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What Paper's History Tells Us About Ed Tech's Future

Posted by Dean Asher on Aug 24, 2016 3:30:00 AM
Topics: digital content, Higher Ed, ed tech

Sometimes to understand where a technology is headed, we have to take some time and look at where it's been.

It's true that paper will never truly go away — especially when many students still prefer print textbooks to digital titles — but the business and academic worlds as we know them are rapidly going more and more paperless. That said, paper itself has a very long and rich history as both a technology and a means of communication, which Inside Higher Ed columnist Joshua Kim recently learned by reading Mark Kurlansky's micro-history "Paper: Paging Through History." This history can help us better understand the evolving nature of educational technology as we use it in our classrooms. 

What Paper's History Tells Us About Ed Tech's Future

The edtech profession tends to look towards technological change to understand educational change.  We always think that the latest technology - be it radio or television or the internet or the mobile web or virtual reality - will be the technology that fundamentally changes education.  And each time we hype the “new future” of education, only to be disappointed when the change fails to live up to its promises.

A better approach may be to look at how the demands on colleges and universities are changing, and then to try to understand the future of educational technology through a lens of institutional change.  What technologies will we need to develop to support an aging population, an educational system with lower social/public investments, and a labor market that prioritizes lifelong learning?  How will new educational technologies respond to the growth of postsecondary demand in emerging economy countries?  What might a tomorrow’s edtech look like in an age of stagnating wages, lower fertility, and increased demand for worker’s with high levels of social intelligence and communications skills?

The other big argument that Kurlansky makes in Paper is that new technologies seldom replace old technologies. Rather, the new technology fills an adjacent slot - and the old technology retains important uses.


In the same way, new educational technologies and digital learning methods are unlikely to eliminate traditional educational practices.  Online learning does not eliminate in-person residential learning.  Instead, online learning increases the pressure improve the residential learning experience.  In-person, face-to-face education is improving both from the competition from online learning, and from the ability to integrate both modalities (in-person and digital) into the educational experience.

Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed
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About Dean Asher

Dean Asher is a former copywriter with MBS. Though he no longer writes for us, he is still proud of having helped this blog continue to evolve as an industry-leading resource of news and original content.

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