This fall, first-year students at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy have a new tool for taking notes and interacting with teachers and classmates. Now when professors at the West Palm Beach, Fla., institution show slides and draw diagrams, students can use tablet PCs to record the lectures, sketch the diagrams using digital ink and annotate the slides they downloaded before class.
“We’re going from pen and paper to ink and Windows,” says Ian Burchette, pharmacy IT specialist for the university.
Each of Palm Beach Atlantic’s 76 incoming pharmacy students received an HP Compaq tc4400 tablet PC, DVD burner, three-year next-day warranty, and backpack and thumb drive imprinted with the school’s logo. “We ordered 80 laptops and will use the additional as spares,” Burchette says. “This way a student can continue with the coursework with no interruption while it’s being repaired.”
Taking Note of OneNote
The pharmacy curriculum has been rewritten to take full advantage of the tablet technology and Microsoft’s OneNote application, says Burchette. “Even with students using notebooks, we noticed they were still carrying massive three-ring binders. We decided the tablets would be the best of both worlds because they can either type or handwrite their notes.” OneNote, says Burchette, is laid out like a multisubject notebook.
“We also have an ACPE [Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education] app that’s a virtual sterile lab where you assemble IV bags. It would be difficult to create a sterile environment in a classroom setting.”
Future plans call for podcasts, streaming video and interactive training tools on tablets. When they reach their third year, students will receive PDAs so they can have medical references on hand.
Portability’s Price Tag
There is more to the tablet pro-gram than handing them out to students and reaping benefits. You need to take cost and training into consideration.
There is a $1,995 fee per student attached to a required first-year pharmacy course.
Students had two training sessions when they received the tablets during orientation week. A three-hour session consisted of an introduction to all the technologies, such as the course management system. “I would find exercises that illustrated a procedure, such as signing for receipt of the student manual,” says Burchette. “They would sign the receipt using handwriting, turn the document into a PDF, then print it.” A four-hour session was an open-ended Q&A where students could ask about any aspect of the tablets.
Tablet PC proponents say it is worth the cost and training time because the tablets let students do things they cannot do with traditional note-taking tools such as pen and paper, digital recorders or even notebook PCs.
Discussion of tablets began last October at Palm Beach Atlantic, when the school provided them to clinical faculty to use in work environments.
Burchette sees a number of advantages of tablets over notebooks. “Students without well-developed typing skills can still take notes on their computers,” he says. “OneNote lets you record the lecture and synchronize the audio with your handwriting. You can search your notes, and it will play back just that part of the lecture. It’s also easier for reading documents because you can hold it in your lap like a book; the scroll wheel makes it easier to scroll through pages.”
The tablets, just like the pharmacy students, will be graded on their performance this semester. By year’s end, Burchette says, he will be able to gauge the program’s success. “We do an annual assessment to determine how much knowledge the students retained.” Exam grades, he says, will be another indication.
Burchette also plans to deliver a presentation on the tablets to the rest of the faculty. “Once they see what we’re doing, they’ll be talking about it to the rest of the students,” he says of the tablet program.
Tablet PC supporters in academia say it will take both faculty and IT buy-in for tablets to become widespread.
University of Virginia chemistry professor Charles Grisham’s students have used tablet PCs since 2003, but he says the IT staff at Virginia has yet to add them to its list of notebook PCs that it will support for students. “Getting our IT organization to put tablets on that list would make a big difference,” Grisham says. “There’s a cultural evolution that has to happen for tablets to become ubiquitous on campus. For now we spread the message by word of mouth.”
Don’t Forget Notebooks
The rise of tablets on campuses doesn’t mean notebook PCs are going away. It’s almost unheard of for a student to show up on campus without a notebook, and institutions are supplying them in some cases. St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., and Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn., are already taking this approach. The cost of both programs is built into the schools’ tuition, but students benefit from the better pricing made possible by the power of bulk buying. The IT staff has to secure and update the machines, though.
St. John’s CIO, Joseph Tufano, says the university started distributing IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPads in 2003 to make sure all of the school’s students had affordable PCs. For security, the notebooks have Absolute’s ComputracePlus software built into their BIOS. The software tracks stolen notebooks, but Tufano says its primary purpose is to send alerts to students and faculty when the machines require maintenance.
Bethel College Network Administrator Jimmy Bomar says that this year, every incoming freshman received a notebook preloaded with the school’s software, a notebook bag and a three-year ADP warranty.
Palm Beach Atlantic University IT Specialist Ian Burchette sees several reasons for mandating that pharmacy students use tablet PCs:
- Students can either type or handwrite their notes.
- The tablet takes full advantage of all the features of Microsoft OneNote, which was designed for students.
- Students can incorporate the diagrams they draw into their electronic notes.
- Because students can handwrite their notes, they can input equations — something they can’t do via a standard keyboard. This is particularly useful in pharmacy calculations courses.
- Using a tablet puts all the tools used in class in one notebook, freeing classroom desk space of notepads, graph paper, calculators and tape recorders.