Oct 12 2006

One for All

Across America, pioneering schools increase their practice of one-to-one computing, using Tablet PCs to energize the learning environment.

ONE-TO-ONE COMPUTING IS BECOMING A hot topic in the general press. Within days of each other, The Boston Globe and The New York Times both proclaimed the educational benefits of providing every student with a wireless computer.

Of course, this isn’t headline news. We’ve known for years how technology can transform teaching and learning. But now we’re seeing a growing number of pioneering schools across the country taking one-to-one computing to the next level. They’re using Tablet PCs to connect students and teachers in exciting new ways, fundamentally changing how students interact with teachers and with each other.

Click HereThe reasons are both subtle and not so subtle. Most obviously, the growing acceptance of new digital tools such as Tablet PCs adds an inherent “cool factor” that can make learning even difficult subjects fun.

“Tablet PCs bring an electricity to student learning,” says Joe Hofmeister, the technology director at Cincinnati Country Day School in Ohio.

But the benefits of Tablet PCs go far beyond the initial thrill of using leading-edge technology in a classroom. Proving their place with challenging subjects, Tablet PCs are helping Kent School’s Peter Goodwin walk students through physics equations. Using pen styluses on their Tablet PC screens, students at the private school in Kent, Conn., work through the steps needed to solve equations.

When students are stumped or when they believe they’ve found the right methodology, they e-mail their work to Goodwin. He combines Tablet PC technology with a digital projector to display their solutions to the class.

A veteran teacher, Goodwin says these new technologies enable him to cover more material while also boosting student comprehension rates.

Getting Strong Support

Tablet PCs also are having an impact in Chicago’s western suburbs. Since 2003, Hinsdale Township High School has been steadily rolling out Tablet PCs to its faculty and students. (See “Tech Snapshot,” Ed Tech, Fall 2004.)

Dr. James Polzin, Hinsdale’s assistant superintendent, would like to increase the usage of Tablet PCs in the school district by 2007 or 2008, if the pilot continues to show progress. Both instructors and the technologist there believe that Tablets, due to their real-time feedback capability, have had a positive impact on instruction.

“The level of interaction and openness to peer critique is much different with the Tablet PCs,” explains Tim Hohman, Hinsdale’s director of technology. More students are willing to share their work with the entire class when they don’t have to stand up in front of their peers to do it.

“When a teachable moment comes along,” Hohman says, “the technology has to be ready and available to support it.” Tablet PCs provide that support.

Because students interact with Tablet PCs using an intuitive pen stylus, they’re free to jot down class notes, drawings and annotations on a teacher’s electronic handouts. Polzin believes that this type of free-form annotation develops critical thinking skills.

For example, at the start of an algebra II/trigonometry class, students download their teacher’s outline of the day’s lesson. Rather than taking notes, students annotate the outline as the teacher presents the new material.

“Tablets help the students become critical thinkers—not after the lecture when they’re reviewing their notes, but while the material is being presented,” Polzin points out.

Teachers also benefit from working with Tablet PCs. At Hinsdale High School, teachers use them to develop courses, distribute tests and provide student critiques.

Need a Well-Honed Strategy

Although Tablet PCs show great potential, their use is still in its infancy. Some districts must grapple with skeptical school boards and parents who question the cost and necessity of equipping every student with the stylish computers. To achieve long-term success, schools should approach this technology with a well-honed strategy.

First, start with a pilot program. This approach keeps initial costs down and also lets school administrators observe and measure the impact of Tablet PCs on a small group of students. The pilot’s positive results can then help justify a larger rollout.

Second, look for creative ways to fund Tablet PC projects. Tap the enthusiasm of technology-savvy parents. Parents who see a positive impact from a pilot program may be willing to buy a Tablet PC for their child, especially if they know the school will provide the technology infrastructure and classroom programs.

Third, don’t overlook training. The beauty of Tablet PCs is their pen-based and voice-recognition interfaces. But teachers and students alike will need help in learning to use the software. Each student and teacher also will have to train the Tablet PC’s applications to understand his or her personal writing and speaking style.

Fourth, make sure that your wireless network is ready for prime time. Add enough wireless access points and high-speed switches to keep response times humming, even if a significant number of new student and faculty users come online.

Fifth, look for synergies with other technologies. As several schools have discovered, LCD projectors provide a good hook to position Tablet PCs as exciting new tools for both independent and group learning.

Tablet PCs are becoming more mainstream with each school year. Thanks to teachers who have earned a positive track record in using these new tools, educators at other schools have plenty of mentors to help them explore this exciting new territory.

Chris Rother is vice president of education sales for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDWG, a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.

Tablet PCs Spark Academic Success

FEATURE: Pen input and handwriting recognition
BENEFIT: It’s an easy, intuitive way to take notes, draw and annotate electronic handouts.
IMPORTANCE: Students stay engaged in class discussions.

FEATURE: Interface with digital-display-screen projectors
BENEFIT: The whole class can simultaneously view projected content from Tablet PCs.
IMPORTANCE: Teachers can promote both independent and group learning.

FEATURE: Stylish, leading-edge look and feel
BENEFIT: The “cool factor” speeds adoption.
IMPORTANCE: Learning difficult subjects is more appealing.

FEATURE: Electronic storage of teaching materials and student work
BENEFIT: It diminishes dependence on paper.
IMPORTANCE: It promotes collaboration via e-mail and postings on Web sites.

Help Tablet PCs Make the Grade

Here are some guidelines for deploying Tablet PCs in school:

Start with a pilot program. This keeps initial costs down and provides a way to measure the impact on learning.

Tap parents’ enthusiasm. Tech-savvy parents with the financial means may be willing to buy Tablet PCs for their children.

Take time for training. A little instruction can pay big dividends in helping students work effectively with handwriting- and voice-recognition software.

Evaluate your infrastructure. If necessary, upgrade wireless networks to handle anticipated increases in traffic.

Look for synergies. When teamed with LCD projection screens, Tablet PCs multiply individual and group learning opportunities.

Source: CDW•G’s second annual “Teachers Talk Tech” survey