End of an Era

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With the news last week that U.S.-based Borders bookstores will be closing their doors, I started to think about the role that books play in our educational culture. I have personally spent many happy hours at Borders with my children over the years, and I find it hard to fathom a world without bookstores (or printed books for that matter). For me, nothing compares to the smell, feel and excitement of walking in to a space filled with shelves and shelves of books whose stories and facts are waiting to be discovered.

At Booth, we continue to assess if our EMBA students are ready for a complete shift from printed books and materials to digital versions. Our program, along with many other EMBA programs, provides our students with both print and digital materials for their classes. Despite the inconvenience of lugging heavy books around, most of our students are not quite to the point where they want to abandon the safety and familiarity of the printed page and highlighter. Sure, it’s cool to highlight passages in your digital article and virtually share comments with classmates. It’s another thing altogether when you are studying for an exam that counts for 50% of your final grade! The last thing you want is a technological challenge.

In addition to student readiness, there is the issue of accessibility. Publishing companies continue to control the business model. That means many of our textbooks won’t be available in digital form until they decide how best to control access and protect the intellectual capital of their authors while still making a profit.

In the not too distant future, EMBA programs will be enrolling students who literally grew up with technology and developed their learning styles with digital media at the forefront. The 38-year-old in 2018 will be a different person from the 38-year-old today. Hopefully, the technology issues we grapple with today will be distant memories.

- Patty Keegan