There is a term going around today called “Disruptive Technology”. Basically it means anything that truly is groundbreaking. Maybe it should actually be progressive technology with progressive meaning going forward. The industrial revolution was close to 100 years ago and we are still thinking of progress as disruptive? An example of this is the use of tablet computing and eBooks.

Alan Kay of Xerox’s (yes that Xerox, more later on that one) Palo Alto Research Center invented the beginnings of the laptop computer in 1970. Yep forty years ago he came up with what he called a DynaBook. It took 20 more years for even the earliest models to peek out from behind the curtain. Ivan Sutherland in 1969 created a stylus that worked on a computer screen for his doctoral thesis. Larry Paige and Sergi Brin created Google as a thesis project as well. Marc Andreesen created Mosaic as a thesis. Not to mention Adele Goldberg, Grace Hopper and who knows else. I guess academia might just have it right?

Well that does seem to be the case. In articles on both CNN and the New York Times Websites there is a major discussion about the use of eBook readers and the publishing world. Specifically how that world is being impacted by the use of these devices in academia. If you have had a child in college you know the cost of textbooks. You know that’s the bill you never saw coming…like one of those great online videos … you know the one where the Dad pitches to the kid and the kid hits it dead on target, that bill.

The basis for the discussion is, can students learn properly without a physical piece of paper? Hmmm, they seem to be doing okay texting to each other, don’t they? The CNN article speaks about how the iPad (of course my favorite, being a devotee since 1985) is going to campus this fall and are students ready for such innovation? Well one University believes that they are…

It is occurring at my place of work. Long Island University is ordering iPads for every incoming freshman and transfer student. According to George Baroudi, CIO for Long Island University, this device will be well worth any investment, “With more and more books being published in an e-format, the book-reading functionality on the iPad is a huge plus for students. With a battery life of 10 hours and the flexibility to enable students to read on the fly, it’s a game changer,” Mr. Baroudi said. “Imagine having a backpack with 20 lbs. of books on your back, and it all disappears into a single device that contains all your books.” Students can use iPad applications to purchase and download books from several different online publishers.

This line of thought is backed up by our Provost at the C.W. Post Campus as well, “We are developing a framework for communication among faculty members, staff and students that is keeping pace with where technology is taking us in the 21st century,” said Paul Forestell, provost of the University’s C.W. Post Campus. “By giving our students access to cloud computing, we are creating an environment where faculty and the new millennials can more efficiently and effectively collaborate on the process of learning.”

Sorry for the unashamed plug but I am proud to work somewhere where they actually get it. This isn’t disruptive it is progressive. This needs to be done all over. As Gale Stevens Haynes, provost of Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus states, “We are delighted to put this cutting-edge device in our students’ hands… But this initiative is not about the iPad per se. It’s about our ongoing commitment to ensuring that our students have access to the latest tools to enable them to learn, to compete and to thrive in our rapidly evolving world.”

As I have said all along in every column, it is never about the hardware it is always about the software. And software is dependent on progressive thinking. When I was a graduate student I wrote code that actually displayed color images in a program that was only designed to display black and white images. I didn’t originate the code but I compiled it into my project and voila there was a color image in a black and white presentation. It wasn’t my brilliance that did it, it was progressive thinking and that was close to 20 years ago. I am not a programmer I am a designer, but design is all about solving problems. That is what the software made me capable of doing, solving a problem.

The problem today is greater. If the cost of academia cannot survive another increase and the main ancillary revenue streams cannot either then what’s a content developer (author) or a publisher to do?

This is where the concept of alternative revenue streams comes to play. Academia and any related industry must realize that the business model has shifted seismically. There needs to be a major adjustment. In a recent article the NYTimes shows how one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, Scott Neally is focused on developing free open textbooks. Also at the same time the Department of Education is establishing criteria for funding that has a definite focus on open educational resources. So if your client (read school) can’t get grant funding from its main source (read government) unless it uses open educational resources then how do publishers continue in existence?

Very simple, they must develop alternative revenue streams. Remember back when I wrote about the interactive Coca-Cola vending machines in the regional malls.  I wasn’t fascinated by the technology I was fascinated that a major supplier of sugar water had entered the advertising field. Please realize that a can of Coke was 75¢ ten years ago, and now it is only a dollar? What happened to the margins? You can only price something to what the market will bare.

By the way, the publishing industry is in frenzy, over this. I was part of McGraw-Hill until 1988 when my division put out a CD-ROM of our main product a 20-volume encyclopedia. The encyclopedia cost $200.00 to produce, while the CD-ROM cost $4.95 to produce. Right then I knew that this industry wouldn’t be around when I was 50. Ta –daa!!! Thank goodness I worked for people who understood that disruptive meant progress. I have been building and teaching how to create interactive media since then and I have never looked back.

Right now most publishing executives are stripped to the waist, screaming, and dancing around a conference table in a Dante-esque like conga-line.

Now that’s what you call disruptive.