higher ed

What does the credit crunch mean for ed tech?


<Image Wall Street by BreakDennis – http://flickr.com/photos/breakdennis/2093184009/>

Brian Kelly had a post recently, entitled 'Web 2.0 in troubled economic times'. In it he stated:

"In response to a recent post CodeGorilla pointed out that
at a number of participants at the Repository Fringe event had felt
that use of services such as Flickr and Google should be avoided
because such companies were not as well-established as many Universities."

He then goes on to suggest a number of issues we may need to address such as whether institutional IT services will be affected, whether user's expectations will change, etc. He makes the point that internally hosted services may be as much at risk as externally ones.

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones has a post in a similar vein, who sees worrying echoes of the dotcom crash.

I've been thinking about this recently, in particular what it means for education, educational technology and all the new types of activity and technologies that those of us in the blogosphere are always promoting.  I see one of two responses happening:

  • Stick to what we know – in uncertain times an understandable reaction is to retreat into what you know best and what has worked in the past. These are not the times to start experimenting with new, risky approaches. For those in education that translates roughly as "stick with teaching subjects we know work, in a traditional manner. Publish in journals and get research funding in. Don't do anything rash."
  • We need to find new models – this takes the opposite view: Now is exactly the time to start experimenting, because the market is tougher and you need to be more flexible. So, finding new ways of teaching, supporting students and disseminating knowledge are the best approaches  to respond to rapidly changing environments.

My feeling is that there will be some derision aimed at those who promote things such as free software, open educational resources, web 2.0 business models, etc. The accusation will be that these sorts of things are fine in a bouyant economy, but they are not practical in a global recession. We will be told that we need to be hard-headed, pragmatic, realistic. My response to this is that Wall Street is not renowned for being populated by whimsical, altruistic dreamers and hard-headed pragmatism doesn't seem to have got us very far, so maybe there is something in all this openness.

On a more general note, that response will be difficulto argue against, particularly in the US, it seems to me. The next time someone suggests a comprehensive health plan for instance, it would be difficult to dismiss it as too costly, or un-American, as the response will surely be "what, compared with putting $700 billion dollars into banks?".

I'll leave the last word with Rory Cellan-Jones, which is a nice reminder of how current context can make people lose sight of the bigger story:

Early in 2000, my BBC bosses briefly made me internet correspondent,
just as the dotcom madness neared its peak. By the end of the year they
had decided that the internet was "over" – as a story at least – and
sent me back to the business beat.


  • Chris D

    I remember reading somewhere that the economy is one of the drivers that pushes the continual development of integrated circuits (but I might be wrong – I’m no economist!) Building a new generation ICs requires a huge investment in fabrication plants. A slowing rate of development may have knock on effects which could influence server operating and purchase costs and availability of ever more cheaper hardware (to facilitate access to learning communities and course materials). During the last downturn I remember successful companies saying that they had to innovate and economise. The big questions are, of course: how and where?

  • Nicole Hansen

    I think most Web 2.0 companies were already destined to failure whether the economy had reached a downturn or not, because most of them are already giving away the cow or have a half-baked idea that no one would pay anything for to begin with. At least in the dotcom era making money was at the core of the businesses. While Web 2.0 entrepreneurs may have the same intentions, I see very few sites that seem to have any clue how they will actually do that. Look at Facebook, they don’t seem to have any clue how they can make money besides advertising.

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