I blame it on a questioner at a presentation this week, who, in a tone that seemed to invite me to confess or “come out” asked me whether I was against copyright. I tried to explain that I was not against it on a principle, but that it seemed to me hugely irrelevant to the workings of a networked society involved in digital communication. It embodied the terms of trade of the Gutenberg world. Since everything else had changed why were we so determined that this should stay the same?

She seemed relieved, as one might be, having found a bigger heretic and being able to point to him and say “burn him first”! But she recalled me to a moment in 1985 when the Publishers Association appointed that wonderful publisher-lawyer, Charles Clarke, and myself as delegates to the European Commission’s Information and Society “Legal Observatory”. Accompanying Charles to Luxembourg, and playing Sancho Panza to his deft Quixote was a joy. The meetings were unbearable, and remained so for five years. Charles found windmills galore in the droit moral to tilt at, while on his orders I could be relied upon to propose an adjournment until after lunch, when it was permitted that like good ambassadors we could lie (and often sleep) abroad for our country. Never at any time did we hear an idea worth reporting back from here to anyone, and I observe that we initiated 25 years of legal reform of copyright provisions in Europe in progressively more obtuse efforts to fit copyright protection to digital content in ways that legislators have wrangled over and users ignored.

Charles, in his own writings on all of this, increasingly resorted to the dictum that “the answer to the machine lies in the machine”. I might claim ownership of the last three words, but I gladly cede them to his glorious memory, and to those who saw this as a sign that DRM was the answer, and that the object of technology was to create blocks for people using that technology. Again, I feel agnostic, or at least heretical. For me, the object of the technology is to enable seamless re-use in a networked society where the nature of communication is about repurposing content to make it mean something to other users. We are surely past the time when users can be re-educated to stop acts of re-use that are natural actions flowing from the functionality of the networks and nodes that they are using. This stable door is now wide open and the forces of law and technology will not bring the horses back again.

So what is our government doing about this? Hearing the scandalous news that Google could not have started here under current UK law we appoint the good Professor Hargreaves to form a commission and investigate (though we have not even digested the last commission, under the good FT editor Gower) to report back. And what does he want to do? Adjust the terms of trade, redefine “fair use” and revise the rules on the good ship Copyright, which long since sank. How ghostly is that? And who wants another Google? And one started here! This is a scandalous misuse of government funds and the debating time of an industry which should be concentrated on building out service values in the world that actually exists.

But what is this? Here comes Ms J K Rowling and her Pottermore supersite. She has as her advisor, Laurie Kaye (http://laurencekaye.typepad.com/), the best media lawyer in Britain (in my view, by a country mile). And it appears that here is no DRM. Just fair pricing and unrestricted availability. Download from here to any reader. (Does this make sense of the Overdrive – Amazon relationship? Note that O’Reilly distributes DRM-free via Overdrive). All her publishers are seemingly plugged into this solution (doubtless via revenue shares). Watermarking will enable Ms Rowling’s staff to detect, and, I hope, prosecute, those who take her work and try to earn their own income from pirating it. But she does not appear exercised if your kid shares some of this content with another kid in the same class. She has a brand, is developing it through this content (http://www.pottermore.com/en/press) and will make money from the site as a service, not from individual content sub-segments. She and her advisors are in tune with their times. The government, the Professor and many publishers are not. Time will deal with them. Meanwhile, at a time when the Web is decreasing rapidly as a proportion of overall internet usage (great article by Ben Elowitz on All Things D (http://allthingsd.com/20110623/the-web-is-shrinking-now-what/?mod=snhome) here is a good reminder of what web publishing can really mean.

Its been a week of travel and talk. Nothing so unusual about that, I suppose, except that you seldom learn much while doing either. Yet I have a feeling that I have learnt a great deal, and in areas where I thought I was knowledgeable. Clearly, I wasn’t!

