Monday, November 15, 2004

Tablet PCs Are The Way To Go!!!

Warning - this is rather long for a blog posting, but only begins to scratch the surface of the potential here for Digital Ink Technology.

Years ago as CIO I helped see the realization of distance learning rooms created which linked over a dozen sites with OC-12 fiber, but the star of the room was the rear projection SMART board that allowed one to draw, write and annotate with a crayon like stylus. A history of that is on the SMART website. Later in 2002, I fell in love with the SMART Sympodium ( ) as a means of using digital pen technology to write and annotate my lectures. I still use the SMART Sympodium every day in every class.

I was at Educause presenting for SMART when the Tablet PC rolled out and there I saw the answer to the dream of economists, statisticians and mathematicians, indeed anyone who has to present in an environment where graphics and mathematics need be drawn. The Tablet PC allows the presenter to draw and annotate anything on the computer screen and to save these annotations, posting them to the students for further study and review. I wrote a paper on this "Six Uses of Technology to Improve Teaching and Learning" for the ASSA 2004 meetings and part of that was excerpted by LTSN as "Digital Pen Technology in Lecture Presentations".

This past Spring at the Purdue conference I saw the exciting work done at Notre Dame with their Tablet PC initiative and now see the progress of Dakota State University. Barry Keating at ND and Daniel Talley at DSU are both economists involved with Tablet PCs on their campuses.

Dan and I had an exchange on tchecon ( about this.

I posted the following on a discussion of Blackboards versus Whiteboards:

I am also a bit late on this issue. I have resisted answering the question of white boards or chalk boards with a resounding "neither."I do like to be able to write on "the board" as I lecture or to highlight some point made in discussion. I do like to use different colors. I know in a highly visual discipline such as economics that the image is everything. Being able to show the graph or equation, being able to write as I explain and have the students write and draw along with me is a value. What I do not like about chalk-boards and white-boards is that I can not write and talk at the same time, that is I must turn my back on the students and mumble into the board, or turn and talk then turn and write revolving like a top. I also do not like being unable to save the written and drawn work so the next lecture can begin from where we left off or a missing student can be shown what at least was written down.

For these reasons and more, I migrated away from chalk and white boards two years ago and began using an electronic whiteboard. in 1996 when I was CIO we installed rear projection SMART boards in all our distance learning rooms, but even the portable version was well over $10,000. However, I fell in love with the concept. In 2002, SMART introduced the Sympodium, today about $2000 which is a write on monitor which lays almost flat on my desk and with the pen I can use a digital ink technology to project everything I am writing on the board. This SMART Sympodium connects to laptop and projector to make a complete system and i do not ever want to teach again without digital ink.

The newest possibility is the Tablet PC combining some of the features of the Sympodium and the laptop together. A very few in the country are experimenting with these and I have been trying to keep up with the experiments and conduct some of my own. Barry Keating at UND is using the Tablet PC in his business economics classes to great effect.

If you are using any type of digital ink technology in your classes I would like to know. In both cases we can write on the screen and have the image projected, choosing the most desirable colors and being able to write over and supplement anything we can show on our screen from PowerPoint to Word to SAS. The way I use mine most effectively is supply my notes to the class via WebCT (that is on the Internet) and encourage students if they want to print the notes before coming to class. That way they are not struggling to make sure they matched all the subscripts correctly and can concentrate on the discussion and can add any expansion of the notes that I do in class (often considerable).

I think the Sympodium is invaluable in my introductory as well as my graduate econometric classes. The latter, because only the Sympodium has the clear resolution to display calculus (my 'acid' test of tablets). If you have ever used PowerPoint to show a great animation of a demand curve shifting to the right and you proudly point to the new emerging equilibrium, nothing brings you down faster than that students that says "what if it shifts to the left?" On a static medium you can not do anything except say well just imagine the curves went the other way or sorry that isn't in my slide show. With digital ink you just write over the slide you just showed or you press a button got a blank screen and start the drawing of the answer to the question.

Daniel Talley followed with this great post:

Better late than never:

I just wanted to add my name to the list of those who are interested in using digital ink instead of blackboards and whiteboards. Dakota State University (South Dakota) is going to become a 'wireless, laptop/tablet PC' university this fall. The relevance to this thread of discussion is that, with the roll-out of an ink-enabled Office 2003 suite, much if not all of the drawing abilities that Steven describes with the Sympodium will be available on my laptop/tablet PC that I take to class.

Annotating my presentations using colored digital ink is something I experimented with using a 'slate'-style tablet this past spring. But we will be moving to a new computer that combines the full functionality of a laptop with the tablet's features. (The new Gateway M275 PC which will be required for Fall 2004 first and second year students looks like a laptop but the screen can be folded around to become a flat 'slate'-style tablet, controlled by a stylus. I eagerly anticipate having an readily accessible laptop keyboard and a CD/DVD combo drive combined with all of the tablet PC's wireless and drawing capabilities.) Our projectors can be accessed wirelessly, so I will be able to take my (wireless) laptop/tablet PC in one arm and wander up and down the aisles of our lecture hall, drawing graphs free-hand on my computer and having them automatically project behind me onto the big screen from wherever I stand in (or outside!) of the room.

I will also be able to share the projector with my students--if *I* want. This will hopefully open up a whole new world of in-class tasks that can be presented and discussed by the students. For example, consider creating assignments for small groups of students, where they use the web to visit (the same or different) websites to answer specific instructor-authored questions and present the results of their analysis to the class. Or running Aplia-style Internet-based market simulations with follow-up questions answered by the groups--perhaps with each group projecting an answer to a question or set of questions for class discussion. Or going to a macroeconomics simulation website and giving each group a different set of starting parameters and exogenous 'shocks' to analyze in class. By making the class more hands-on and interactive, I hope to effectively integrate more active learning classroom teaching strategies while using the computer to full extent as a teaching tool. Best of all, I get to use a computer and walk around the room again.

This semester I used a 'tethered' (non-wireless) Tablet PC. And the software required that I convert all of my documents/spreadsheets/PowerPoint files into static (Windows Journal) versions ahead of time so that I could draw on them. Combined with 'ink-enabled' Word, Excel and PowerPoint, I will be able to draw on the files and presentations directly, edit them, save them, and share them with other MS Office users--the ink is even backwards compatible so those who do not yet have Office 2003 can see it. Given my poor handwriting, I am also looking forward to 'on-the-fly' handwriting-to-text conversion for annotating lecture notes during class. (Like Steve, I like to supply the class with incomplete sets of lecture notes via WebCT so they can follow along more easily in my principles classes.) While my annotations may be clear to me, converting them to text and positioning them easily and simply in my documents will no doubt be well received by students. (Especially the ones who wryly ask me to 'write in English, please' at some point during my lectures.)

I am currently planning to experiment this summer and ultimately expect to redesign my courses to make good use of the wireless, ink-enabled environment. I would welcome hearing more classroom teaching ideas and tips from those who are already using digital ink.

Thanks for the links, Steven!

Dr. Daniel A.

1 comment:

  1. I like Hunt for Red October too! Why do you like it? You seem to on to it to even take time to watch movies