CS Associate Teaching Professor Ananda Gunawardena has made such significant progress using 25 Tablet PCs to foster education that their donor, Hewlett-Packard Corp. has awarded him 50 additional Tablets and an extension grant of $200,000 to continue his work. The first HP technology grant was given to Gunawardena last year to study the educational applications of Tablet technology and consisted of 25 Tablet PCs and a $100,000 grant.
A Tablet PC is a cross between a notebook PC and a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). There are three input forms to a Tablet PC: keyboard, mouse and digital pen. It is extremely portable, weighing between 2-4 pounds.
Gunawardena is working to investigate the potential that it has to dramatically alter the educational process. He says this new technology can significantly change the way students and teachers interact. With technology designed to take advantage of its unique capabilities, a Tablet PC can add completely new dimensions to classroom interaction by allowing real-time digital collaboration between students and teacher, as well as the ability to use "digital ink" to draw, write notes or highlight text directly on the screen.
An integral component of the Tablet PC project is electronic book software developed by TextCENTRIC, Inc. and Carnegie Mellon., "I separated my books into chunks—paragraphs and graphics were indexed, allowing them to be manipulated independently," Gunawardena explained. "The Adaptive Book software we have developed can be used to highlight, annotate and link content in the electronic version, add handwritten notes to the book and organize them on the Tablet PC, or even make voice recorded notes."
Gunawardena has been involved in pilot testing these Tablet PCs and their software in several locations. San Jose State University used them in its business school, Carnegie Mellon used them in computer science classes, and Grove City College deployed large numbers of the Tablets in a variety of courses.
In secondary schools, Mount Lebanon High School, in a suburb south of Pittsburgh, tested them in organic chemistry and physics courses while The Ellis School in the city incorporated Tablet PC technology in its geometry classes.
"I can understand the material better because I have a visual image. It's a lot easier and faster to type. It's all on one file," said Chao Long, 14, of The Ellis School, in a May 9, 2005 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story. At the same time, Ellis students complained of long startup times, imperfect features, a cramped keyboard and a small screen, but the benefits, they said, outweighed the disadvantages. Before this experiment, Chao said her six-year-old brother Bobby could not even lift her bookbag, which often contained four textbooks and three binders.
With these experiments and pilot projects, Gunawardena and his fellow reasearchers are attempting to determine what role the digital interconnectivity that Tablet PCs provide will have on learning and classroom interaction between student and teacher. This grant extension will allow Gunawardena to test the Tablet PCs on Carnegie Mellon's Qatar campus. He plans to create a network between the Qatar campus and Carnegie Mellon campus to give the students the unusual experience of communicating, sketching and exchanging data and ideas overseas on the Tablet PC. His group will be attempting to understand students' learning patterns as well as investigating the possibilities in the technology to recognize learning disabilities earlier.
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