Rupert Murdoch on the Money About Importance of Software

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: This article was originally posted as a comment to “e-G8 – Rupert Murdoch: Education Is the Last Digital Holdout.” -Editor]

Rupert Murdoch has taken on education for the benefit of the world and also for profit — as his recent hires and acquisitions attest. What he says in his speech is not at all diluted, in my mind, by this profit motive, which he left out entirely.

He said, “If we had a gold mine on our property, we’d do whatever it takes to get that gold out of the ground.” This metaphor is obvious, and we ignore it at our peril.

To me, the most telling thing he said was, “The key is the software that will engage students and help teach them concepts and learn to think for themselves.” The “think for themselves” is especially important to the future.

As we might have said 50 years ago, a computer is just a doorstop without decent software. Education has suffered from the software that was provided for it, by and large. Too many schools turned computers into instruments for learning “keyboarding.” Too many classes used computers as substitutes for other simpler technologies and adopted office software for the classroom. That software is not targeted to education by any stretch of the imagination, and it took considerable imagination of some teachers to make it do good things for their classes. But not every teacher was so talented.

Vast quantities of early education software hit the market because only art and modest computer programming skills were required at grade levels where the subject matter was relatively simple — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.

Now, we’re beginning to see newer software options at higher grade levels. Why not much more? Why aren’t vast numbers of people building great education software? Because you have only a few choices of how to support yourself when doing that. Writing professional-grade software is a very expensive activity.

You may be an academic with a grant who may or may not hope to commercialize the results of your efforts. Due to time and funding limitations, your software may not be ready for prime time when the grant ends. You may also have problems bringing together the various expertise resources at the high level required.

You may be in a large company or an entrepreneur attempting to bring your vision of a new idea in education to life. In either case, the return-on-investment (ROI) will be the problem you face. I had an angel investor representing a large angel network tell me point-blank that educational technology (including software) has too low an ROI to justify investing.

I think that this perception is wrong. Education is the second-largest “industry” in the United States after health care. The problem is not that the ROI potential is bad. It’s that the marketing models make it difficult. However, Rupert Murdoch sees the business possibilities as well as the imperative for society.

I hope that he proves the angel investor wrong. If so, we’ll see both the literal and figurative gold mentioned in Murdoch’s metaphor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: