Saturday, February 22, 2003

Pupils find ways to use new tablet computers



By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Megan Tysoe uses a Toshiba tablet PC to generate a series of patterns in the Microsoft PowerPoint program during a humanities class.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
INDIAN HILL - Students at Cincinnati Country Day School are learning that the wave of the future weighs just 4.1 pounds.

The private school of 900 students, preschool-Grade 12, is the first in the country to test the Toshiba Tablet Portege 3500, a notebook personal computer with handwriting capabilities. Introduced at the end of 2002, the tablets are available to consumers for $3,000.

The lightweight computer opens like a laptop and can function like a PC. But that's where the similarities end.

The computer's 12-inch screen can swivel 90 degrees, fold down and lock in place to create a tablet. Students can write, doodle or draw directly on the screen using a special pen, almost as if it were a piece of paper.

"It's like two computers in one," said Megan Tysoe, 14, of Indian Hill. "I like how it can be a regular laptop, but you can draw on it and stuff."

CCDS received six of the tablets in January; 12 more are expected by spring. So far, freshmen in a humanities course have been using the tablets and can borrow them on a nightly or weekend basis.

"I took it home last night, and my family was amazed. They couldn't speak," said Chris Peck, 15, of Indian Hill. "They didn't know that such a thing could exist."

Students here are familiar with the integration of technology and education. In 1996, CCDS launched the Anytime Anywhere Learning program, a partnership with Microsoft and Toshiba. Students in Grades 5-12 have been required to carry laptops, though computers can be purchased at a special price through the program.

The school also installed a wireless network in 2000that allows laptop users to connect to the Internet anywhere on campus.

But the tablets are something special.

"Over the last seven years, laptops have gotten bigger, better, more color, better resolution - all that kind of stuff, but it's all extrapolation along that one path," said Joseph Hofmeister, technology director for the school. "The tablets represent a whole new thing.

The purpose of the pilot program is to see what impact the tablet will have in an environment that has already embraced notebook computers, said Dan Rosensteel, vice president of public sector for Toshiba.

"(CCDS) had a lot of enthusiasm about discovering what can happen when you take technology to the next level," he said.

A CCDS humanities course that combines art, literature and history has been the major testing ground.

For example, Elyse Rowe, 15, of Indian Hill recently borrowed the tablet for a night. She used a digital camera to photograph a cluster of trees, which she easily transferred to the computer. She then wrote an ekphrastic poem (a poem written in response to visual art) on top of her original photography. And that wasn't even an assignment.

"It's a teacher's dream to see a student who is this excited," teacher Kelly Hammond said. "She had the tools, and she wanted to use them."

The tablet format also allows students to choose the way they input information.

"Some kids prefer to hand write things and doodle and make notes. Others are typists," Hammond said. "But this gives them a choice. Their notes don't have to be a mass of text."

And that capability is useful in many classes, students point out.

"I like taking notes on technology, especially in math class. But on a regular computer, it takes a long time to make stuff look like equations," Peck said. "This makes it much easier."

Hammond can now see the students' faces in class - instead of lecturing to a group masked by laptop screens.

"I lose a little something with that barrier of the laptops," Hammond said. "But this still feels natural. The tablet is just like writing on paper - with the benefits of technology.

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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