Teaching With Gadgets

How Technology Can Help Today's Teacher

Monday, January 09, 2006

Enter The Tablet...

In my last post I described how my PDA can be used to retrieve my morning news and have all of my information updated. If I was to use my Treo 600 (a great Palm OS smartphone but no wi-fi) I would simply hook it up to my Mac and synchronize all information with Avantgo using this method. This morning I decided to take my Treo with me so I synced it with the Mac and was able to read my Avantgo news while having breakfast.

However, while the PDA was the "end-all, be-all" for me over the past few years it has been replaced by the tablet PC. What is a tablet PC? Imagine your laptop with all of the goodies that goes along with it (Wi-Fi, bluetooth, a keyboard) and add the ability to use a pen and ink on it! It is, perhaps, one of the most revolutionary devices ever created and can be a phenomenal teaching tool.

I purchased my HP TC1100 tablet PC back in September of 2004. At the time it was selling for $2800 CDN. Thankfully, we have since seen tablet PC prices begin to decend in recent months. Yes, it still has a good $300-$500 price premium over a regular laptop but the functionality cannot be beat.

How would this help you as a teacher? Think of that clipboard that you are carrying around right now. You probably have your attendance sheet, gradebook, and anecdotal notes on the clipboard. However, this clipboard means that you will eventually have to transcribe everything AND your information just isn't that secure. Before you scoff at that remark think about this carefully. Many provinces and states have privacy policies. If you leave that clipboard around and someone "accidentally" reads what is written on it....well...you can figure out the rest!

The tablet PC allows you to take a full Windows XP machine in the form factor of a clipboard. My TC1100 has a 10 inch screen and sits in a beautiful portfolio. If I want a laptop, I simply rotate the screen and I have a screen and keyboard. If I want just the slate the screen will simply detach from the keyboard and now I have a machine that relies only on the pen (see the imagine, above).

Many have asked "how do you use the ink"? Digital ink is WONDERFUL. If you want to "ink-up" a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, you can do that. When you print out the document your ink and the original text will live in harmony. On the other hand, if you wish to take notes in ink and then convert that to text you can do that as well. Forget about learning grafitti (Palm OS) or JOT. The Tablet OS let's you write in YOUR handwriting and will convert it to text. My handwriting can be brutal but the OS recognizes at least 95% of it. If I PRINT then it's 99% of the time.

By the time I get to school this little device with it's excellent battery power becomes my new new tool. My students respect the tablet and know not to touch it (I teach grade 4). I initially had concerns with taking this device to school and now I don't even think about it.

Read more at Hewlett Packard or Microsoft. I should also state that there are many different brands of tablets out there for you to check out.

Next post: How I use the tablet in day to day teaching....