Tablets in Ohio by stariya

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									                  4/01/2003 Tablet Computing:
                  The 'next big thing' in school computing has
                  arrived




The ‘next big thing’ in school computing has arrived

Bishop Hartley High School is about to make history. This fall, the
600-student private Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio, will put to
the test the Tablet PC—the new technology that Microsoft
chairman Bill Gates recently called "the future of one-to-one
computing."

In one of the first ever large-scale deployments of Tablet PC
technology in schools, every Bishop Hartley senior will receive
Hewlett-Packard’s Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 unit in September.
The three to four-pound machines come with detachable
keyboards and run on a special Tablet PC edition of the Windows
XP operating system.

The school has ordered 160 of the machines, 25 of which already
have arrived to help prepare educators and students for the
coming implementation. According to Ken Collura, technology
coordinator for the schools of the Diocese of Columbus, the
students and teachers will use the tablets to move toward the
evolution of a completely paperless classroom.

It seems fitting that a school from Columbus would be among the
first ever to explore the Tablet PC’s potential for education. And if
industry watchers are correct, the device just could be the "next
big thing" in school computing.

The ‘ideal’ classroom tool?

About the size of a spiral notebook, Tablet PCs combine all the
speed and power of a desktop computer with the portability and
digital touch-screen capabilities of a Palm personal digital
assistant (PDA).

Though tablet screens run on average three to five inches smaller
than the standard 15-inch monitors found on most desktop
machines, the device’s processing power is more than sufficient
for student use. Each device typically carries at least 256
megabytes of RAM and between 30 and 40 gigabytes of hard-
drive capacity, and most can be converted from tablet format to
a laptop-like machine via the use of an attachable keyboard.

Loaded with all the usual suspects in the Microsoft Office product
suite, tablet computers can be used in class or at home to
compose documents, create spreadsheets, surf the internet, and
even exchange eMail and instant messages.

The availability of these applications in a portable format is
nothing new. What proponents of the tablet computing
movement believe will make the technology indispensable in
schools is its much-improved digital stylus function, which
enables users to take handwritten notes directly on the tablet
screen and then save those notes in digital format, just as they
were written.

Tablet PCs also are equipped to translate these handwritten
notes, as well as voice recordings, into typewritten computer
text—a powerful function that makes them ideal for use in the
classroom, proponents say.

Collura said the area’s Catholic high schools had been considering
possible classroom applications for the Tablet PC ever since Gates
first unveiled the concept at a national trade show three years
ago. "We were considering very seriously how to address the
various learning styles of our students," he said. When Collura
caught wind of Microsoft’s new technology, he immediately
wondered whether it was the solution he’d been searching for.

The key, he said, lies in the Tablet PC’s ability to offer multiple
forms of input and output from a single, convenient, easy-to-
carry device.
Laptop computers are bulky and aren’t always conducive to
taking notes in class. Students must be proficient at typing in
order to use them, and in many classes—such as science and
math—the presence of equations makes note-taking with a
keyboard difficult.

Handheld computers, like Palm’s "m" series of devices, solve the
bulkiness problem—but they, too, have their drawbacks, most
notably the fact that it’s not easy to input information into them.
Their stylus capabilities are rather limited, and although many
can accommodate portable keyboards, this doesn’t solve the
note-taking challenge.

Tablet PCs, on the other hand, solve both problems rather
elegantly. In essence, they function like a digital notebook,
enhancing students’ capabilities for learning without getting in
the way of the process.

Imagine a classroom where students are allowed to take notes
directly onto their textbooks and then save those notes for
immediate reference with the touch of a button. The Tablet PC
has the potential, Collura said, to make even the simple,
mundane task of reading an interactive experience for students.
Using the device, students effectively could download texts and
read them directly from the screen, highlighting passages, taking
notes, and saving critical information as they go.

What about the old argument that reading from a computer
screen can be tough on the eyes? Hewlett-Packard (HP) offers its
Tablet PC with a screen composed of tempered glass, which
reportedly reduces glare and softens the impact. "The [tablet]
screen is surprisingly easy on the eyes," Collura said. "It’s like
reading from a book."

