[Homestead] Education with notebook computers

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Thu Sep 9 12:46:06 EDT 2004

A few schools are getting serious  (most are not) about improving the 
learning process, research capability and lowering the cost of education 
with notebook computers.  It's a shame that  neolithic School Boards and 
all levels of government officials have to be dragged kicking and 
screaming out of the past into this century.

The New York Times

          September 9, 2004

    The Tablet PC Takes Its Place in the Classroom


TABLET PC's have been around for almost two years now, and while they 
have not yet proved to be the revolutionary change agents that they were 
billed as in November 2002, they are starting to carve a niche for 
themselves in certain corners of the digital world.

Industries like health care and insurance have embraced tablet PC's, 
which can speed the processing of records and forms. While tablets, 
which account for only about 1 percent of the market for notebook 
computers, are still generally more expensive than laptops with 
comparable specifications, prices have started to fall. And last month, 
released an updated version of its Windows XP Tablet PC operating system 
that offers improved handwriting recognition, addressing one of the 
chief complaints about the earlier version.

But perhaps the most promising area so far is in the classroom, a 
setting in which portable devices with handwriting capabilities would 
seem to make sense. Educators at a handful of schools, many of them 
private high schools, are pressing ahead with plans to issue students 
tablet PC's for use in English, foreign language, math, science and 
social studies classes.

At some schools, the hope is to do away with paper notebooks, on the way 
to eliminating as much paper as possible. In that vision, students would 
take tests electronically, read their textbooks online and send their 
homework by e-mail. Proponents say the devices can improve interaction 
among teachers and students and increase opportunities for critical 
thinking by cutting down on busywork.

One factor that favors educators is that students seem to like tablets, 
especially the pen-based interface that takes the place of a mouse and 

"That was undoubtedly the best and coolest part," said John Stanton, a 
senior last year at Cathedral Preparatory School in Erie, Pa., who took 
part in a pilot program to test the devices.

Mr. Stanton, 18, was on the school's debate team, and he used a tablet 
PC to take notes and prepare responses during debates. He said the 
tablet kept pace with swift handwriting and was useful because he could 
quickly call up his writings from earlier rounds.

Administrators at Cathedral Prep had initially considered laptops, but 
switched to tablet PC's after early testing by staff members. "We did 
not want to get caught up with the novelty of this thing," said the Rev. 
Scott W. Jabo, headmaster at Cathedral Prep. "The more we were using it, 
we saw a lot of practical uses."

Cathedral Prep issued tablet PC's to 160 ninth graders when they started 
classes this month, with the goal of eliminating paper notebooks and 
centralizing study materials on a device linked to the school's wireless 
network. The device chosen by the school, a model from Acer, has a 
10-inch screen and weighs about three pounds. Like most consumer 
tablets, it includes a standard keyboard and can function as a laptop 
when the screen is repositioned.

School officials said they paid $1,350 per device, which included volume 
and education discounts. Students will be charged a technology fee, to 
be added to tuition over four years, to cover the cost of the device 
plus warranties, software and a book bag.

Tablet PC's run essentially the same Windows-based programs as other 
computers. But instead of a mouse, there is a stylus, or pen, that can 
be used for navigation by touching the screen. The pen also can take the 
place of the keyboard; users can handwrite directly in programs, using 
an on-screen input panel, or by tapping letters and numbers on an 
on-screen keyboard. Programs designed specifically for the tablet PC, 
like Microsoft's Windows Journal, enable freeform handwriting that can 
be converted to text or saved in the original "digital ink" format.

Beyond using them for taking notes and reading, some schools have 
developed detailed plans to integrate tablet PC's into their 
curriculums. At the Benjamin School, a private day school in North Palm 
Beach, Fla., eighth graders tested the devices last year in history and 
English, while teachers had their own units so they could explore ways 
to integrate them in all subjects.

This year all ninth graders at the school, about 100 students, will be 
using their own tablets, a model from Gateway with a 14-inch screen, in 
all of their classes. The school has a new campus with a wireless 
network; students and teachers will have access to collaborative 
software, interactive whiteboards at the front of the class and 
classroom management tools, as well as the Internet and personal 
file-storage space.

Using Tablet PC's in allows teachers to go beyond conventional teaching 
methods, said Barbara Murphy, co-chair of the school's technology 
committee and a 10th-grade chemistry teacher. Instead of standing at the 
front of the classroom and talking, Ms. Murphy said, teachers can 
oversee students' work on projects. "We want students to be actively 
involved," she said. "The tablet PC seems to really facilitate that."

For example, using one piece of software, a peer-to-peer program called 
Groove Virtual Office from Groove Networks, students and teachers can 
collaborate on projects in the classroom from home or anywhere there is 
an Internet connection. The program, geared mainly for businesses, also 
has features designed for tablet PC's.

Using Groove in a math class, for example, a teacher could write out an 
equation in a shared workspace that is displayed on the classroom's 
whiteboard, and students seated at their desks can use their tablet pens 
to take turns adding steps to it. "It's like having 20 kids standing at 
a blackboard, each with chalk in their hands," said Ken Didsbury, 
academic dean and an English teacher at the Benjamin School.

Students who tested the devices last year said the pen capabilities were 
sufficient for note-taking. "It writes just like a pen and paper," said 
Shohan Shetty, 14, who is entering the ninth grade this year. "It's fast."

William Fraser, 14, also used the device last year. He said a strong 
feature was having Internet access at his desk for fast research. 
William also said he found the pen to be useful. "About half the class 
wrote with the pen because they weren't completely used to typing," he 
said. "And if you want to make a diagram, you just draw with it."

Classroom management software also figures in the Benjamin plan. Using a 
program called SynchronEyes, from Smart Technologies, teachers can poll 
students anonymously to determine if subject matter is being understood. 
Teachers can also view the students' screens to catch instant messaging 
or to administer electronic testing. "It's a little Big Brotherish, but 
it allows us to be sure that when we give a test electronically, the 
kids can't cheat," Mr. Didsbury added.

Students were required to purchase the tablets before the start of the 
school year; the cost was $1,925 plus $167 for insurance, school 
officials said. The price, which the school negotiated with Gateway 
after comparing three manufacturers' offerings, included bundled 
software like Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft OneNote and an antivirus 

Teachers say they feel energized by the challenges and opportunities 
presented by tablet PC's. Linda Willich, a social studies teacher at the 
Benjamin School, is preparing a new system for students to organize 
their work. She says she is looking forward to the collaboration tools 
and pen capabilities for drawing graphs.

"I can see huge possibilities for it, especially in economics," she 
said. "There are all kinds of things we haven't even anticipated that 
will not only be challenges, but will be exciting."

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