I recently listened to Alan Cross talking about the musical (and business) genius that is David Bowie and how he understood very early on the impact that the internet would have on the music industry. Remember “Bowie Bonds“? In 1997, Bowie received $55 million up front for future royalties on his catalog of albums, which at the time was selling 1 million copies per year (Wikipedia and Secret History of Rock). In 2004, the bottom fell out of the market and Bowie Bonds were then rated at just above junk bond status. Bowie’s brilliant forecast that the future of the music industry was on shaky ground because of the impact the internet would have on the way music was sold put him in a position to act in a timely way to secure his earnings.
This past weekend, Pearson Canada pulled together a group of Ontario educators for a focus group session at their offices in Toronto. The group used the hashtag #ontsm, which drew the attention of other educators in Ontario and beyond, who were curious about an event that included many of their respected peers using a hashtag that implied a province-wide involvement or focus and obscured Pearson’s involvement. This tweet from Chris Wejr, a Principal from B.C. drew my attention:
A fairly good question and some healthy push-back, I thought. That push-back was echoed in tweets from others, as well as blog posts and the comments left on them. I was struck by Donna Fry‘s comment on this post by Jared Bennet. The push-back struck a chord with several of the focus group attendees and a handful responded to suggest that those who were critical were perhaps just feeling sore for being left out:
There was some thoughtful back and forth though, and Donna Fry summed up the value of critical discourse in this tweet:
Aside from the poor choice of hash tag, my concerns revolve around the broader implications of our choices. Can we take a close look at what Pearson Canada’s goals for the event may have been?
What I know:
- Attendees were invited and paid for their participation.
- Attendees signed media waivers.
- Pearson Canada is a division of the multi-national for profit Pearson Education.
For some of the red flags raised about Pearson Education elsewhere in the world, please see Diane Ravitch’s blog here, where Alan Singer outlines why we should be very concerned about the sometimes hidden, less than transparent involvement of Pearson Education in attempting to shape public policy around education and the motivation behind that involvement.
On its’ website, Pearson makes the following claim:
Pearson has one defining goal: to help people progress in their lives through learning.
This Alan Singer article published last month on Huffington Post exposes what might be a more accurate goal for Pearson Education. It points to Pearson Education’s own statement:
Pearson accelerates global education strategy:
Restructuring and investment in digital, services and emerging markets for faster growth, larger market opportunity and greater impact on learning outcomes.
Pearson is in the game to make money, not to change education to better meet the needs of students.
When you participate in a focus group, you do so to further the goals or research of the organization hosting the focus group. To suggest that the conversations were “disruptive” or that Pearson didn’t know what they would be getting is naive. Pearson got what they wanted from the attendees: information about how to make a greater profit off public education. Pearson is, as their tag line says, “Always Learning”.
To be truly disruptive would have entailed staying home en masse. Could it be that Pearson also won the hearts and minds of the attendees, thus ensuring highly visible advocacy when they launch new products and (for pay) social platforms for educators? If so, do you think that was an unanticipated outcome?
Pearson is not early to the game here, either. Discovery Education figured it out a while back. In fact, I would argue that none of the content-providers or publishers of educational materials figured out what impact the internet would have on their industries in a timely way. Not like the Thin White Duke did, anyhow. And that means that they are now scrambling to build relationships with trusted individuals who possess lots of social media clout in order to secure their future earnings.