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

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.