Just an FYI eample of Tablets working their way into the popular
The Tablet PC Takes Its Place in the Classroom
September 9, 2004
By THOMAS J. FITZGERALD
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, Microsoft 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
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 keyboard.
"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
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
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."