Choosing the Right Tools
Bishop Hartley has long been a technically savvy learning institution where it is believed that a student’s opportunity to learn is enhanced by greater mobility and greater access to information.
Our students are used to a mobile environment. To utilize this mobility, students need to be able to easily take their technology tools with them as they move through their day. This means that the technology must fit into their daily routine. While there are some notebook PCs that meet our mobility and space requirements, the devices still have limitations for the classroom. For one, I do not like to see a teacher talking to the back of many laptop screens. There is a disconnect that is created when teachers cannot see their students’ faces or eyes. Other considerations include varying typing skills, distracting keyboard noise, and the need to use the computers at times when a flat surface isn’t available.
For these reasons, we chose the tablet PC, which allows for handwritten entry, lies flat on the student’s desk, or for that matter can be held in the crook of the arm for use while walking or riding in a car. After testing almost every model on the market, I chose the HP Compaq Tablet PC, as it is definitely the most rugged, has the best screen and stylus, and is simply the best product for the price.
Implementing the Tools
It was while attending COMDEX 2000 that I realized the industry was making another attempt to move toward handwriting recognition. To be ready for the Tablet PC we would have to take immediate action. We started beefing up Bishop Hartley’s IT infrastructure, getting our wireless capabilities upgraded in anticipation of the product and started to address the issue of preparing the faculty.
We methodically moved Bishop Hartley teachers from desktops to laptops, de-emphasized computer labs, brought in HP mobile carts equipped with wireless notebooks, and moved to network printing. We also developed an intranet through which homework documents could be shared. An important point is that we moved both the students and teachers along in baby steps, so that when the Tablet PC came out, it would not be a big culture shock for either group.
Today the HP Compaq Tablet PC is firmly entrenched as a learning tool at Bishop Hartley. Every junior and senior has his own HP Compaq Tablet PC on a 24/7 model; all teachers have a Tablet PC; and underclassmen have access to the Tablet PCs in the classroom on mobile HP carts. We also purchased a three-year warranty on the new products and a padded carrying case to transport the Tablet PC. Note that we purchased all units with technology and grant funds, without using tuition dollars.
A campus-wide wireless network facilitates all manner of communication — from basic web browsing and Emails to sharing content between teacher and students, and even turning in homework assignments remotely.
Hardware alone is never a complete solution. We loaded student and teacher tablet PCs with standard software packages for word processing, Web browsing and the like. To complement the revolutionary form factor of the tablet, we equipped the Pcs with educational software that facilitates learning and capitalizes on the innovative features like handwriting. Two packages stand out: DyKnow Monitor and DyKnow Vision.
Monitor addresses many instructors’ genuine concern that personal computers are a distraction for students. Monitor enables teachers to: see what students have on their screens; lock their keyboards; or, what I find most useful, block programs that are not being used for that day’s lesson. These functions prevent students from playing on the Internet and instant messaging each other. This effectively keeps students on task. When Monitor is combined with Vision, teachers can watch student progress, and identify meaningful work to share with the class. Without putting students on the spot, teachers can quickly assess how well concepts are being understood.
Vision also has the unique feature that allows me, as the teacher, to actually write into my students’ notebooks. Everything that I use in my lesson, prepared notes, Web sites, handouts, and text material can be transmitted to the individual machines in the room as they come up in my instruction. In addition everything that I write or type during a lecture will also be incorporated so the students have automatic note-taking capability. Students are then able to annotate, organize and complete daily notes as needed.
Beyond exciting students about learning, and beyond its near infinite potential to enhance instruction, the Tablet PC’s biggest benefit is that it allows the teacher to concentrate more on content than delivery. Rather than spending most of class time writing (and erasing) notes on a blackboard, teachers have more time to make sure students understand and appreciate the concepts. Teachers can also be assured that students accurately receive all information on their Tablet PC, no matter how far from the blackboard they sit or how fast they write.
The Tablet PC also frees students from the need to purchase and carry so many supplies. Students need fewer notebooks and use less paper and pencils. This means no more 25-pound book bags for the students or ‘I lost my homework’ excuses for teachers. In fact, students often need not bring their textbooks to class; the teacher simply broadcasts the pages necessary for the day’s lesson.
Students quickly learn how the HP Compaq Tablet PC can be most effective for their unique learning needs. For example, we had one student who was failing an English course until he decided to read a short story into the Audio Notes Recorder on his Tablet PC. Then he listened to the story play back. His English grade soon improved dramatically. Together we discovered that the student was an audio learner, and the Tablet PC is his key to success in the classroom.
The Tablet PC is also enabling entirely new types of learning situations. In a social studies class, students are participating in a simulation of international politics along with students all over the world, linked through the Web. They study world events and then role-play as world leaders. In the roles, they negotiate with one another, reach agreements and issue press releases. It is fascinating to see students get so wrapped up in the project that they are spending their free moments all day long sending Emails back and forth, strategizing and negotiating.
The Tablet PC also promises to remove many stigmas associated with special needs children. If a student needs to have a test read to him, he can use a headset and have it accessible without being pulled from the class. If a child is visually impaired, you can simply increase the font size. It is very important for children to fit in and not be separated, and the Tablet PC can help achieve that.
But students are not the only ones who benefit from the HP Compaq Tablet PCs. While some were reluctant at the beginning, teachers are now thrilled about the devices. There are no more stacks of papers or cassette tapes to carry home and grade. Teachers can grade tests and papers on-screen, save them electronically and send them back to the students privately, via the Internet.
One day a math teacher called in to say she was sick and had to stay home. To connect with her class, she arranged to use Skype, an Internet telephony program, and Vision to deliver her lecture over the wireless network, complete with interactive handwritten notes.
The bottom line is that technology is serving the specific needs of individual students. Each can choose to learn where, when, and how s/he wants.
I believe the Tablet PC will play a profound role in education, and the ability to use this and other technologies will be critical as students enter the workforce. The Diocese has already expanded use of the HP Compaq Tablet PC to Bishop Watterson High School, and we hope to see its use spread throughout the all schools in the Diocese in the coming years.
Ken Collura is the Director of Communication and Instructional Technologies for the Diocese of Columbus, which includes 44 elementary schools and 11 high schools in Ohio. As the regional training center for the diocese, Bishop Hartley High School was the first to provide each junior and senior level student and all teachers with HP Compaq Tablet PCs.