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Moving On: The Anatomy of an April Fool’s Joke

More than half the readers of my April fool’s post about me quitting my job at BYU and going to work for the three companies that are the antithesis of everything I believe actually believed the post. Let me walk you through the post with commentary.

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.

Now this opening sentence says rather clearly that the post will be impossible to believe, and correctly so. It points out the date. It also says that my announcement is partly dishonest. These should all have been major clues to readers!

The best gags mix truth with fiction. So, the first section of the post which describes my feelings toward BYU are absolutely, 100% true. The position I’m in now is incredible and I feel amazingly blessed to have it. I love coming into work every single day.

“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.

The next small paragraph is the pivot into the dishonesty, with some rationale to act as a worm covering the hook you’re supposed to swallow.

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.”

And now for the jape itself. This allows me to make some indirect commentary about how important openness is to increasing access to educational opportunity.

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.)

By this point, anyone who knows me or my work realizes this is a joke. Others might be wondering, “Is he really selling out?” So if they haven’t figured it out yet, let’s string them a long a little further, making a comment about unbridled capitalism along the way.

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?

Finally, if you still haven’t gotten the gag, this ridiculous company name should do it. If it doesn’t, the picture of the jester with the April Fools sign should have done the trick.

Learn more about the future of education at Blackpearsevier.com.

And there you have it… A great bit of fun for April 1st.

3 replies on “Moving On: The Anatomy of an April Fool’s Joke”

I showed it to Assoc. Dean Charles at SITE. It was fun to watch his eyes narrow, then his brow furrow. He started to scroll down the page cautiously. Finally, he handed me back my laptop and said, “It’s a joke…. *right?*”

Perhaps some of your readers skimmed and scanned, didn’t read intensively enough. Shorter paragraphs might have helped more folks catch the joke – which was well worth catching, thank you!

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