Teaching Engineering Material with a Tablet PC

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					                       Teaching Engineering Material with a Tablet PC


As a long time “blackboard and chalk” teacher, I have had a strong bias against most
instructional technology, feeling that it takes away the spontaneity and human interaction that are
so important in creating excitement in the classroom. In my teaching fields (circuit analysis and
electronic design), the teacher must be doing the thought process that is being taught and actively
engaging the students in it, not just reading to them about it from slides. Initially opposed to
Virginia Tech’s tablet PC initiative, after I saw how tablets could be used, I volunteered to teach
the first tablet-based “gateway section” in my department, a 128 student class in introductory
circuit analysis. This paper describes what happened and explains how my classroom technique
changed. It presents my techniques for using tablets to teach mathematically difficult material
that has high visual content. It discusses my equally positive experience with a subsequent tablet
based senior/graduate design course as well as in my current junior level class. The paper makes
my case for why tablets with the right software are the best tool for engaging students in the
engineering analysis and design thought processes, and for showing them how problem solutions
evolve in time.

Literature Review

The only literature on teaching with tablet PCs and DyKnow of which I am aware is either under
review or is a keynote presentation I gave earlier this year and which this session is based on.

Goals and Objectives

In this session I summarize my experience in teaching electronic circuit analysis and design
(material with high mathematical and graphical content) to large and small classes at the
sophomore, junior, and senior/graduate levels. I make the presentation using the DyKnow
software, giving both a narrative of my own experiences and illustrating the pedagogical
techniques that I use. Assuming that we can make the necessary technical arrangements, I will
encourage the audience to load a demonstration copy of DyKnow on their own tablets or laptops
and participate in the session as if they were students. While I will present some limited
quantitative data describing evaluations of student performance and student evaluation of tablet
based courses, I will primarily emphasize my perception of the students’ reaction to this teaching
technique and how it changed what I do in the classroom.

At the end of the session, participants will understand how tablet-based teaching with DyKnow
is done. They will know whether or not they want to try it, and they will have sufficient
background to get started if they wish to do so. While my focus is on teaching electrical
engineering, the pedagogy should apply equally well to any disciplines with high mathematical
and graphical content.

Description of the Practices to be Exemplified.
Figure 1 shows the instructor’s view of DyKnow. The large screen to the left is the public
screen; it is what the students see. Anything the instructor writes on the public screen appears on
the students’ tablets. Each student can write on his or her own copy of the public screen. The
students are not required to copy down what the instructor writes or projects; this is
automatically saved on their machines. The students just write the notes that they need to
supplement what the instructor is saying or doing. At the end of class each student has a copy of
everything that the instructor presented annotated with the student’s own notes. And each screen
can be played back in real time or slow motion, allowing the student to review the sequence of
steps that the instructor used in making the presentation.

Figure 1. The instructor's view of DyKnow.
The small screen to the right is the instructor’s private notebook. No one else sees it. The private
notebook plays the role of paper notes in an old style classroom and the public screen plays the
role both of the blackboard and of each student’s notebook.

DyKnow allows the instructor to prepare graphical material in advance exactly like Powerpoint,
and Powerpoint files can be imported directly. It goes beyond Powerpoint in allowing both the
instructor and the students to write on the graphical material, retain what was written, and play it
back later. It also includes feedback features that allow the instructor to monitor the class’s
attentiveness and understanding. See Figure 2.

Figure 2 Example screens and feedback feature.
DyKnow offers interactive tools that include allowing any student, selected students, or students
to write on the public screen (under the instructor’s control). The instructor may assign students
to work groups, each of which shares its own public screen. Students may submit individual
screens when requested by the instructor in a process analogous to turning in papers. I will
illustrate how to use some of these features.


I will encourage participants to try this teaching technology and to share their observations and

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