Some Thoughts About Our Tenure and Education’s Future

The Sunday New York Times for 6 May 2007 has a farewell column from its public editor, Byran Calame, about his tenure, Final Thoughts About My Tenure and The Times’s Future, that is interesting in its own right. I also find it interesting to apply some of his observations about the state of journalism today to the state of education. For example:

How The Times deals with two major strategic challenges will determine the quality of the news readers get in the years ahead. The challenges, which also face most other newspapers, are lagging advertising revenue and the transition to the Web.

which can be recast as

How public education deals with two major strategic challenges will determine the quality of the education students get in the years ahead. The challenges, which also face other educational institutions, are lagging revenue and the transition to the Web.

For the Times the transition to the web is a business issue: how to adapt the base mode of print journalism to survive and thrive with the increasing reliance on the Web to deliver news in a more timely fashion. For education the transition to the Web is two-fold. Most important is how to educate today’s students to be able to compete more effectively in an economy that is growing ever more dependent on knowledge-based jobs. But to do that we need to make the appropriate transition to the effective use of the Web and its associated technologies in our classrooms.

The article continues:

Generating the revenue to pay for the news staff needed to maintain The Times’s high quality is the most serious challenge. With advertising revenue from the print paper weakening in recent years, the hope was that growing revenue from advertising on the Web site would pick up the slack. Unfortunately, as The Times reported April 20, the paper has “decided to reduce its 2007 guidance for Internet revenue growth, suggesting that the transition from a print advertising model may be a long time coming.”

which can be recast as:

Generating the revenue needed to attract and maintain high quality teachers is the most serious challenge. With revenue weakening in recent years, one hope was that growing reliance n Web-based technologies would help pick up the slack. Unfortunately, experience to date suggests that the transition from the current model of delivering education to one much more strongly based on web technologies may be a long time coming.

For an example on some of the problems of technology based innovation in education see the recent Times article, Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops. The lesson to be drawn here is not that the technology holds no promise but that we must be deliberate in deploying it and try to avoid making claims that are too bold, as it is to easy to for those familar with a new technology to underestimate how difficult it can be to deploy it.

Next:

The transition of the newsroom’s center of gravity to the Web, crucial to the future of The Times, is making notable progress. But the steady push to completely integrate its print and online news operations to support the rapidly expanding Web site raises questions about what will constitute top-quality journalism in the online world of deadlines every minute. A pilot project under way in the business section seeks to truly integrate the print and online operations on a 24/7 basis. In a vital step forward and a distinct plus for Web readers, the pilot tests the idea of making the editor of a core news department of the print paper responsible for the coverage online as well.

This is a reminder that to adapt your business, whether it be journalism of education or something else, to a technology as different and difficult as the web will involve more than adaptation. It will require cultural change and innovation, all of which must be done while delivering the core product each and every day during that transition.

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