Tablet PC – the slate has evolved! To most adults, using a computer means sitting at a keyboard to generate text. The Tablet PC demands a rethink – there’s no keyboard, for a start! The Tablet PC looks like an A4 laptop without a lid. It also calls to mind an old-fashioned slate – yes, you really do write on it! The operating system is a special version of Windows XP. An external CD drive must be connected to install software. A USB flash drive (‘memory stick’) is a worthwhile accessory, as files may be copied and transferred to any other PC with a USB port. Networking is standard and the Tablet may be integrated into a wireless network. The Tablet can be used virtually anywhere (although the screen is not bright enough to be seen in bright light outdoors) and is easy to carry around. Tap the stylus on the toughened display surface to choose an option. Any Windows XP compliant software may be run, but there are some applications – such as the Journal – which are unique to the Tablet PC. In the Journal, you may write in ‘ink’ on ruled or squared paper, or use a highlighter. Text and graphics may be pasted from the Clipboard into the Journal. Children may annotate, draw diagrams, and highlight key sections. The stylus is pressure-sensitive – press more firmly for a harder mark. Handwritten notes are saved as they are. You may write a file name, and e-mail your notes to other users. You can also search your notes using your normal handwriting! You can also create text in Word, Textease or any other application running under Windows XP. The on-screen keyboard has an input tab. Write in the panel, in your normal handwriting. Pause, and your writing is converted into text. The Tablet recognizes a variety of handwriting styles, but some modification may be necessary. For example, writing the personal pronoun ‘I’ with serifs ensures recognition. Accuracy is much improved for longer words. Indeed, when I wrote ‘seperate’, it corrected me! Shorter words are more difficult (it consistently reads my handwritten ‘can’ as car) but there is always the on-screen keyboard – if you really have to produce text! It’s possible to select handwriting in the Journal and convert to text. If errors are made, lists of alternatives are presented. There may be no necessity to convert handwriting into text, but children are bound to want to try this. A Year 6 group had chosen paintings from the Van Gogh Museum site before pasting them into the Journal for a writing task. One boy found that the Tablet made nonsense of his notes. His partner pointed out that the computer couldn’t understand him because his spelling was so bad! He used the eraser and rewrote the words. Although there were still some inaccuracies, the Journal was able to suggest correct alternatives. The Tablet comes into its own with any application which demands a great deal of clicking and dragging, such as Web browsing, graphics or music editing. MyWorld is fun to use! It is much easier to point at a feature with the stylus, rather than manipulate the mouse. Graphics programs (such as the free download ‘Drawing for Children’) are a pleasure. You can of course sketch directly into the Journal, or the electronic equivalent of the Post-it note. You can trace over existing pictures and diagrams. Speech recognition is inbuilt, but I have not yet tried this on my pre-release Tablet. The computer can also read back any text on screen. There are advantages of using with a projector. You do not have to use the pen on one surface while looking at another. The basic Tablet PC is £799. However, there are upgrades and accessories which will substantially improve performance. My pre-release model runs for 2.5 hours, and takes a similar time to recharge. RM claim that the Tablet will run for up to 5.5 hours when fitted with the extended life battery. RM have announced the Intel Centrino Tablet PC, based on Intel’s new processor for mobile laptops. With the extended life battery, it should operate for 7 hours. Many teachers will agree that all-day operation is essential for mobile laptops to replace desktop PCs in school. Software developers have been quick to spot the potential. Inclusive Technology are working with RM on applications for special needs. Cricksoft’s new product, ClozePro, has texts specially designed for use with the Tablet PC. A possible drawback is that it’s difficult for pairs or groups to work together on one Tablet. Some curriculum applications such as data handling and Logo, which depend on accurate text entry, do not lend themselves to the Tablet. These applications are also very rich in problem-solving and discussion opportunities and are usually best approached as group activities. Accurate handwriting recognition depends on a fluent writing style – it may not be successful with KS1 pupils. But is there always a need to convert everything children write into text? If it really is that necessary, attach an external keyboard and monitor and you have a standard PC!
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