News Corp in K12 Education Play

One of the sections of the OU’s new Innovating Pedagogy report (the first in what is intended to be an ongoing review series), refers to Publisher-led mini courses, a consideration of how news publishers may encroach on or enter the informal HE/lifelong learning or CPD markets through partnerships with HEIs or otherwise.

Whilst the OU’s business interests – and hence the focus of the report – are not on primary or secondary (K12) education (aside from teacher training considerations), today I notice that News Corp has announced an entrance into the K12 market: “News Corp unveils ‘Amplify’ to bring digitial innovation to K12 innovation”:

Today, News Corporation unveiled the brand and business of its Education Division. Amplify is dedicated to reimagining K-12 education by creating digital products and services that empower students, teachers and parents in new ways. Amplify will enhance the potential of students with new curricular experiences, support teachers with new instructional tools and engage parents through extended learning opportunities. Amplify will introduce these unique and pioneering offerings in collaboration with AT&T.

Amplify appears to be offering a tablet based play to compete with the K12 textbook market, offering rich interactive content with value adding learning analytics. Learning analytics and formative assessment are provided by another Amplify (i.e. News Corp) company, wireless generation (News Corp acquired a 90% stake in Wireless Generation in November 2010: FT: News Corp ‘bet’ on education sector). By the by, it seems Wireless Generation has itself been on the acquisition trail recently: Wireless Generation Buys Assessment Company Intel-Assess.

There’s not a lot of substance on the Amplify site yet, so rather than rehash it here, I suggest you poke around the site yourself and see what jumps out (feel free to mention anything interesting you find in the comments;-) If that seems like to much hard work, try this report from GigaOm: How will News Corps’ new ed tech business ‘Amplify’ education?.

From a quick dig around, though, Amplify appears to be focussing on delivery rather than credentialed assessment. I wondered briefly if that might be because it could introduce a conflict of interest if the company provided both content and assessment services, but presumably not, as the OU’s Innovating Pedagogy report noted:

[I]n the UK Pearson operate EdExcel for the assessment of GCSE, GCE (A-level) and BTEC/vocational qualifications. Pearson has recently bought vocational trainers Education Development International and assessment and testing providers Centiport. If education is ripe for disruption, it may be that the assessment of training and the offering of examination services at higher levels of education will provide a route by which publishers can develop credibility in the assessment and award of an ever wider range of qualification products based around their content offerings.

A couple of other things that strike me about the announcement, and that I should really try to ponder further: the extent to which the economics of education are influenced by the content business (maybe Andy Lane will chip in with a comment about the business model of school education..?;-); and the rate at which performance tracking and learning analytics style approaches are going to focus attention on reporting dashboards than human teacher-pupil relationships.

I also wonder about the role of plurality in all this? In the UK, the notion of media plurality “helps to support a democratic society by ensuring citizens are informed by a diverse range of views and by preventing too much influence over political processes by one media owner or outlet”, or at least, that’s what a June 2012 press release announcing an OfCom report on measuring media plurality claims. But how about in education? How about in education where the publishers who control either – or both – the content and the means of certified assessment are also news publishers? How far should the notion of plurality extend then? Across all content businesses, including education?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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