Bill Fitzgerald on education as consumption

[Bill pulls responses to 3 recent articles]( (and I’d argue a fourth – the [Bill Gates “education is the web” thing]( ) together with a single sentence:

> Just to emphasize, whenever anyone talks about “delivering” education, the implication is that learning is a passive activity that can be brought to people – in other words, getting us back into “consuming” mode.

Learning is active. There’s no getting around that. Therefore, an effective education involves **much** more than simple content distribution. Framing education as being a series of exercises in content consumption (no matter how great the content may be) doesn’t serve anyone well. It’s also not as simple as grafting on a layer of social networking on top of content. Education and learning are so much more than that.

why standards are important

yes, [HTML5]( is essentially a diluted buzzword for “something shiny on the web that doesn’t use flash” – BUT – by using standards, you get to have content used in ways you haven’t predicted. For instance, [Grant Hutchinson]( has been playing with a [Newton-powered webserver]( (not linking directly to the server to spare it from the network) for years.

Today, he fired up the web browser on one of his Newtons, and pointed it at the [Apple HTML5 showcase site]( What happened? Fireworks? Crashes? Missing content? Plugin Required error messages?


newton html5 via newtscapeGallery

The content displayed just fine, as best as could be handled by a 15 year old handheld computer. Sure, some of the bells and whistles are missing. But the site is usable.

Standards, especially ones that support graceful degradation of presentation by devices at runtime, ensure we have access to our content long after it’s built, on devices we didn’t have in mind when we built it.

If Grant were to try to view any of the content I built years ago using Director/Shockwave, or any of 47 terabytes of content built in Flash, the poor little Newton would have barfed violently.

Opaque, proprietary formats are bad. Open standards and degradable presentation are good.

scattered vs. individual publishing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about publishing things individually, on my own, as opposed to scattering stuff across the various services out there. Partially, it’s because of some sense of wanting to retain control and ownership of what I do. Partially, it’s a thought exercise to help figure out what it would really mean for an individual to fully maintain their own digital identity as opposed to relying on any number of ephemeral third parties to enable that. It’s all still quite unformed in my head, but here’s a really basic and oversimplified diagram of what I’m thinking about:

“Scattered” publishing involves a bunch of people navigating a bunch of services in order to find relevant bits published by the people they care about. “Individual” publishing involves individuals managing their content in one place, and letting the people they care about have access in any way they need.

Aggregators play important roles in both models, but in “scattered” the aggregator’s primary role is to pull decentralized bits of a person’s various bits of content back into the context of that person, and then in the context of the reader’s personal network. In “individual” the aggregator is primarily pulling people together, and filtering the subsets of a person’s content to meet the needs of each reader.

On content as infrastructure

Kananaskis - June 17 - 12David suggested in his opening comments yesterday that “content is infrastructure.” He was (I think) meaning to imply that content is an enabling platform, and that if a robust library of open content is available, that individuals and groups will be able to build new things from that library. Things that can’t be predicted by the librarians and publishers. Things that are evolutionary and revolutionary. I completely agree that having freely available and reusable content is an extremely important factor in promoting education and community programs, especially in regions without the resources to build all content from scratch.

But, the “content as infrastructure” analogy doesn’t sit well with me. Infrastructure is stuff like electricity, plumbing, roads and communication networks. Infrastructure’s value is that you don’t have to think about it – it’s Just There™, and is “always on”. You flick a switch, and don’t need or want to think about the electrical infrastructure that heats up the filament in the bulb. You flush the john, and don’t need or want to think about the water supply and sewage infrastructure. Hopefully, you won’t have to.

But – content is one thing that you need to think about. It can’t be pushed so far down the stack that it becomes a mindless and invisible component, akin to electricity. Content needs to be mindful, contextual, active, and interactive. It’s not just a series of bits to be transported via TCP/IP (which could be considered infrastructure) – it’s the context for a conversation.