Moving On

UPDATE: FOR THOSE OF YOU READING AFTER APRIL FIRST, THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOL’S POST. (See the first line and the last link for confirmation.)

Despite today’s date, which will correctly make this post impossible to believe, it is with a mixture of excitement, sadness, and dishonesty that I announce that I am leaving BYU.

“Once in a lifetime” opportunities never come for some people. But for me, they have come twice. The first was the opportunity to work at BYU. I suppose most of the readers of my blog have never been to BYU and know little about it other than its affiliation with the LDS (Mormon) church. BYU’s mission statement reads:

The mission of Brigham Young University–founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.

On those mornings when I wake up exhausted from late-night care sessions with my little ones and ask “why is it I’m getting out of bed?” I think of that mission statement. I think of the David O. McKay School of Education’s mission statement, as well – not to be the best school of education in the world, but the best school of education for the world. I think about the goals our incredible Dean Young has set for the MSE, like “extend[ing] the benefits of our research and creative work to a changing world.”

BYU is a place where I can pursue my work on open education in both a scholarly and spiritual context. I’ve never felt the need to apologize to anyone here for my feelings that because God has blessed my life beyond what I deserve or could describe, I want to do everything I can to bless the lives of others as one way of expressing my gratitude and love for Him.

But, despite the almost miraculous alignment between my personal / professional goals and the work environment here at BYU, some opportunities are just too rare to let pass by. As a famous baseball player once said, “You have to swing at the strikes.”

So when a headhunter approached me six weeks ago about an opportunity to be involved in “a real game-changer” I had to at least watch the pitch. I was incredulous as he described to me a stealth-mode project being jointly launched by Pearson (purveyors of the world’s finest quality textbooks), Reed Elsevier (purveyors of the world’s finest academic journals) and Blackboard (purveyors of the world’s finest learning management system). Of course, I’m not a big fan of any of these companies individually. But I slowly began to understand that when they work together something really special emerges.

Imagine, if you will, a single system that seamlessly integrates deep access to the full-text and full-multimedia of the world’s best educational resources (from Pearson) and the world’s best research (from Elsevier), enhanced by the incredible capabilities of the world’s best educational technology (Blackboard). The possibilities are almost limitless…

I say almost limitless because the fee to purchase a temporary, one year license to access the content costs the GDP of a small nation. While this was initially a concern for me, I came to see that there are many large nations in the world, and in fact most of the people in the world live in them (that’s why they’re large!). So even though the access fees are at first blush immorally high, most people will be covered. (Parenthetically, I might add that it’s highly unlikely that anyone so poor that they can’t afford access to the system would understand anything within it, anyway… so no big loss there, really).

I also say almost limitless because the technological capabilities provided by Blackboard are the only technological capabilities provided. Because fidelity of implementation is such an important part of insuring the repeatability and generalizability of educational research, and because relying on research-based methods is critical to national competitiveness in the emerging global economy, Blackboard has architected their system in such a way that prevents irresponsible experimentation that is not supported by evidence-based research. While many readers of my blog are interested in so-called “Web 2.0” alternatives that provide greater flexibility and broader possibilities, a brief moment of honest introspection will demonstrate that these allowances come only with significant risk to students. (When my good friend Andy used to say that the primary role of government in all its forms is protecting stupid people from themselves, I never understood what he meant. But when I recognized the beauty and moral superiority of what Blackboard has done by locking down their system, protecting well-meaning but hapless educators from their own inept curiosity about the teaching process, I finally understood Andy’s point.)

While I realize that some of you will think I’m selling out by accepting the offer to head up the incredible nexus of organizations represented by this new spin-off company, I don’t see it that way. I see it more as an opportunity to secure my long-term financial independence despite the obvious ethical dilemmas and cognitive dissonance such a move causes.

Besides, these companies are so large and so wealthy that they must be getting it right. You can’t argue with success. I mean, they couldn’t snooker that many people into paying them that much money year after year if their model was both morally bankrupt and hopelessly out-of-touch with the basic realities of modern life, right?

Learn more about the future of education at

20 thoughts on “Moving On”

  1. You and Brett both look for those win win opportunities.. read on

    Myrtle Beach Pelicans Breaking News: Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings has decided to retire from the NFL and become the new owner and starting pitcher for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. “This is a great day for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans” declares a random person walking through the Pelicans parking lot. No one else associated with the team could be reached for comment.

  2. Hi David, as the recently appointed chairman of the blackpearsivier board, you can’t imagine how excited we are that you’ve joined us. I think the opportunities for closed proprietary content has never been greater in education. With your keen insight into the field (admittedly with some missteps such as FWK – what were you thinking??) and strong international reputation, you are the perfect person to bring educational content back to the glory days of the 18-1900’s! Welcome aboard! You may also be surprised to learn that we have approached Stephen Downes and expect to confirm his role in the next few weeks. Oh, And Lawrence Lessig.

  3. I am sad and disappointed that you have not reached out to me to join you in this new and exciting endeavor. I was just thinking the othe day that I had hung onto core beliefs too long and it was time to monetize my educational values in a manner more comensurate with today’s corporate values. Well done!

  4. Wow. I’m speechless (but not quite wordless). On the surface this seems like…. well, maybe not quite a 180-degree turn but at least 150.
    David, I will miss the way that you have been iterating towards openness but no doubt you are being pulled in this direction for a good reason.
    All the best in your new position.

  5. I heard that Apple is joining the consortium, and all Blackpearsevierapple educational content will be available exclusively on iTunes for the iPad. It’s so important to control the user experience, especially when it comes to our children’s education!

  6. Favorite lines:

    “I say almost limitless because the fee to purchase a temporary, one year license to access the content costs the GDP of a small nation. While this was initially a concern for me, I came to see that there are many large nations in the world, and in fact most of the people in the world live in them (that’s why they’re large!).”

    See the problem is we’ve been thinking about this all the wrong way. In the current system, students use their government loans and grants to support institutions that pay teachers who publish articles and educational resources that get sold back to the institutions by the Blackpearsevier distribution network. What we really need is to pay Blackpearsevier directly, through a tithe on GDP. That way we can cut costs, and we won’t need to have students in the equation anymore.

    Let me know if anything over there opens up.

  7. David wrote, “Parenthetically, I might add that it’s highly unlikely that anyone so poor that they can’t afford access to the system would understand anything within it, anyway… so no big loss there, really).” I can’t believe you just said that.

    • David I understand from your postings here that there are two agendas in the open content open source for education world. Walled educational technology and resources for elite university/business research and another agenda for the masses. Is that really lead by Blackboard?

      Thanks for so playfully pointing it all out! Hilarious!

  8. Just wondering if you’ve recently hired the ghost writer who was largely responsible for the movie “Twister”?

  9. This no longer being April 1 when I got around to reading this, my jaw was dropping steadily to the floor as the paragraphs continued, until I got to the GDP part, checked the date, and then had to sadly rescind the proposal I had quickly submitted to the Dept of Ed to pay for and study all of the incredible data that would have emerged from the Blackpearsevier system. I couldn’t think of any better use of the entirety of the stimulus funds than to hand it over to these three wonderful companies. Darn you for popping that dream bubble! Maybe next year…

  10. My goodness. What news! I trust your instincts and your impressions. I am confident that “the force” will be with you, my friend, as you embark on this new chapter of life. God bless!

  11. Thanks for this great post. Love to read articles like this one.Thanks, I’m very glad I could get more knowledge from here.

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