Last week I wrote about a K12 Educational Conference that is taking place online this week. Little did I know that there was going to be some controversy involved. I should have expected it though because just about everything involving education seems to develop into controversy these days. So what is going on?
Well it seems to have started with some comments by Stephen Downes which generated a lot of comments. Stephen expanded on his comments here. The short version is that Stephen sees the conference as largely self-promoting by the people involved with the TechLearning organization. He also sees the event as promoting the ideas of some people who are interested in making some money off those ideas via selling books, giving talks, consulting or otherwise involving themselves in for profit operations. Naturally supporters of the event have chimed in with strongly worded replies.
I don't know how much of the K12 conference or how many of the people who got it started are out to make some money from selling their ideas. I don't think that is the important question though. The important question is does the conference have value to the people who are attending it. There is no cost (beyond Internet connectivity and time) associated with attending and it doesn't appear that anyone is being directly paid for their contributions either. Is it possible that some of the participants might get a speaking or consulting engagement out of the conference? Sure. Is that really a problem? I'm not so sure it is.
Someone makes money from every real life conference. If nothing else the people who rent the facility make money. Catering makes money. And the people who fund conferences - attendees, exhibitors and sponsors - all expect to get value for their money. Sponsors hope for good will. Exhibitors expect to get some additional sales. Attendees expect to get knowledge, connections and even a bit of entertainment among other things. Does it matter if there is profit to be made as long as everyone gets fair value and the benefits meet or exceed costs?
Personally I don't have a problem with people making money. People who do good work deserve to be compensated for it. Clearly I make some money from the books I've written (not much) and I collect a paycheck from a company whose products I promote on my blog and elsewhere. I start with one overriding principle though - I will not promote products I don't believe in. If I say I think something is good or that I think it will be valuable to educators it is because and only because I believe that to be true. And I'm pretty clear about who pays the bills - this is a Microsoft branded web site after all. So if you are open about how you make a living and you don't sell your credibility to promote things you don't honestly believe in what's the problem?