Ceramic and Glass
The third story in The Eutotokens of Learning, which is a collection of stories speculating on a future infrastructure for free to the end user distance education on the internet.
Copyright 1997 and 1998 William Overington.
"John" asked Edith somewhat puzzledly "Why have you included Bessel functions in this list of proposed learning material packages?" "All the other suggestions are likely to generate lots of students and therefore lots of advertising revenue for IFDEP. But Bessel functions?"
"Ah" replied John "you haven't read all of the document have you?"
"I've read that you have put Bessel functions in this list of proposed learning material packages" retorted Edith.
"The situation is this. In designing the infrastructure I had to find some way of encouraging learning material authors to participate in projects that were of academic importance, yet might be of limited appeal. Bessel functions is a good example of such a project, though there are other reasons for that specific choice."
"That problem has been solved long ago surely" said Edith "I persuaded IFDEP to pool the advertising revenue from all of the packages to reward authors and to carry a few academically valuable but not very popular courses so as to give them good academic credibility."
"Indeed" continued John "You did, to your great credit in the achievement."
Edith felt herself inwardly blush.
"However" John continued "There is a further problem. You arranged that all authors will be rewarded for participation in a project without regard to the popularity of the project, which is good. The problem remains, however, of persuading learning material authors to actually work on some less popular courses, particularly where they may have to do a lot of background work themselves first."
John then explained how he had puzzled over this problem for some time until he had remembered an item that he had seen in the newsgroup alt.education.distance on the internet some time ago. He explained the idea of collectweights, each design unique to a particular project, and how he had managed to look through the archives of the newsgroup that Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited maintained and had traced the idea to Henry Lambert. He had contacted the gentleman and asked his permission to include the collectweight idea in the new scheme.
"And Bessel functions was the price?" asked Edith.
"No, not at all" said John "Henry Lambert made no such request."
"But you" smiled Edith "you decided that it was only right that...."
"Something like that" smiled John as he uncharacteristically interrupted her.
"Very well" said Edith "But don't mention to anyone else that he didn't make it a condition will you unless you are specifically asked."
"Not at all, not at all" said John.
Edith Gatford arrived at the headquarters of International Free Distance Education Publishing PLC and entered through the automatic doors.
"Edith Gatford, to see Mr Albert" she mentioned to the receptionist.
"Mr Albert isn't available, you'll have to see Mr Watson."
Edith inwardly seethed but mused that it would be hard to train a receptionist to be so rude if one wished to do so. Still the poor girl didn't even have a clue over what she had said.
'Probably repeating word for word what she's been told. I don't have to see anyone’ thought Edith.
"Ah, yes, I'll be pleased to see Mr Watson" responded Edith nonchalantly.
"Edith, come in " said Peter Watson as he got up and walked towards the door to greet her as his secretary showed her in.
Edith nodded politely to the secretary, who smiled in return, then gave her attention fully to Peter Watson.
"Edith, my apologies, David Albert had to go to a meeting, he asked me to see you."
Edith realized that Peter was embarrassed by the situation of his boss not having kept his appointment with her and acted so as not to embarrass him any further.
"Oh, one of those things, no problem" said Edith, thinking that this was going to degenerate into another of those 'get nowhere' meetings with Peter Watson and Jane Hove. 'One of those things' alright, she thought, 'one of those silly playing directors things'.
"I'll just ask Jane to come and join us if that's alright" said Peter Watson.
"Fine" said Edith.
Jane Hove entered the room. Edith and Jane had met many times before. Jane was always quick to pick up the implications of suggestions, sometimes to the annoyance of Peter. There were no formalities other than nods and smiles. They sat down round the end of the conference table, Peter at the end and Edith and Jane opposite each other, with Peter to Edith's left.
"Well, perhaps I'll begin by saying that both Jane and I have looked through the report that you kindly agreed to send us in advance of this meeting and generally we're very impressed."
'Generally?' thought Edith 'What's coming next.'
"However, there are one or two points that we thought might be worth clarifying" he said.
Edith said nothing. She had no need to say 'Oh' or 'What are they'. She would be told soon enough.
"You see" said Peter Watson "Well, how can I put this, well...."
"Perhaps if I could explain" interjected Jane. Peter Watson did nothing to stop her and indeed looked very relieved.
"Well," continued Jane Hove "We are very impressed with the idea of the collectweights, though we are a little concerned about the possible cost. Perhaps there could be some investigation into whether some lesser known craft potter could be contracted to make them. If you are agreeable I could look into the matter and go and see a few of them so as to obtain multiple sources of supply."
"Certainly" replied Edith "No problem." Surely, thought Edith, there was more to it than this.
"Then" continued Jane "We thought that perhaps the best contributions of each of the packages could be awarded a collectweight, it seems to make no sense to give out more than five for each of the packages."
'Oh no' thought Edith 'A fundamental problem there. I'm not having that. The whole basis of the infrastructure is that everybody who participates gets a reward. People must not be put in the position of potentially holding back in helping other participants in the authoring process so that they can themselves be one of the top five."
"I would" said Edith calmly "be rather reluctant to agree to such a change."
"I'll note your concern over that then" said Jane, making some note or other on her paperwork.
Edith sensed a trap. That might be a deliberate ploy so that, if Edith were to be put into a corner over something else, then IFDEP could 'magnanimously' agree to every participant getting a collectweight, so that Edith could look as if she had won something, even if she hadn't really done so at all.
'What' thought Edith 'was it to be'. 'Surely they're not still after trying to get me to sack John'.
"And there's one other thing" continued Jane.
Edith noticed Jane look downwards slightly and realized that Jane, hard headed, politically analysing Jane, was getting ready to say something that she herself did not believe in. She had clearly been instructed what to say. 'But there's no way I'm going to sack John' thought Edith.
"We thought that" Jane looked embarrassed as she spoke, she straightened up " .... that the choice of what subjects the learning material should cover should be dealt with by a committee."
'Committee, so not John' thought Edith, confused, annoyed and relieved all at once.
"Committee" said Edith neither as an exclamation nor as a question, hoping that her clear initial shock had not been noticed.
"Yes" continued Jane, who seemed a little relieved now that it had been said. "There would be seven members, plus a chairperson. We hope very much that you will be a member. Also John."
"Ah" said Edith "Two members from Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited. Who would the other members be?"
"Well, there would be the chairperson, who would be David Albert, then there would be two other IFDEP directors, then Peter here and myself and ...."
"And an independent member?" interjected Edith.
"Well" added Jane somewhat cautiously, realizing that perhaps Edith was being pushed into a corner just a little too hard "Did you have anyone in mind?"
"I think that Henry Lambert would be an excellent member" said Edith.
"Ah" said Jane rather slowly "He lives a long distance away. He might not be able to get to meetings."
"Well, that is true, but I feel that the offer should be made."
"Well alright then" said Jane "it would be a nice gesture, yes, .... Can I take it that you would be happy if we perhaps then had nine members on the committee and that the ninth member be Michael Walker, my new assistant. I don't think you've met him have you Edith."
Edith felt cornered.
"How" asked Edith "would the committee procedure work in relation to voting?"
"Well, .... err .... simple majority" said Jane, clearly aware that this would not go down well with Edith, which it wasn't, wasn't at all.
The meeting then started slowly, politely and somewhat stiltedly to come to a close. Edith wondered just how she was going to be able to save the day. It was now looking as if IFDEP was absolutely determined to have total control of which subjects were to be chosen for learning material packages and were determined to merely pay lip service to outside opinion. Yes, it would look good, committee with discussions and so on and maybe she and John and yes Henry, if he could get to meetings, would be able to salvage something, but it looked bleak. Now the question would arise, what could they salvage? A little was better than nothing at all. Or was it?
Just as Edith was on the verge of standing up to take her leave, Jane suddenly said "Oh, by the way, do you think that you and John could possibly be available to attend a press conference here next Wednesday?"
'Aha' thought Edith.
"Well, I'm not sure, I'll have to check with John, he has a lot on at the moment" replied Edith as quick as a flash, her brain moving up a gear. This was no by the way afterthought. IFDEP was still worried about its share price and wanted a public show of unity.
She continued "I'll have a word with him first thing tomorrow morning to see if he could be free. Do you think that you could possibly let me have a letter detailing the voting procedure so that I could show him for his information?"
Jane looked anxiously at Peter who had sat quietly listening to all of this, whereupon Peter sat forward and asked "Well Edith, what would you think should be in the letter?" Jane looked anxiously at Peter.
"Well" said Edith "Perhaps it could be said that in view of their efforts for the committee, each member may nominate one subject for a learning package and only a unanimous vote against it by all the other members of the committee would block it."
Peter Watson at first looked rather worried, then said "I'll have to put it to the directors." Jane Hove looked rather pleased.
Edith inwardly smiled to herself. She had ensured at least three academically valuable subject areas for the scheme. She would choose Old English, Henry could choose Bessel functions and John could choose something else. No, John's choice could be the Bessel functions, just in case Henry couldn't make it to the meeting and there were any bickering over choices only being made by those who attended. Bessel functions were in the plans, they had to be a priority. Henry could think of something else. John could always give Henry an idea if necessary.
'Is that one choice every meeting?' thought Edith and smiled inwardly again, almost laughing out loud. 'Don't overplay the situation' she thought.