Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Commentary: Sotir: Tablet PC's

I have written about Tablet PC's before, but perhaps a quick overview might make them easier to understand. Have you ever gotten tired of typing? Wish that you could just write what you want and see it magically appear as typed text on a screen? Well, then Tablet PC's might be for you. I know that voice recognition computers seemed to be the way to go, especially if you were in the Star Trek set. However, getting a good voice recognition program is dificult. You do need to 'teach' it your voice and intonation, so training it takes quite a bit of time. For example, years ago I used a Dragon Speak program for voice recognition. My daughter's name is 'Heather', but no matter how hard I tried, it always typed 'Feather'. So I gave up, started calling her Feather and moved on. She's (slightly) more adaptable than the software. Also, it's hard to work in a crowd or a classroom if everyone around you is talking to their computers too. The Tablet PC is a good alternative. While most Tab PCs have some voice input capabilities at an operating system level, they still require training and may have difficulties with accents and voice inflection.

A much better tool is handwriting recognition which does not need training and is built-in as well. Yes, there are some tricks to making it read your writing better, but basically, you write, it prints. Actually, script works better than printing for recognition. Digital ink allows hand-written notes and drawing to be entered directly into Office applications. So, if you are an English instructor, you can have students send you their writing assignments in MS Word, and you can annotate directly on them using your Tab PC. And red is not the only ink color, so you can do spelling errors red, grammar errors in green, and smiley faces in yellow.

If you are doing a PowerPoint presentation, you can write directly on top of the presentation, and then choose whether or not to save those annotations. This gives the Tab PC more of a whiteboard functionality. If you want to add a diagram, you can write the labels directly onto the diagram. Since you can hook-up and load a Tab PC directly from your desktop PC, you can add photos, drawings, text and other documents from any source. Classroom notes and lectures can be printed or sent to any other computer. Since all Tab PC's have built-in wireless connectivity, the most exciting application is that in a wireless environment, you can walk around the class with a Tab PC. There is no need for a mouse, since it is a pen operated device, and it can be used in both landscape and portait modes.

For students, taking notes is a snap. They can write directly on the Tab PC screen, and then organize and print the notes after class. Brainstorming and sharing as a group is easy, simply emailing their ideas to others.

I understand that having new technology is not always exciting to instructors, since it requires training and is sometimes accompanied by frustration. But think of the Tab PC as OLD technology. It works pretty much like the old slates that were popular in classrooms of previous centuries. But...they are a whole lot cooler. And cooler is always better. If you want to see how Tab PC's are used in education, check out the Tablet PC Education Blog: (http://tabletpceducation.blogspot.com)