Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's the difference between The Chicago Tribune and The University of Leicester?

I heart Leicester You may have heard that the media group which owns The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times has filed for bankruptcy. As you might expect, Clay Shirky's comments on this news are worth reading:
By the turn of the century, anyone who didn't understand that the business model for newspapers was a wasting asset was caught up in nothing other than willful ignorance, so secure in their faith in the permanence of their business that they assumed that those glaciers would politely swerve at the last minute, which minute is looking increasingly like now.
As we know, Shirky said what needed to be said back in 1995:
The price of information has not only gone into free fall in the last few years, it is still in free fall now, it will continue to fall long before it hits bottom, and when it does whole categories of currently lucrative businesses will be either transfigured unrecognizably or completely wiped out, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
The last time I bought a newspaper, I had ulterior motives. Universities are also in the information business, and should be worried, right?
Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.
B.F. Skinner

Universities are in the education business, not the information business.
So universities have got nothing to worry about?
I wouldn't say that exactly, so long as we remember the differences between information and education. Universities are in the contextualization business.

I've just come back from an interesting UoL Teaching and Assessment Network session presented by David Farrier, Student Presentations and Encouraging Effective Participation. David described how all modules in the School of English include a non-assessed compulsory element. After his talk, the discussion centred on how the School of English enforces the compulsory nature of these exercises. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer turns out to be - they don't. Because they don't have to. The culture in the School of English is such that this is an issue which simply doesn't arise. This cued up discussion about over-assessment in Science and Medicine, which we are well aware of but unsure how to back away from.

The reason we are on this over-assessment treadmill is because we can't rid ourselves of the notion that we are in the information business. And being in the information business is a dumb strategy right now.