Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Liveblogging from the Software & Information Industry Association Summit--Keynote #SIIA

Invited to attend the Software & Info Industry Summit as a blogger, feel like I have Arrived. Cipriani, the meeting place for the the event, is gorgeous. Someone even checked my coat for me. There's something to attending an event like this--a sense of being part of something important. There's a sense of being a mover and shaker, not just someone who's toiling away somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Working as I do--with start-ups and cutting edge projects--can be an isolating experience. And even though I haven't met any of the folks attending just yet (a mixed group of men and women) I have a sense that I should be here.

The keynote is Marjorie Scardino, Chief Executive of Pearson. So often there's loads of squawking about how women don't keynote events--well, here's a woman keynoting an event. She's speaking on "sink or swim" and her own failure with a small newspaper she and her husband founded. Yes, revenues have to exceed expenses to survive. She notes that in the current economic situation there's not a lot to offset the losses in the financial markets. But there is much we can do in the Information industry, making it "the electricity of our times."

She sees much for the education--and for products and services that educate. Products that will educate and train the new workforce in new skills--"we don't know all the jobs of the 21st century." Not just "cool ideas" but ideas and products that will make a difference.

This is quite true. As I observed yesterday at the SIIA Previews event, the companies that presented were no-b.s. products. Platforms or SaaS that had more than advertising as a revenue stream, didn't distribute tons of no tchochkies, presentations that were delightfully free of comedic flash-and dash.

Ms. Scardino continues: We need to know skills of what students and employees and citizens will need for the 21st. century. What are the 21st c. skills. Managing information, working flexibly, working in groups, and communicating effectively will be necessary skills in the 21st century (according to a report.) The really vital skill will be able to connect answers to search queries and to be able to connect it to other results--judging the output of what you get. "It's a form of critical thinking that isn't part of our education system. . . We aren't doing enough to close the Achievement Gap with other countries."

"Technology can't solve the lag in our education system. . . Our teachers and classrooms need to be part of the always on generation as much as President Obama and his blackberry."

As I see it though, the lag is between the grown ups and the kids. Kids are online but there's no guidance from educators or parents as to how to manage information, how to be discerning when viewing information (like Wikipedia entries) how to balance social life and face to face interaction with online communication and interaction. Kids are often on their own, developing skills and a way of interacting that many adults don't understand--and they don't understand because they don't use the devices or the social networking sites or the things that adults consider "toys." When I talk with adults who begin to use Facebook and/or Twitter, they adults begin to understand the attraction, and how to communicate. But the resistance to social networking is amazing...even for business use, like on LinkedIn.

Ms. Scardino talks about releasing software and allowing customers to help fix it. I always wonder if that's the job of customers. Then again, it opens the process of development, and often customer input helps engineers,who can't anticipate all of the customer's needs or wants or see all the bugs.

"Good ideas don't always come from the top." And Apple is mentioned. "We have to have inclusive and interactive (collaborative?) cultures."

"Our content and technology are inextricably bound."

"See software as a tool to achieve somebody's goal." Not as an end it itself, or an art....

"We use technology to free us to do more with our intellects and our personalities."

Ultimately, things are changing too fast. Ms. Scardino notes that those of us who are on the cutting edge are far more fluid than most other folks. And we simply do not know what all the necessary skills will be for the 21st century worker. This is right. We are really in a strange place, at a time of amazing innovation, and immense social change. As my friend, elderblogger Ronni Bennett once said, we're probably in something like the Renaissance, but we won't know what that time is in our time. The term won't come about until way after we're dead. We hedge around with terms like "Information Age" and such, but those terms will morph as much as what my various titles have been over the years (online journalist, professional blogger, social media consultant, etc., etc., etc.....)

We're in a q & a period now....which I won't transcribe. I'm in listening mode right now...more to follow....

A short note on a questions I asked I wondered if Ms. Scardino had any suggestions as to how to bring parents and teachers up to speed. Sadly, she remarked about parents "friending" their kids on Facebook, and how kids wouldn't friend their parents. and that's the thing: parents have to think of themselves as people and "friend" their own friends Learning about social networking isn't about being a "helicopter parent" online, but should be about getting into it and doing it with *your* friends and family members.

Sheesh! why is it so hard for so many adults to grasp that it is O.K. to use Facebook and LinkedIn for their *own* social networking. That it's not going to kill them or even compromise their reputations...

If adults refuse to experience social networks on a personal level--not as helicopters mimicking their kids--they will never get how social networks function and how soc. networks can become important to a person's life.

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