The London Olympics, NBC, and Education

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

NBC will be broadcasting the Rio Olympics in 2016, and a seemingly casual comment from a spokesperson in a recent TV news segment should have sent a shockwave throughout the world. The fact that it hasn’t says a lot about people’s attitude toward technology. They are either resigned to the coming upheaval or doubtful that it will ever happen. More than likely, most simply don’t care. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The sense is that, either way, they’re powerless.

The comment was in response to criticisms aimed at NBC’s online streaming of live events and archived videos from the current London Olympics. If you’ve made the effort to register through your cable or other service provider and if you’ve then tried to actually log on and view events, then you’re probably part of the mob that’s throwing virtual bricks at NBC. “Poor” doesn’t even come close to describing the ordeal.

To NBC’s credit, the spokesperson made no attempt to defend or gloss over the snafu that takes on massive proportions in the context of the internet. He told it like it is. The planning for the media coverage was conceived two years ago when NBC won the contract to broadcast the Olympics, and in the time frame for change in online technology, two years may as well be two lifetimes, and, needless to say, a lot can and will happen in the interval.

The point is that, two years ago, NBC planners had no way of knowing the extent to which online media would come to dominate communications in general and broadcasting in particular. Television today is where hardcopy newspapers were a few years ago. The sweep is toward digital and online, away from analog and onground.

The lesson from 2012 is clear. For NBC, the emphasis for the 2016 Olympics will be digital and online. Increasingly, people expect and want their video broadcasts over the internet from anywhere at anytime via mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads as well laptops and desktops. What’s the prognosis for technology that’s built around standalone TV sets? We don’t have to look far for clues. Landlines. Phone booths. Film cameras. Dinosaurs.

For educators, the implications are enormous. When the video information we now receive from dedicated TV sets leaves the ground and goes virtual, mobile internet devices will take on a whole new dimension in the lives of students. For example, their visual perception of the world and reality will be continually reconstructed 24-7 in a medium that’s increasingly mobile and interactive. Information and learning resources as well as synchronous and asynchronous personal and group communications will be literally at their fingertips whenever they want it and wherever they are. The outcome is obvious. Students will expect their course work, learning support services, and teachers to be no less accessible — from anywhere at anytime.

Another implication is that educators have to rethink their budgets. Do they continue to pour their limited dollars into constructing and maintaining onground facilities such as buildings, classrooms, and offices? Or do they begin to invest in infrastructures and strategies that maximize the potential for online learning?

NBC has learned. Let’s see if educators can, too.

2 Responses

  1. My own experiences with NBC Olympic streaming video ranged widely from fairly good to very poor.

    What will tomorrow’s students expect? Do we really know? Online will be a component, certainly. However, what sort of interaction with their instructors will be the norm? Will it synchronous or asynchronous? Probably some of each.

    Will textbooks be all online? Or, will my vision of the future come true, and textbooks in any form disappear to be replaced by truly interactive online learning software?

    Today’s “interactive” learning software makes a mockery of the word interactive. The online game companies know what interactive really means. Must learning software be games? Some think so. I strongly disagree. We can learn from them but don’t have to mimic them.

    Regarding the physical plant part of educational institutions, I think that future will depend on the specific institution. K-5 will remain firmly physical. The top colleges, e.g. Ivy schools, MIT & Caltech, Stanford and Duke, et al. will be able to retain their hallowed campuses because their students gain so much for their futures from hanging out together physically. These institutions will also be reaching out to the world with online courses from the best instructors in the world.

    What will happen to community colleges? If you can replace a CC campus with an Internet server farm, will it happen?

    What about the “Big Ten”? Will football and basketball support the old style? You can’t make football games virtual. These teams must actually play. The alumni must be able to freeze in the bleachers in December while watching their fellows on the field and then donate, donate, donate!

    And so it goes. It’s not just about the courses.

    Make no mistake. Big changes are afoot. Also, do not make the mistake of making rash predictions. The potential for game-changing innovation is strong in the current climate. J. P. Morgan, when asked for his prediction about the stock market, famously said, “It will fluctuate.” So, I say to all of you about the future of education, “It will be different.” The differences are not specifically predictable with any certainty, but we can predict some overall expectations.

    • Fewer colleges.
    • Different modes of instruction — especially extremely interactive online learning.
    • Instructors will be critical, not just a dull lecturer and grader, but probably will be paid less for their work – at least per student.
    • Redefinition of what a degree means.
    • Increasing separation of teaching and publication (e.g. research) personnel.

    Hopefully, all of these changes will settle down to something really good and worthwhile. More hopefully, the escalating cost of a usable college degree will decline markedly.

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