But don’t be fooled. The tablet computer is much more than a
glorified eBook reader dressed to the nines with stylized note-
taking functions, Collura said.

Bishop Hartley eventually intends to provide students with what
would amount to an entirely paperless classroom experience.
While Collura admits some educators might scoff at the idea, the
arrival of the Tablet PC has brought a dose of reality to that
possibility, he said.

During the first-year program, educators plan to use tablets to
give tests, collect assignments, and issue grades both in and out
of class without collecting a single sheet of notebook paper.

"For the teachers, the increase in organization means a reduction
in volume," Collura said. And for students, it means the ability to
keep their notes for each class in one fully portable,
customizable, computerized notebook. That way, kids aren’t
faced with the mistake of bringing the wrong notebook to class or
the inconvenience of misplacing important papers in cluttered
and often overcrowded lockers.

Students also could use the tablet to cross-reference their notes
between classes, Collura suggested—for instance, taking a
concept or definition they learned earlier that day in science
class, looking it up in their notes, and then applying that same
concept to a project they’ve been assigned in English or social
studies. The fact that each student uses the same tablet in every
subject makes that ability a cinch, he added.

While in school, the students also will have free wireless internet
access that will allow them to go online, exchange eMail, and use
instant-messaging services. The only restriction is that all
internet searches will be subject to the review of a filtering
program that complies with the federal Children’s Internet
Protection Act, Collura said.

By giving students a tool they can go home with, Collura hopes
they will embrace the technology not just as a device that’s been
forced upon them by teachers, but as an attribute that can help
them succeed in whatever projects they choose to undertake
outside the confines of the classroom.

"Kids take a sense of ownership to these things when they have
the technology in their hands," he said. "This is their tool. They
can reshape it and mold it for whatever purpose works best for
them. It’s just like they’re bringing their book bags—now in the
form of Tablet PCs—to the classroom."

At home, of course, students won’t have the same free access to
wireless internet connections that are available to them in school.
Instead, they’ll have to configure their tablets to run on their
parents’ or guardians’ existing accounts via dial-up or high-speed
internet connections. While this detail isn’t likely to furrow many
brows at Bishop Hartley, where Collura estimates 96 percent of
seniors have internet access from home, the problem may raise
serious questions at schools where home internet access is more
limited.

Charting potential pitfalls

By being one of the first schools in the nation to test the practical
applications of the Tablet PC technology in the classroom, Collura
said he hopes Bishop Hartley will help expose any potential
pitfalls ahead of time.

One of the problems the school already has taken into
consideration is the question of day-to-day durability. To protect
its investment from the wear and tear of everyday school use,
the school will provide each student with a foam-insulated
carrying case for their tablet computers.

Of course, while the carrying cases will protect the tablets in
transit, they’ll do little to keep the machines safe when they’re in
use on students’ desktops.

According to Angela Smith, a spokeswoman for HP, even the
tempered-glass screens have been tested for strength. The
company has prepared the technology for its school customers by
building a Tablet PC screen that was strong enough to withstand
the impact of three and four-pound metal balls dropped from a
distance of several feet.

Still, when you put technology into a school, nothing is
indestructible. Every student who chooses to participate in the
tablet computing program must insure the device against his or
her parents’ or guardians’ homeowner’s or renter’s insurance,
Smith said. The school is not responsible for broken, lost, or
stolen machines.

However, Collura did say there would be extra machines on hand
in the event that students’ tablets are sent in for repairs. All
students will be instructed to back up their files on the school’s
server so that, in the event of an emergency, students can
retrieve their notes and school work.

But students should think twice before asking for a replacement
tablet. If their reasoning indicates a lack of responsibility on the
students’ part—for example, if they accidentally leave their
machine at home or in their car—replacements will not be
provided, Collura said.

Students also are responsible for keeping the machines’ batteries
charged. Because HP’s tablets only last about four and a half
hours before requiring a recharge, Collura was forced to purchase
an extra battery for each machine to provide students with
enough power to make it through the eight-hour school day.
"When students are at home," he said, "it’s their responsibility.
They can plug [the tablet] in."

