04.06.09 | Alan Giles
In September the post-graduate students at Bournemouth University Business School will move in to a stunning new seven-floor building in the heart of the town's business district. It's not just a place for full-time students to learn; it will also play host to the school's executive education activities, and numerous research interests.
On the first floor is the library. But it's not called that; it's an "i-Floor", or information floor. Most libraries have plenty of information terminals, but there is something comforting about the familiar long runs of book shelving, and the newspaper, magazine and journal stacks. At Bournemouth the new library will have no books. It's a "paper-free knowledge facility" where all study materials, books and journals are supplied in electronic form only. The entire light, airy space has been given over to areas for individual study, break-out zones for more informal discussion, and "technopods"—tables for four to six students with networked computers and a large plasma screen on a vertical plinth at the end of the table, designed for group work.
The first steps towards this high-tech new world of study at Bournemouth have already started in the current academic year. Students were given an Apple iTouch and Sony Reader on enrolment. Armed with those two gizmos and their own laptop, there's no need to go anywhere near a printed page. Lectures, course packs, journals and books are all available in digital form. Amazon is working on a similar trial in the US, where the new Kindle DX will be supplied to some 300 students across six universities including Pace, Darden Arizona State and Princeton, which are promoting this under the sustainability banner: "toward print-less and paper-less courses".
There are still lots of practical issues to be overcome in these experiments—securing clearance for the content, thrashing out the digital rights management (if any) and working out who pays what. But the potential is massive, and could lead to a significant and uncertain redistribution of value between the hardware owners (who seem to be calling the early shots), content owners, authors, academic institutions and students.
At Bournemouth I found mixed views on this new approach to learning among students. Some saw it as an inevitable response to the preferences of Generation Y. Others had relented and bought hard copies of text books from the campus Waterstone's ("it's easier to read a book in bed and that's where I spend a lot of time studying"). The digital "tipping point" in the book world will surely arrive first in textbooks, and we may just be seeing this new era dawn in Bournemouth.