or what is left of it, because it does afford the opportunity to be an independent.

    George, I so appreciate your mexico stories and metaphors. Its changed, but not gone completely, I saw some areas in rural Colorado and Vermont, where ar least in a microcosm, these kind of communities exist. They are not exactly like the de-specialized one you described, but some sort of modern hybrid.

    It’s not gone. It’s just what we are willing to step up and do.

    Scott, let’s form the Union of Unemployed Ed-tceh Geeks! Freedom! Hunger! Puppies!

    Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink