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The Tablet Revolution

April 5, 2010

With the recent release of the iPad by Apple, there has been a lot of conversation among the SNQ employees about how tablet computers, or some similar technology, will change the way we work over the next five to ten years.  One area that always seems to come up in these discussions is education.  Wouldn’t it be great if our kids didn’t have to carry around fifty-pound backpacks anymore, stuffed with huge, heavy textbooks and matching worksheets, notebooks, and the other detritus that goes with a traditional pen-and-paper learning process.  Instead, all of those textbooks, notebooks, workbooks, and homework assignments could be stored on a tablet computer and carried around easily.  Of course, this brings up a lot of questions – what about crashes, viruses, dropping the thing in the toilet, not to mention loss or theft?  How are backups handled?  And, of course, there are more fundamental, philosophical questions, such as whether an education that primarily uses computers is harming a child’s ability to use traditional pen-and-paper solutions.  Of course, right on the heels of that is the question of whether that even matters any more.  When was the last time any of us presented handwritten materials to a client, or looked up information by visiting a library rather than Google?

Speaking personally, I’m a big fan of reading books on electronic devices.  All of us at SNQ have and love the Kindle, by Amazon, and we all make great use of it for carrying large numbers of books with us in a small, easy to handle way.  So it’s not hard to imagine an educational program that follows a similar concept for textbooks being very successful.  However, I’m traditionalist enough to still buy paper-bound versions of my favourite books, and I don’t just file them on the shelf and forget about them.  I also take handwritten notes whenever I’m in a meeting, rather than carrying my laptop with me everywhere, and I find that the process of writing out my thoughts on paper helps me to remember the key points better than typing usually does.  But the fact is that as long as the business world continues to replace traditional methods with new technologies, those same technologies will have a place in education, if only to keep our children prepared for what’s waiting for them.   If history has anything to teach us here – and really, what better teacher is there? – I foresee us coming to a middle-of-the-road compromise.  I’m convinced that the era of the textbook is in its final days, but I just can’t see a paperless educational system really thriving.  After all, the business world is run almost entirely by computers and email, but try turning off your office printers for a week and see if anyone complains.  The fact is that as paperless as we’d like to be, there’s still a need for it, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, in business or in education.  But I can tell you for sure, I’ll be watching with excitement to see what happens in the next few years.

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