Oct 24 2007

Is the Tablet the Next BCOC?

Tablet PCs are gaining momentum on college campuses, chugging along like little engines that could.

Today, many instructors and students view tablets as meshing well with the academic environment because of their mobility and note-taking agility.

In this issue of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education, we highlight how tablets are transforming the learning experience, especially in cases where instructors are committed to maximizing the benefits of these tools.

Success in the classroom hinges on the extent to which professors embrace the devices through curricula development and allow students to harness all the technology has to offer.

On the Go

In “Tablet PCs Require Academic Support” on Page 9, University of Virginia chemistry professor and former tech chief Charles Grisham observes that unlike the case with standard notebooks, students tend to tote their tablets everywhere, including class.

The lighter weight is a major factor but hardly the only one. From a capability standpoint, the ease of note taking and the ability to record audio during lectures are also advantages. The varying tablet form factors — from slates to convertibles — mean greater selection.

Ian Burchette, a pharmacy IT specialist, is hoping that tablet PCs are just what the doctor ordered at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy (“Prescription for Success” on Page 45). In the fall, each of Palm Beach Atlantic’s 76 incoming students received a tablet PC, complete with a DVD burner, three-year next-day warranty, backpack and thumb drive imprinted with the school’s logo.

The curriculum has been rewritten to take advantage of the technology, Burchette says. The school also has podcasts, streaming video and interactive training tools in the works.

“Even with students using notebooks, we noticed they were still carrying massive three-ring binders,” Burchette says. “We decided the tablets would be the best of both worlds because they can either type or handwrite their notes.”

But tablets aren’t for all schools. Both St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., and Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn., distribute standard notebook PCs to their students. This year, Bethel College handed out 500 notebooks to freshmen. The systems came loaded with Microsoft Windows XP and Office 2007 Professional. St. John’s, which began supplying notebooks to incoming students in 2003, now provides approximately 3,000 each year.

“We want to make sure all the students have the technology required,” says St. John’s CIO Joseph Tufano. “Our faculty has a certain level of technology, and we don’t want to be restricted because half the class has computers and half doesn’t.”

Whichever form factor gets the nod at your institution, it’s comforting to know that options exist. Standard notebooks have already proven their worth, but increasingly, tablet computers deserve a closer look — and increased academic support.