After Mysterious End to New Media Consortium, Educause Buys Up Group’s...

Digital Learning

After Mysterious End to New Media Consortium, Educause Buys Up Group’s Assets

By Jeffrey R. Young     Feb 15, 2018

After Mysterious End to New Media Consortium, Educause Buys Up Group’s Assets
Educuase has bought assets of the recently shuttered New Media Consortium, known for its "Horizon Report"

On Wednesday a bankruptcy court approved the sale of the New Media Consortium's assets to Educause, just 2 months after NMC abruptly ceased operations due to financial troubles that remain largely mysterious.

Educause, one of the largest associations in education technology, had long served as a partner in creating one of NMC’s popular Horizon Reports on edtech trends. Educause also recently hired Eden Dahlstrom, who had been executive director of the NMC until it shut down in December, to be its director of academic community programs.

The pricetag for NMC’s assets was $55,000, and in physical terms Educause isn’t getting much. The New Media Consortium had no office, and its employees all worked from home. The group’s physical holdings are housed in two storage units in Austin “that have various electronics, office equipment, supplies and business records,” says Gardner Campbell, who former chair of the board of trustees for the organization and has been helping to wind it down. The assets also include software that had been built to organize the group's research and produce its publications, including the popular Horizon Reports. “I went in and visually inspected what was there in those units, and it was like looking into an archive in some respects.”

Yet Campbell and leaders of Educause described the sale as not about concrete items, but as a commitment to the community that had worked with NMC, which started in 1994.

“Given our shared interest in this work and our respect for the NMC community, we offered to purchase NMC assets,” said Educause’s president and CEO, John O’Brien, in a statement.

Educause declined to answer questions about its plans for those assets. In O’Brien’s statement Wednesday, he said: “We intend to connect and consult with community leaders as we determine the next steps forward—and to do so with the care and thoughtfulness that this community has come to expect.”

In an earlier blog post, O’Brien said the group remained committed to publishing the 2018 Horizon Report for higher education. Most of the research for the report, which involved months of work by staff and by volunteer advisory board members, has already been completed, and was originally scheduled to be released next month. Because the report involves predicting the future, unless it is published soon those efforts may go to waste.

The New Media Consortium also held an annual conference each summer, usually drawing 200 to 300 people. It is not clear whether Educause, which offers similar conferences of its own through its Educause Learning Initiative, will continue that.

“I think it’s good news,” said Bryan Alexander, an edtech consultant who has long served on the advisory board of the Horizon Report, of the sale to Educause. “I’m glad that somebody’s picking it up, and I’m glad that it’s Educause. They have resources, and they have a big community.”

While the Horizon Report was the group’s best-known project, some criticized it as simply amplifying hype. “It’s strongly influenced by the popular press and marketing campaigns,” wrote Stephen Downes, a popular edtech blogger, in a 2015 blog post. “It’s not based on a deep knowledge [of] significant technology developments, but rather focuses on surface-level chatter and opinion.”

Alexander said he and others involved in the Horizon Report had taken such critiques to heart and continually worked to improve the process. “Could it be more rigorous, absolutely,” he said. But he defended the effort as involving “detailed research.”

Campbell said that improving the Horizon Reports was in the group’s strategic plan. “We were on track to be able to address those criticisms in a very positive way,” he says.

The sale to Educause punctuates the end of a group that just a few months ago seemed full of plans for the future. When it shut down in December, the group blamed “errors and omissions by its former Controller and Chief Financial Officer” that led to it become insolvent.

NMC’s leaders have still declined to elaborate, and even those like Alexander, who had worked closely with the organization for years, still don’t know how what happened. “It’s really mysterious and cloudy,” he said.

Disclosure: New Media Consortium has been a partner in EdSurge’s DLNChats on Twitter.

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