Going Paperless

In news that will surely gladden the hearts (and backs!) of schoolchildren everywhere, the Yale School of Medicine announced today that it will give each of its students an iPad2 for classroom and clinical use. All paper-based course materials will be eliminated. “We started thinking about this about a year and half ago, shortly after the iPad was released,” says Michael Schwartz, assistant dean for curriculum at the school. “We were spending a hundred thousand dollars a year on paper, and the students didn’t always read it.” (Medical students, it turns out, aren’t all that different from twelve-year-olds.)

The advantages here seem obvious: cost, environmental footprint, and ease of use. At any time, students can hit the “sync button,” as Schwartz calls it, and get revised lectures. This paperless transition was done without a lot of IT expertise, in house, with relative ease.  “We set up a server, which compressed and condensed the data for use on the iPad,” Schwartz says.

So is the beginning of the end for the traditional textbook? “I think so,” he says. “It’s much more convenient, easy to update. In the old days, we had to wait for an updated edition of the book. Now if a teacher wants to change their approach, they can easily do that and it’s fresh for the next year.”

It seems as if it’s just a matter of time—and budget—before all schools eliminate the physical textbook, and end that all too common sight: the 70-pound student lugging forty pounds of textbooks in a bulging backpack, bent slightly at the waist from the effort, as if trudging into a stiff wind. Good riddance.

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