My friend Joe Thibault recently emailed me about a new site he has started with Sean Behan (a crackerjack Ruby programmer). Their site, called PostLearn, is essentially an affiliate job board for education. While I wish them success in their endeavor, I won’t be joining as I believe this model suffers from a couple of major flaws.
The greatest flaw is immediately visible from the affiliate graph: one site drives a vastly disproportionate amount of the traffic; Free Technology for Teachers alone accounts for over 90% of the traffic, and consequently will receive far more affiliate revenue. Except it will probably receive all of the revenue. In an affiliate model, there is a certain base amount of traffic required before you can get a single sale, a minimum that I doubt many of the others on the long tail (including yours truly) would reach. Effectively, the entire pot of affiliate money is controlled by a tiny oligarchy of sites.
This would be acceptable (it’s a free market, after all) were it not for the fundamental flaws in the Internet economy. This flawed economy is controlled by a small oligarchy of noisemakers. This oligarchy isn’t particularly hard to enter: just abandon journalistic ethics and post lists of the top n ways to write lists.1 Boom! Traffic.
Unsurprisingly, just as in the larger Internet, the most popular PostLearn affiliate simply rehashes merit-less news stories and tips.2 Looking down the page, lo and behold, we find a list of the aforementioned variety. Sadly, this content is rewarded far more generously than potentially more deserving comment.
Google AdSense grants us some slight freedom from this paradigm by democratizing advertising. Though the most trafficked sites still receive the vast majority of the revenue, smaller sites do share in some of the revenue, potentially enough to offset minimal publishing expenses. In this way, Google AdSense resembles most modern democracies: while the elite still maintain most of the power, the little guy does get a small voice. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than an oligarchy of the unthinking elite.
However, we can do one better with a meritocracy. Rather than being a detriment, advertising can be a force for good on the web. Fusion Ads and The Deck are prime examples of this. Instead of rewarding breadth of content, these networks focus on finding blogs which consistently post material with depth. By handpicking their members these networks ironically end up leveling the playing field and giving quality content a chance to shine. I truly believe this is the advertising model that will save the web.3
With that in mind, I offer this challenge to Joe and Sean: devise an advertising platform which will improve the quality of the edublogosphere. In my opinion, such a model should observe three crucial principles:
- Popularity doesn’t necessarily correlate with merit. Meaningful blogs with strong reader relationships will, in the end, provide greater long-term benefit.
- Be selective. The quality of small, niche groups is more easily controllable, making them more marketable.
- Know the audience. Most readers are going to be job seekers (teachers) not job posters. The billing and payment strategy should reflect this.
Whether they choose to implement these ideas or not, I wish Joe and Sean the best of luck and look forward to their response.
In any reasonable system, computer applications would not be a class. When schools think about digital literacy, far too many focus on the simple: teaching tools. Teaching tools is easy: it’s easy to add “digital literacy” to graduation requirements and plop kids down in mandatory technology classes. Unfortunately, this is exactly the wrong approach. In doing so, you teach students to use the tools, but not how to use the tools. A tool, and knowledge of it, is only as useful as how its applied. Truly teaching digital literacy requires integrating the tools directly into the curriculum of other disciplines, which is definitely difficult.
The problem is that schools are trapped in the mindset which is used to teach other tools. Other tools are virtually indistinguishable from their content. When you learn to read (particularly at advanced levels), you also learn to read. In the process of learning the tool, you learn the content, and vice versa. Schools have attempted to do this with technology, to poor results. When you teach technology as its taught in most schools, you only teach the tool, without the application.
Even worse is when IT administrators try to add rigor to the technology education in exactly the wrong way. Apparently, one technology director feels that students should use the most difficult software, just because it is difficult.
However, even iLife has its drawbacks in an educational setting. It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.
This argument essentially comes down to iLife being too good. Yes, you read that correctly: the software is bad because it’s too good. Apparently, we should make students’ lives miserable, because they’re going to be miserable when they grow up.
The fact is that 99% of students are never going to need to go beyond basic multimedia productions. The highly usable tools of iLife are more than satisfactory for everything but professional tasks. Beyond that, the future programmers and film editors probably have the initiative to seek out and learn the advanced software themselves.
This argument reminds me of the teachers who used to (and still do) require students to never use calculators. There argument for this usually amounts to the idea that students won’t have calculators in the “real world.” Of course, in the real world calculators are readily available: every computer and cell phone has one. When students go out into the world, they will be able to make decisions with their sotware. In fact, that’s probably a far better thing to teach: how to chose good software. Clearly this IT admin could use a lesson or two himself.
The bottom line is that schools should never teach students to accept the subpar. This is the kind of thinking which puts IT administrators and educators at odds and puts technology above actual learning. Technology, especially bad technology, should never be taught for technology’s sake.
(Via Daring Fireball)