Rupert Murdoch, at 80 years of age is still on the ball and doing well. This is a man who has spent his entire adult life in the public eye. He knows a lot about media because during the last 40 years he invented a lot of how people consumed it. However, today, things are not all well for Murdoch's companies, and while he speaks about how a digital media has revolutionized modern media practices, the company he leads, News Corporation, is not riding the wave of change itself. NewsCorp’s profits slumped 24% in the third quarter. The company is currently assessing offers for its struggling social networking site MySpace. Its division made a loss of $165m (£99.9m) in the quarter.
So for the recent e-G8 Forum in Paris, Murdoch turns his attention to education.
"A teacher waking up from a 50-year nap would find a classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian era. My friends, what we have here is a colossal failure of imagination and an abdication of our responsibilities to our children and grandchildren," said Murdoch, chairman of the News Corporation.
I find this true of the architecture we are forced to deal with in classrooms today. Desks have sat in the same spaces for the past 50 years, all facing the same direction, and the entire focus remains on "the sage on the stage". But teaching practices have changed, at least in my experiences as a student in the 1970s and 80s and as a teacher now. What lies behind the rhetoric is that Murdoch and his company are preparing for an assault on what he describes as “last holdout from the digital revolution” and from the above video we can deduce that Murdoch is concerned primarily with delivery systems.
“Now we need to ... make mathematics sticky, to micro-target the eight-grade girls who might want to be physicists and to personalise the reading for each student,” he said. To engage young people in new ways, “the key is the software ... not a computer or a tablet or some other device”.
From what I have been witnessing in my own work with digitally based pedagogy the idea of corporate software production, largely based on monitoring and tracking (News Corp bought 90 per cent of Wireless Generation, a New York company that tracks student performance through mobile devices and assessment software), being a way forward for education is a mistake.
Murdoch speaks a lot about a 'lost generation' of students who cannot read or write. Raised on a media diet of trash newspapers (if any) and cable television (owned by you-know-who). These students are not victims of their environment, the favoured perspective of the post-modern left, so despised by Rupert. These people are the products of a culture that is booming. It makes consumers out of everyone. There is nothing to produce when product placement, branded, sponsored and delivered content is the stuff of the every day. We see this same perspective behind the philosophy of education espoused by Murdoch. He wants to see entire schools running on his media. He knows the hardware is a totally different sphere than the content he has been king of for so long. The software that runs learning platforms, that runs the ipad and ipod, the itunes model, is what Murdoch has his aged eyes on.
I have recently begun developing the idea of the 'university as cloud, where fast computing and unlimited and open server space allows universities to host and distribute not only everything the students needs for study (including access to the library) but also allows the students unlimited storage and distribution of their own creations. University community archives that grow with the body of scholars.
Unfortunately the idea of the university as cloud is currently impossible with the law the way it is in regards to publication and copyright. Murdoch knows this. He is in fact counting on it. A centralized production and distribution point is vital if what Lawrence Lessig (see video below) calls 'the incumbents' of media are to survive.
The coming decades are going to be very very interesting for many reasons.