Yesterday may have seen the largest single step forward for school-based educational publishing globally for a decade, which makes it confusing, but rather appropriate, that the word “education” did not intrude at all in the hullabaloo of the major product/service launch on the West Coast. Yet I suspect that if we convened a panel of enlightened educationalists from all sorts of international K-12 environments and asked them what they needed in order to deliver a vision of tomorrow’s educational technology then they might put together a shopping list something like this:

* Video, video, video – from the internet, terrestrial and satellite, and DVD/Blu-ray, all in one place, seamlessly
* Games – serious gaming in a context that makes sense to kids in and out of the classroom, capable of collaborative or single user working anywhere
* Connectivity, making the learner a real participant in the process as well as ensuring that all online and broadcast environments were linked into this hub
* Voice and gesture control, and the ability to profile and remember individual participants
* Multiscreen and split screen working, using video and internet at the same time
* Skype connections to remote teachers or wider collaborative groups
* Each user to have the computing power of a top range laptop at their disposal, backed by a network of 300,000 servers – the computing power of 1991 in one application

These are, of course, the headlines from yesterday’s launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One ( And I do not care about the numbering system, or whether we get Halo or Call of Duty: Ghosts. Or that some platforms are more backward-compatible than others. Frankly, my son had passed me by as a gamer by the time he was seven, and was making allowances for my mental and physical inability to keep up. But Convergence – that is something else. In the long years while we lurched from one technology to another – from CD-ROM to the iPad – all of our efforts seemed one – dimensional. Which is not to say that the iPad is not a useful tool in an educational context. But dilute the Apple Kool-Aid, please. Whatever Steve Job’s lifelong wishes were about creating a new start in education, nothing that has happened since Apple made its specific education launch convinces me that it is the textbook of the future. Or, as far as el-hi education is concerned, that it is desirable or appropriate to look for an eTextbook of the future. “Textbook” may be an albatross that we have to cut loose from the neck of education 7-18, and especially 11-18, if we are going to make meaningful progress at all.

If education at these ages is going to enter the immersive world of the network, then it has to be rooted in the multiservice environment of the home, as well as the school. Indeed, looking at the expensive and pitiful struggle in the UK to keep the actual physical buildings of the school together I wonder sometimes about how we will keep these locations open for more than one-on-one progress checking and assessment. As K-12 becomes more virtual, here are some of the issues we must look out for:

* the continuing progress towards personalised education, driven through specified learning journeys which are loaded with appropriate learning outcomes. Education is Workflow.
* the ability to monitor in the network the compliance of these outcomes with overall curriculum requirements demanded by education authorities, politicians, parents
* the ability to monitor and assess learner progress on the fly and tweak the system to allow repeat/re-iteration on topics where a full understanding has not been achieved
* the ability of teachers to morph into moderators, enabling them to select and suggest good learning strategies for individual learners, adopt best practice from successful peers and recognize, with the assistance of good monitoring and guidance solutions, where progress is made and when help is needed
* the ability to use this system architecture to keep parents informed of progress and problems, using the same systems for communication and dialogue as those in place in the home. Education is social media.

In this world there will be no examinations, since we shall know who knows what at which required level. In this world, every parent, every night, will be able to know what has been done and how well it has been accomplished. In this world, education will return to being the exploratory journey towards understanding that it has been at its most successful. And while it will take a long time for this world to come about, I think that the only road to the future is not the route of adding more and better devices at the edge of education, but by taking a holistic view through the only available architecture – the games platform.

All of this begs many interesting questions. Will Sony come up with a better answer in the new PlayStation? Perhaps. Will Nintendo make the Wii move here as its gesture control gets refined? Maybe. Of more concern to me is that now that games have come out of the bedroom and into the living room, and are now bidding to be the multiscreen service that runs television and streaming DVD in the home as the Home Hub, it will not be long before they emerge in the school as well. And this time teachers will not be able to say “leave your devices at the door”. OK, Microsoft may have to rebrand and call it XBox Ed. And make it available through its smartphone technology. But maybe, just maybe, yesterday was a new dawn. As EM Forster could not have resisted saying at this point: “Only Kinect”.

