Don’t get stuck in the swamp!

I have rather worn out my ‘tie quip’. For those few who have not heard it, the adornment of a tie around my neck indicates that I am on that day working for an international company. Pearson. The lack of such adornment indicates that I am spending one of my two contracted days per week for CETIS.

This sharing of my time between the public and private sectors gives me a fairly unique understanding of the conflicting and shared pressures that face these two areas.

My commercial colleagues are driven by the market. Up to now there has been little appetite to invest in technology based tools to support teaching and learning as so many pioneers in such as teaching materials have met untimely and expensive ends (administration and information systems are another matter!).

Things are changing rapidly. There is a recognition that the prevalence of technology from the mobile phone to the software that supports networking communities within our ‘customers’ lives has meant that there are now significant commercial opportunities from the development of appropriate tools and services.

System that underpin the sharing of learning objects or exemplar lessons or match an individual’s achievements to employment opportunities are coming off the drawing board. Major international companies with publishing assets and expertise are well placed to integrate such tools into their existing business offerings.

The English government’s multi-billion ‘Building Schools for the Future Programme’ that has led to many local authorities sub-contracting their information technology systems and infrastructure to the private sector will provide a ready and easy channel for such commercial products to be installed.

This may not be such a bad thing. The products will probably work, be user friendly, rugged, regularly updated and heavily supported.

Teaching, learning and employability will be enhanced.

Interoperability will be focussed on what is important such as the ability to work across diverse platforms rather than satisfying speculative possibilities.

So where does JISC and CETIS fit into this world ?

I suspect that increasingly there will be a closer relationship between the JISC community and the private sector. Just as engineering companies such as Rolls Royce have relied on universities to develop such as rotor blade material technology the major publishers will be looking at HE to provide answers to such as identity management, maintaining trust and security and, yes, appropriate interoperability.

For example, ‘trust and security’ is a very topical example of where work is needed. The public are becoming uneasy about tens of thousands of health professionals having access to medical records or even more educational administrators through ‘Contactpoint’ being able to identify which agencies (including such as social services) have been involved with their children.

Can our JISC community provide solutions?

So a plea, for my JISC colleagues:

Keep a close eye on the private sector and what they are doing and especially what they are doing in the schools sector where there are so many easy commercial pickings. Some privately funded initiatives will inspire you. Others will identify necessary areas of research and development. Some will identify easily developed non-commercial products such as Moodle extensions

Our learning technology landscape has changed.

The secure ground is increasingly being taken by big business. JISC better not be left with the (Mark Stubb’s inspired) swamps.

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