This is the article from my column that appeared in Gulf News yesterday that talks a bit more about my week at HBS. Hope you guys enjoy it!
I am currently in New York as I write this, having returned from a brilliant week spent at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Boston. Having been there for a similar course three years ago, I was familiar with the set-up of the place, the astounding level of its faculty and the immense amount of work required in preparation for the course. Known for its case-study methodology, a week at Harvard means about a month's worth of spare time of a phone book-sized reading material that I had printed, highlighted, made notes on and digested. I headed there with my spiral-bound case book and thought I knew exactly what to expect till the opening session made me realise a subtle change in my surroundings — in three short years, education had gone digital.
As the days went by, it was easy to see the subtle changes the executive education arm at HBS had made to keep up with technology and to promote a paperless learning space. While paper had been relied upon to previously rate the faculty and class discussions at the end of each day, these were now emailed to us. A huge file with the bios of other course attendees had welcomed me to the course three years back. These were now replaced with a USB flash drive that was given to us at the end of the course, that in addition to the bios, had vCards of each of the attendees.
The drive also contained all slides from the presentations made by the professors in class so that instead of taking notes, we could focus on the intense discussion being held, because CEOs or not, HBS professors do cold calling upon students, and paying attention is not optional!
While all of this is standard upgradation you'd expect from a tech-friendly school, what really hit home is the level of tech sophistication shown by my fellow course attendees. Notepads and pens had been almost eradicated and replaced almost exclusively with iPads and in some cases, styluses for those who wanted to still "write" notes instead of typing them out. Pen-shaped devices like the Pogo stick or the Bamboo stylus by Wacom are popular choices for those favouring this method of input, whereas a whole host of note-taking apps on the iPad are available, the most impressive being one called "Noteshelf".
The app has the ability to write text in a larger space and then shrink it down to a size more comfortable while reading, which is a great way to solve the problem one has with printing the material handwritten on any other app only to have your writing unnaturally large on paper. Also while I'd stuck to wasting trees and highlighter ink in an effort to read the course material, a surprisingly large number of fellow classmates had stuck to their iPads to read their cases too.
While I'm fine with reading entire books on my Kindle with ease and even moving to online subscriptions of my favourite magazines on Zinio, I do so only for books that aren't available in the bookstores or publications that are either too expensive or too outdated on the newsstands in Dubai. When it came down to reading hundreds of pages worth of study material on which I'd want to scribble and make notes on, the thought of using an iPad had honestly never occurred to me!
Ahead of the curve
With all this move towards technology in class, it was only fit then that one of our cases was based on the popular magazine, The Economist, its popular iPad app, and how it's handling the shift of edited news going towards the online space. The magazine is a great example of how traditional media will move going forward, and the publication already seems ahead of the curve in terms of merging technology with quality edited news content.
Also fittingly Apple announced its iBooks Author app and plans to revolutionize the textbook industry during the week I was at HBS. A fortnight back I would have been one of the naysayers who would have said technology is fantastic, but I doubt digital form of studying will ever replace the interaction one requires with a textbook to really absorb the written word. Now, given that most of my classmates were all probably in their 40s and early 50s and not exactly in the age bracket of what you'd call early adopters, I realize that I would have had to eat my words.
You can check it out on the Gulf News website here