The Pad – Trends, drivers and a scenario from 1998

I’m still playing with the formats for this kind of post, but as my course starts next week, i thought i would get this started.

In 1998, Stephen Downes wrote a document looking into the future of technology and education. This is the first set piece that I’ve put together for the education futures course. It’s a neat document from Stephen Downes from a dozen years ago written to explain the reason for his work. It makes for compelling reading while reflecting on the last 12 years of our fields and offers us the benefit of seeing the work with the historical context. We also have the benefit of stephen having reflected on that earlier document in 2008. While it is certainly interesting reading, I’m hoping it will serve as a simple introduction to thinking about the future. It should also serve to start the process of establishing shared meanings for the words that we’ll be using.

This snippet and the audio discussion attached are meant to introduce us to the basic ideas of thinking about the future. Why should we look at trends? Why should we be thinking about the future? What is a trend? What are drivers? What’s the difference between scenario planning/futures thinking and a ‘prediction’ about the future?

To identify trends in education, perhaps the best methodology is to identify trends which work well today, whether technologically-based or not. In other words, identify the tools people actually use today, and examine how computers of the future will evolve these tools for use in the future.

And the tools most widely used in education today are remarkably simple, having remained unchanged for the last several centuries. They include books, notepads or paper, writing implements, blackboards, and teachers. Of these, obviously, the role of the teacher is the most complex and will have to be discussed in detail. The remaining tools, however, will be absorbed by the new technology in a very straightforward fashion: the PAD.

The PAD (Personal Access Device) will become the dominant tool for online education, combining the function of book, notebook, and pen. Think of the PAD as a lightweight notebook computer with touchscreen functions and high speed wireless internet access. The PAD will look like a contemporary clipboard and will weigh about as much. Its high-resolution screen will deliver easy-to-read text, video and multimedia. The PAD will accept voice commands, recognize your handwriting, or accept input via a touch-screen keyboard. From the future of online learning http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/downes13.html

I recorded this discussion with Stephen on March 17th, 2010. It starts out with a discussion of the context from which the paper was written… where he was working and why he felt the need to write the document. I’m hoping that this will help all of us to think about where we are in our own professional lives and to start asking ourselves about why we might want to think about the future of education.

Audio from The Pad Discussion with Stephen Downes

Discussion for this topic? Shared meanings of some of the initial language and to start thinking about why we as individuals may want to start thinking about the future.

Feel free to talk about the content, ways to improve the exercise or anything else that comes to mind.

3 thoughts on “The Pad – Trends, drivers and a scenario from 1998

  1. It seems obvious to me; if you sit back and wait, the future happens to you, and you then have to react, make quick changes, and use your resources to deal with change etc.

    This whole process of looking to the future is to have that evolutionary/competitive advantage of being prepared for it, so whatever change it brings you/your organization/your circle can jump the waves.

    Or heck, it is just fun to try and peer into the future (Stephen seems to have lots of fun there). Isn’t that what motivates people to do all the things we do, to have something to drive for? (is this the meandering kind of response you are seeking?)

    I can’t remember Steohen’s story, but I was just listening and wondering what Assinibone did with this report? Did they use it, or pat him on the head? That is the harder part- what do you do with our future peering?

    It’s an interesting arc from Alan Kay’s Dynabook (the seismic shift in computing to make it personal,portable, and a platform for creation) across many dots to Stephen’s PAD (damn was he on with the name!) to maybe the iPad? It seems even more interesting to me how much feverish speculation and vapor conclusions people were making before the damn thing is out. The frenzy to push out these ideas is nutso.

  2. Like so much speculation though Alan… the only thing we really learn about is ourselves. For me whether its rhizomes, football, my kids or the future… just another narrative to think about what we’re doing in the here and now. You’re right though… the danger comes in ‘B’elieving in it.

  3. Funny thing: I’m using the 2008 document (well, a translation I made of it) in one of the open courses I’m doing since last September.

    I like it because it gives a broad picture of a lot of current and future topics (initial language, as you say?), but what I propose to participants is to read it trying to reflect on the way it relates to their local (Latin American, mostly) context. I complement the reading with an observation of their own environment, in order to check how Stephen’s ‘predictions’ relate to our own reality.

    Now, I don’t know about Singapore, but at least in my course, participants point out very quickly how particular is the context Stephen refers to, when compared to ours (for example, in terms of broadband and tech access, which is still limited, or the role educational institutions play in the big picture). The exercise is useful, I’d say, as a first step in creating a personal stance on the local future of e-learning…

    Now, I didn’t think before about scenarios, but looks like that could be a useful exercise. So maybe I’ll borrow some of your ideas to include them in the next weeks of my course…

    Good luck with the course, and thanks for sharing these ideas!

    Best,

    Diego

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