Rob Bushway, a Tablet PC MVP and blogger, recently offered his readers a chance to win a DocuPen scanner if they could provide a truly compelling, innovative use for the device. Rob received more than 160 submissions - far more than the 50 he set as a minimum to validate the contest. I've been reading the ideas his readers have been posting as comments to his blog post over the past couple of weeks and the ingenuity displayed is quite impressive.
Rob just announced the winner today which comes from Aaron, a teacher of developmentally challenged students at a small school. In his submission, where he described how the pen-sized scanner could impact his work, he described the implications of this technology on both his work as an educator and, more importantly on his students.
"So, I try and show them tools that are out there that they can take advantage of. Kids hate reading textbooks, but make a webpage out of it, and they're there. They'll lose their homework and misplace study guides, but know where all their documents are saved on the computer. We have a handful of computers in the classroom for them to use, but the tools to get their normal written work onto the computer so easily?!?! It would blow their mind. I think that if a lot of our kids knew they could go totally digital, they would. Their generation simply prefers it. I've even had in depth discussions with them about making their next computer a Tablet PC (although we can't afford those for the school) just so they could do MORE digitally. They always love that idea.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'd use it too. Being able to scan their papers to show good examples to the class, keeping electronic copies of papers after I hand them back so that I can refer back to them, and scanning student documentation! You'd be amazed how much paperwork we copy, file, and write for every single student. Some of these students have their own file cabinet drawer (2 feet deep) of documentation on their disabilities, therapy notes, and case histories. Every teacher keeps a copy of the student's Individual Education Plan and other paperwork, but imagine if we could go digital! Not to mention scanning examples from old texts for future use in presentations and the like."
What a phenomenal description of the next generation and their implicit orientation toward digital, rather than analog ways of working. I see it in my kids (21 and 14) as well. Because I work at a software company, my daily experience is unusual. I spend enough time working and consulting with organizations and individuals for whom technology is still an add-on to recognize the chasm we're crossing. I'm approaching 50. Most of my contemporaries outside the technology industry do have a PC in their home and at their place of work. But it is not central to the way they work or play.
Sure, I have friends who download music, burn CDs, use e-mail and even relatively new tools like Skype and other VoIP applications to chat with their kids across the country or around the world. But they don't have the same predisposition to digital that younger friends and our kids do. When one of my friends goes offline for a vacation or because of a problem with their PC or their connectivity, it's an inconvenience. If the cable starts acting up in my house and I have to reboot the router and modem, my son treats it like a tragedy of biblical proportion. And don't get me started on what happens if I go offline for even a day in terms of my e-mail and RSS backlog!
The world of work, and of education, is changing. Consider the many implications for Aaron and his students caused by winning the DocuPen in Rob's contest. Such a small thing, right? A couple of hundred dollars (retail) worth of technology will utterly change the way this educator can serve and inspire his students. This is the changing world of work and learning we live in. What can you do to change your corner of it?