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Trends In Computing

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Ever since I bought my first CDROM Bookshelf from SoftPro Books, I’ve been taken by the fact that we can reduce so much knowledge down to such a compact form. Imagine – five to six books fitted onto one CD, long touted as “the new papyrus”, which is great for me since I’m all for stopping the killing of trees.

Now fast-forward to more recent times. I have, on occasion, had the pleasure of  carrying my teen-aged daughter’s back pack full of text books. I continue to be surprised , even shocked at how  much weight she has to carry around down those long halls of academia on a daily basis. Those back packs weigh as much as a small child! By the way, my wife was telling me that female students are starting to have medical problems as a result, because she is having concerns about our own daughter, as related by her pediatrician.

Anyway, thinking about these two events sparked my thoughts on how modern technology could be applied to the written word. I’m a big believer in technology, not for technology’s sake but for how it can help humanity.

So here I am, thinking about how ridiculous  it is to lug around a ton of books when all of that wordage can be reduced to one or two CDs, which weigh literally nothing. And if we talk about standardizing on DVDs, we’re talking about way more storage space than we need for a year’s worth of classes.

The point is, we have the technology right now – ereaders, laptops and now netbooks. On the software side, we can standardize on file formats such as Portable Document Format (PDF), Open Document Format (ODF) or Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) in adhering to open standards. With a little bit of tweaking, we could define some standards for equipment suitable for the student, from elementary school to college. You would now be able to reduce that back pack to mostly empty space, even trade it in for a large handbag for the female students.

So far, I’ve only mentioned one side of the publishing coin – the end product, not the subject of this article. To support my vision to transform how we deliver written knowledge to our school-aged children, one overall technology comes to mind – publication on demand.

By necessity, publication on demand would have to be a custom operation granular to the level of school districts if not down to the level of individual students. With the advent of software-as-a-service and cloud computing, I believe publication on demand would be a good fit and now would be good time to consider implementing it.

What I envision is that with the hardware in place and available for every student, custom media in the form of CD/DVDs could be delivered at the beginning of the school year or academic period as needed, according to individual curricula. Educational publishers could support this perhaps by forming a consortium to create an electronic repository ,which would in turn offer publishing self service to the nation’s school districts. From here, it’s up in the air as to who actually burns the CD/DVDs and distributes them.

With such a high tech setup, the sky’s the limit as to the possibilities. First and foremost, the cost of  publishing should go way down, especially if part of the publishing operation is offloaded to the school districts themselves. Another obvious reduction in cost is the elimination of paper and ink along with related traditional publishing operations as we go all electronic. Even more importantly, this goes a long way to leveling the playing field  for the poorer school districts that historically cannot afford up-to-date textbooks. Because CD/DVDs are such an inexpensive media to use, they are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. And with a corresponding change in text production methods, this could render book buy-back programs unnecessary for many schools and colleges.

Posted by customlinux at 12:39 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 4 August 2009 1:21 PM EDT

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