On my way to meetings in Italy I had plenty of time to reflect on an afternoon spent with Microsoft and CUP’s Global Grid for Learning (GGfL) on Monday. The slides from my presentation will appear here under Downloads, from which you will see that I am still pursuing arguments around the atomization of learning content, and its reconstruction as teaching plans or learning journeys. This deconstruction commoditizes shared and unprotectable content, but it gives “publishers” a chance to re-emerge as educational engineers, ringmasters in assembling  support services for teacher/moderators  and pupil/personalized learners. Components include the need for atomized resources with which to do this (GGfL) and workflow tools to create such environments (Office 365). So you see why I was speaking between these two vendors. And how important it is as a validation of Learning as Workflow that players like this recognize the change in demand. They know that it is not all teachers who will work in this way, and that the percentage that do will exchange resources and allow others to use and adapt their work in the network. TES Connect (http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resources/) in the UK, like www.teachersPayTeachers.com in the US already facilitate this. GGfL facilitate it by clearing copyrights in advance and allowing schools the ability to keep compliant by becoming a subscriber. The more I listen to GGfL the more I recognize its absolute necessity as a business model in these emerging markets, though I can also see that larger textbook publishers, always trying to buy off change with a halfway house, might have shied away from doing this. After all, only market leaders like Pearson, in this sector, get time to use their current trading as a shelter within which to rethink their market positions and experiment. All credit then to Cambridge for this initiative. In tribute, I used the meeting to launch SABL, the Society for the Abolition of Blended Learning, and was gratified when several members of the audience asked afterwards for application forms!

And tributes were due too to Microsoft. They have their heads around the nature and dynamics of change in learning markets, and rightly see the opportunity to re-orientate the ultimately most fundamental of workflow toolsets in that direction. Already launched in the US (http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/desktop-apps/2011/01/12/microsoft-readies-office-365-for-education-40091397/) this seems to me a demonstration that Sharepoint, a communications environment like Lync, a souped -up PowerPoint and the rest of the Office package take users a long way down the track towards a situation where teachers can effectively migrate to moderation. Microsoft are effectively providing a migration path that moves school users to the new tools-based environment, and this is one of the conditional factors in change in school practice.

In the desperation to sell devices much of this has been ignored in the IT sector, and even where one would expect a degree of affinity (as at Apple), specialised educational providers like Edutone (http://www.edutone.com/news_46.html) seem to be the real innovators. Platforms like this require a reworking of current resource thinking so that learning on a tablet emulates the access mode that learners – and their parents – will expect in an App orietated, post-search world. The results of this can only be multiple media (good to see many of GGfL’s allies in photo libraries and educational television in this audience). And the way personalization is done has to be unpackaged (software providers in the room  like T-Learning – http://www.taecanet.com/index.htm – have now built a wealth of experience in creating millions of learning journeys and using them in virtual classroom environments).

And then the learning began, for as soon as I stopped speaking to the audience and started listening to them I realized how rich this terrain is now becoming. At one end of the spectrum there are players like Learning Possibilities (https://learningpossibilities.lpplus.net/Pages/News2.aspx), combining the visionary talents of Steve Heppell with a high value platform, LP+4, and a very appropriate recent announcement about their Education Cloud venture with Microsoft. At the other end was TimeMaps (http://www.timemaps.com/about-us/), an attempt to time chart global history by a father and son team. The Brittons will earn the gratitude of history teachers by re-inventing the historical Atlas, especially if it can be included within the personalized learning environments described here.

So what didn’t we talk about? Well, eBooks, eTextbooks and ePub3 seemed to belong more to the past than the future, though no doubt that will sort itself out in time. And the enabling technologies of eWhiteboards, LMS and VLE were taken as they should be – as givens in the educational environment – sadly we did not talk enough about the home-school dimension. As we personalize, so we have to communicate: eLearning will not achieve its full potential without far greater communication and co-operative working between parents and teachers, alongside the changing relationship between learners and teacher/moderators.

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