Compulsory Tablet PCs
Writing about web page http://news.com.com/Tablet+PCs+now+required+for+VA+Tech+engineers/2100-1041_3-6090046.html
According to this news item Virginia Tech Polytechnic in the US intends to make the use of Tablet PCs in class compulsory from Autumn 2006.
As part of a new partnership with Fujitsu Computer Systems and Microsoft, Virginia Tech will be using new Fujitsu LifeBook T4000 computers to change the way its engineering classes are taught, particularly at the introductory level, the school said.
The bitter pill of compulsory use will be sweetened somewhat by the fact that the institution will be giving these devices to its students, not requiring them to buy them for themselves, though it's not absolutely clear whether it's a permanent or a temporary arrangement where the students will have to return the device at the end of the year or the course.
Either way, though, the interesting question is, what will the tablets be used for? What's so compelling about these devices that it's worth going to what presumably will be quite a lot of trouble and expense to get one into the hands of every student? The article hints at the sorts of uses being envisaged:–
Students will be able to take notes and construct designs on their LifeBooks, which are intended to make it easier for students to collaborate with each other and share their work with instructors electronically.
[The institution] will be providing training this summer so that faculty can adjust to using the machines in classroom presentations, the school said. The software that will be used includes Microsoft Office OneNote, SketchUp and Classroom Presenter.
I can see that engineering students could in principle benefit from software designed to let them draw and sketch as part of their note–taking process. And collaboration and sharing are the motherhood and apple pie of education these days, so it's hard to argue with anything which supports that. But I remain slightly unclear about how exactly this will work when next autumn rolls around. Will students be turned away from class if they turn up without their tablet? Will the institution fit power outlets to every seat in all the lecture theatres and other teaching spaces where these devices are to be used? (Tablets tend to have a battery life of about three or four hours, so you couldn't go a whole day without recharging it somewhere.)
And if one were being ruthlessly cost–benefit about it, is sharing sketches and notes wirelessly from one tablet PC to another really thousands of pounds better than sharing (higher resolution!) notes and sketches made on paper, using a photocopier and some shoe leather? I watch with interest to see if Virginia Tech report back on the value of the program after the first semester is done.