Monday, March 19, 2007

Gateway M285-E and 1:1 Student Computing in Econometrics

Last week I finished the 9th week of classes with my students in graduate Econometrics. I have been using digital ink in classes for years, but on Wednesday asked the students to evaluate what they thought of the pros and cons of their instructor using a Tablet PC for instruction (reviews I won't see until the course is over). When they completed their surveys they handed them to the student carrying them to the front office. After they were turned in, I asked how many expressed at the end of the survey that they wanted to have a Tablet PC for their own use in this class. Over half the hands went up immediately. Shortly after that we passed out the contractual loaner agreement for their signature and gave them exclusive use of a new Gateway M285-E Convertible Tablet PC for the remaining weeks of the term. Their first assignment is to use Journal to mark up with equations some SAS computer output. This parallels an assignment they had earlier in the term using printout and pen. They will follow this assignment with a PBL assignment, another group project and of course their own research for their job market paper.

From this point forward the students will be able to use their Tablets in class as I use DyKnow Vision to complete the lectures and lead the discussion this term. they will be able to use DyKnow Vision to record their notes privately on the lectures as on my screen. No more haste to copy down all of the equations and keep up. They will be able to concentrate more on the meaning or so goes the hope. DyKnow Vision also has a polling feature just like the popular clickers, but can also "poll" in the subjective. You can ask all students to fill out a minute paper request and sweep up all the pages in one easy to browse and comment on file. Clickers are proving their worth and minute papers are well known for theirs. Add to this the ability for students to annotate anything on their screens and this has to help learning. If it doesn't bring efficiencies or enhanced learning it shouldn't be used.

I want to know three things from this trial. (1) Does access to digital pen technology and supportive software enhance the students perception of learning. (2) Does this enhancement depend on the digital ink, or might laptops do just as well, and (3) should we continue offering Tablet PCs to students in class. In the last case, is it sufficient to have a cart of Tablet PCs to borrow during class or do the students have to have ownership of their Tablets?

I for one have always fought a computer requirement for our students (we get subvented by the State of Ohio for selling credit hours, not computers) but I am slowly being converted from my view. Just as Tablet PCs are flourishing in some vertical industries, perhaps they also will in certain disciplines. Can the graph-drawing, equation-writing, problem solving economists be left out of this picture? While there is always money and interest in STEM and STEMM, should not economics be considered as quantitatively demanding as them?

One example: In my email this morning is an advertisement from Gateway about their 1:1 services. As my friend and coauthor Dan Talley knows well, the classroom is a different place when all the students have their own computers. And as we wrote in our AEA paper-presentation, of such things are the full exploitation of mobile learning networks (PowerPoint presentation here).

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