Living in a society that seems to value “innovation” above all things it is sometimes easy to forget that innovations sometimes have to wait and fester on the sidelines for many years before we recognize how new they really are, that the most common cause of innovation-failure is being before one’s times, and that some innovations never really perform until other innovations are available to make them fully useful. As a law publisher 30 years ago, we managers were deeply concerned with the quality of our thesaurus and how we could effectively use the major law dictionaries of the day; in 1983 I can recall discussions with West Publishing, as it was then, and the depressing conclusion that Blacks, the prevalent power in the marketplace, would never make it online. Now all the dictionaries and thesauri are online and we refer to them no more, but my other memory of those days of roaming the US as if it was a larder of innovation is going on to Denver to meet a guy who was compiling standardized word lists, which he called taxonomies, and inviting information companies to embed them online. He was a former camera shop manager and he knew from experience how many words could be used at retail to describe the same thing, or facets of the same thing.

This is in my head this evening since a note from a very bright and lively innovatory service player in Vienna, the Semantic Web Company, reminds me that they are a member of Wand Within (, and refers me back to Ross Leher, the founder of Wand and my host on that visit in the mid-80s. I have written about Wand many times since, but it has never struck me more forcibly that it is the semantic web movement that releases the power of taxonomy by placing it in the context of technologies that enable us to be really creative in service innovations around it. The wonder to me is that Ross, his son, and their smart company, have been able to survive the 30 years it has taken for the world to get to where they were. I can well remember sending directory companies to them, but the sort of places where I was recommending them as a cure were dying of market forces anyway. The sort of things that Ross was preaching were endemic to the information culture in Denver and its environs anyway: this is light engineering and aircraft building country, and its largest information services player, IHS Inc (Information Handling Services), was created from the needs of customers with big “parts” lists, a multiplicity of standards to obey and scores of component suppliers.

Wand Within’s members are a guide to the aristocracy of semantic web service suppliers. TEMIS, the important French data analytics player, has often been referenced here as I wrote a White Paper with them on Collaboration earlier this year. DataFacet is Wand’s own toolset. Pingar, the New Zealand semantic search company has also been covered here. But it is also worth taking careful note of the Semantic Web Company and its PoolParty tools. ( Here is another European source of advanced service development tools which should be critically important to publishers and service providers in the coming year. And attentive readers (both of you) will have noted regular reference here to a project called Jurion being developed by Wolters Kluwer Germany which represents, for me, one of the most complete visions of a semantic web-driven project yet available to us anywhere. The Semantic Web Company were their partners in this venture
([tt_news]=1309&tx_ttnews[backPid]=10365&cHash=af81776d45e924a85dc9ff273c2b40f6) and both of them may one day be persuaded to translate their press release into English!

So if we look for innovation, let us look for the new, and also for older services which the new play back on side. And let us recognize that innovation can be the re-integration of historic practice in a new context as well as discovery or invention. And, of course, invention never comes entirely from the ether. In just the sense used by Newton, the early fathers of thesauri are the information scientists upon whose shoulders we are now standing.

And one brief moment more, and a little more old law publishing. Thoughts of the Semantic Web Company in Vienna nourished the idea that if it was no accident that taxonomies came out of Denver, then innovation in a world of concepts would be natural in the great city of Freud and Wittgenstein. Which recalled visits in the 1980s to that city to see Tony Hilscher and Franz Stein of Manz Verlag (now 40% owned by Wolters Kluwer) and the wonderful aroma of coffee and cakes from Demel’s coffee house in the same street. And their company history reminds us of how intimately intellectual and commercial life can be linked to common ends:

“In 1912 the famous architect and critic of architecture Adolf Loos designed the main entrance to the bookstore, situated at Kohlmarkt 16 in Vienna’s First District. This entry has been preserved in its original state to the present day. Following Sigmund Freud’s principles of psychoanalysis, its most significant feature, a recessed entryway combined with indirect lighting, was to exercise a subconscious attraction on passersby, pulling them magically inside to browse.”

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