There’s also the issue of making sure both teachers and students
are equipped with the knowledge and skills to use the tablet
technology effectively, Collura said.

Already, the school has begun enrolling students slated to
participate in next year’s program in one-hour training sessions
designed to introduce them to the technology and its
applications, he said. Students are quick learners, he added, and
it typically takes only an hour or less for them to understand how
to use its basic functions.

For teachers, it can be a different story. Its technical convenience
and versatility aside, the Tablet PC still is a new technology,
and—like any new innovation—it runs the risk of rejection at the
hands of experienced teachers who are comfortable already
teaching a certain way. Some educators have been known to
resist new technologies on the simple grounds that learning how
to use such tools requires additional overtime, for which they are
rarely compensated.

Surprisingly, Collura said he hasn’t encountered even the
slightest resistance to the tablet training programs among Bishop
Hartley’s teachers. The technology, he said, isn’t changing the
way teachers teach in the classroom. Effectively, they are still
teaching the same lessons and using the same methods they
were using before. The only difference is that the assignments
are being completed, turned in, saved, and returned by way of
the tablets, which increases the efficiency of managing classroom
assignments.

The technology "allows the teachers to teach what they’ve been
teaching and the students to do what they’ve been doing,"
Collura said—thus reducing culture shock to a minimum.

Cost is a major hurdle

If anything poses a significant hurdle to tablet computing in
schools, it’s cost. Collura estimates the price of the Bishop
Hartley project—from planning, to infrastructure upgrades, to
training and implementation—will run upwards of $350,000, all
told.

Educators looking to buy Tablet PCs for their schools or for their
own personal use should expect to pay anywhere from $1,700
(the cost of the HP model being used at Bishop Hartley) to close
to $3,000, depending on which model they choose.

At $129 a piece, the price for extra battery units alone wound up
costing Bishop Hartley close to $21,000 in additional expenses,
Collura said.

Of course, Bishop Hartley is a private school. And although
Collura claims he didn’t dip into a single dollar of tuition money to
pay for the project—and that he chose the school because of its
unique socioeconomic diversity—private schools still don’t share
the same fiscal concerns as public institutions. For one thing,
they normally are responsible for a far smaller number of
students, and second, they aren’t funded through state budgets.

The latter factor is especially critical in today’s uncertain financial
landscape. As lawmakers nationwide are tapping into education
spending to alleviate mounting budget gaps, many educators are
hard-pressed for money to preserve existing programs, much
less to create new ones.

For instance, Maine’s laptop initiative, which is midway through
the process of supplying 36,000 laptops to students and teachers
under a $37.2 million contract with Apple Computer, already has
seen $50 million in funding—put in place by former Gov. Angus
King to keep the program running indefinitely—slip to a
recommended $16 million, which critics are complaining would
only account for three years of the four-year contract.
With such problems in mind, it’s difficult to believe many public
school systems nationwide are poised to take the plunge on a
wide-scale deployment of Tablet PCs just yet.

Even if schools did have the money right now, it would be a
mistake for such institutions—public or private—to rush too
quickly into purchasing tablets for large-scale use in the
classroom, Collura warned. According the him, the integration of
the technology at Bishop Hartley has been a long, tedious, and
very methodical process.

Before agreeing to put tablets into the hands every senior at the
school, Collura said the first step was to reposition existing
infrastructures so the system would be able to maximize the
benefits of the technology.

"We needed to switch to more of a mobile educational world," he
said. The school gradually built out its wireless access points and
turned over traditional desktop machines in favor of laptops and
other ubiquitous alternatives, he said.

Still, Tablet PCs eventually will filter into more schools from coast
to coast, Collura predicted. And as they do—and as the cost of
the technology begins to drop—there might come a day when the
desktop machines of today find themselves packed away next to
such long-forgotten relics as the once indispensable Apple II and
other fallen giants.

"It’s just so flexible that you can use it on the go," Collura said of
the Tablet PC. "I really see no reason for a desktop. The whole
idea is mobility."

								
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