Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Corporations, education, blogging, what does it all mean

I'm still sorting all this out, but I thought I'd give it a stab. Why do I feel it important to sort through everything? Well, because Blogher was a conference supposedly for women who blog, a place to make them feel safe and free to discuss whatever they wanted. Only, I'm not entirely sure it was a conference for me. I wasn't the right kind of woman blogger. I think. Whatever you do, don't call me a mommyblogger, no offense to those who are okay with that term.

I was describing the conference to people here, who are academics, and they asked me who underwrote it, suggesting perhaps the ACM or some other professional technical organization. I said, uh, no, Microsoft, GM, and Johnson & Johnson. Shiver. The whole conference was really all about capitalism and since I'm a little unsure about how I feel about capitalism, at least so blatantly displayed, I felt a little uncomfortable at times. But it made me think about the relationship between education and capitalism. I mean, I go to conferences that are sponsored by Blackboard or WebCT or any number of other technology companies. They're less blatant but they're there. And we have a Microsoft Campus Agreement and Blackboard and purcase all our computers from Dell. I'm wondering what the relationship should be between education and corporations. Should we try our best not to succumb to using their products or taking their money? I mean, we're wary of drug company funded research. Should we be wary of the effect using a particular company's product has on teaching, research and learning? Ask yourself if having only certain products available changes what you do in the classroom.

I don't have answers for these questions, but as someone who tries to use open source software as much as possible (including writing my diss in Open Office despite having access to Word), I chafe against the idea of having only one option and that that option is really the only one available in the marketplace. Ideally, educational institutions would create their own tools, but most institutions lack the resources for that and so we turn to the corporations. I even heard on NPR that many school districts are turning to developers to build buildings and then they rent those from them. Yikes.

I think what it boils down to is that I'm tired of being marketed to. I'm tired of being looked at as a certain demographic and being told that a company understands my needs because they've done the market research. Let me make my own decisions, damn it. I'll watch your ads, but I'm going to turn to the internet and do my own research, thank you very much.