Tablet PCs in Education:

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Nov 24, 2013 (5 years and 1 month ago)



Dana Atwood

TL 896

December 11, 2006

Tablet PCs in Education:

An Initial Review of Literature


In November 2002, Microsoft and a number of hardware companies launched the
Tablet PC. The Tablet PC is a fully functional portable comp
uter that differs from the
laptop computer primarily in two important ways: a smaller size that significantly
increases mobility and the pen
based input device that allows users to interface
naturally and intuitively with the computer just as they would wi
th paper and pencil.

Teachers and instructors are being held more accountable for an ever
increasing set
of standards and acceptable levels of student achievement. Technological literacy is
a relative newcomer to our modern academic standards, but educ
ation agencies that
aim to prepare students for success and competence in the 21st century cannot
ignore its importance. Indeed, efforts to effectively integrate technology into
education require a hefty portion of the educational institution’s annual bud
get. The
recently developed Tablet PC may indeed be a much better fit for education than
previous technology deployments. Perhaps this new pen
based user interface is the
technological invention that will make teachers’ work more efficient and effective
while increasing student engagement, motivation, and achievement.


The literature review that follows looks at what is happening with Tablet PCs in
education, both at the K
12 and university levels. What are the positive effects of
Tablet PC integration
? Have there been negative effects? What do instructors and
students think about this new technology? What does it take to make this
technology work seamlessly in a classroom environment? What makes a Tablet PC
more or less appropriate than a laptop or

desktop computer in the classroom? How
do Tablet PCs effect learning?

Because the Tablet PC is such a recent addition to the educational technology scene,
there is a lack of large
scale data. Most data available on the subject comes from
case studies a
nd other small
scale qualitative research. However, once one knows
where to look, there is sufficient data available to construct a general picture of how
this technology has been implemented, what the effects have been, and what the
possibilities might b
e for future Tablet PC integration. In addition to an overall view
of the Tablet PC in education, we will also gain insight from some interesting
anecdotes and specific case details along the way.


Tablets vs. Laptops

Tablets are full
function c
omputers just like laptop computers. Convertible Tablets
even have a keyboard in addition to the pen
based interface. The drawbacks to
Tablets when compared with laptops are few and the benefits are many. One of the
major drawbacks is cost. Currently,
a Tablet PC can cost nearly twice as much as a
comparable laptop computer. Some consider screen size to be a drawback, but the
Tablet’s smaller screen size and lighter weight (approximately 4 lbs vs. a laptop’s 7
lbs) are precisely the features that contr
ibute to its increased mobility and

portability, the most commonly mentioned feature for the purchase of a Tablet PC.
Being lighter and smaller in size is also considered more appropriate for the younger,
smaller people. [26] Slate
type Tablets are conside
red more durable than laptops
and can even come equipped with rubber bumpers to guard against the inevitable

knocks it will sustain in a primary classroom. One school even reported making their
Tablets weatherproof by slipping them into plastic zip wallet
s. [26] That’s not
something one could do with a laptop. The Tablet’s battery life has been woefully
inadequate in the past, only getting a maximum of 3 hours, and usually less before
ceasing network capabilities. However, the newer Tablets can keep a ch
battery up to 7 hours. Users have also complained about the screen’s lack of
brightness and problems with glare. These issues have been addressed in the latest
versions of the machine with enhanced, no
glare screens that can even be used
quite effe
ctively outdoors. Broken or lost, untethered pens have posed a problem in
many K
12 classrooms. [23] However, 6 out of 7 primary schools saw the pen as a
significant advantage over other input devices, particularly the mouse or track pad.
[26] The Tablet
also offers improved handwriting recognition and speech to text
capabilities. The pen
based interface is more natural and intuitive than a keyboard
or mouse for most users, but especially for children and those working extensively
with diagrams and formul
as. The keyboard, a descendent of the industrial age
typewriter, is faster, more efficient, and designed for productivity; whereas the
Tablet, with its pen and portability, is designed for creativity and natural expression.


The innovation of the

Tablet PC would be utterly inaccessible to educators and
students without specific software designed to take advantage of its unique features.
Microsoft is responsible for the Tablet operating system: Windows XP Tablet PC
Editions 2003 and 2005. The 200
3 edition was the most common operating system

in the studies reviewed here. The updated 2005 operating system has significantly
improved handwriting recognition. The 2005 edition also has speech recognition
capabilities. The user can dictate to the Tab
let, which converts the speech directly to
text. Beyond the OS, Microsoft has enhanced its entire Office Suite to make use of
digital ink and the pen
based interface of Tablet PCs. Microsoft also offers the
specific programs Journal and OneNote.
Journal is a basic note
application that can capture handwritten notes and drawings and convert
handwritten notes to text. OneNote is a more powerful note
taking program that
fully supports searching of handwritten and text notes and the inclusion
of charts,
diagrams, graphs, and drawings on the same “page”. In addition, the audio
capabilities of OneNote combined with the Tablet PC allow the user to record
lectures, presentations, or group discussions that are synced with the notes,
enabling quick r
eference to any part of the audio segment. Microsoft also offers free
downloads of many Tablet
specific software accessories such as PowerToys and the
Education pack that include such applications as Drawing Animator, Music
Composition, Writing Practice,
Ink Flash Cards, and Equation Writer among many,
many more.

Besides Microsoft products, there are a several other commercially available software
packages developed specifically for the Tablet. Two software packages that stand
out in the research are DyK
now Vision and, to a lesser extent, GoBinder from Agilix.
GoBinder is the primary competitor with Microsoft’s OneNote. This software is a
digital binder that includes organized notes for all courses, an interactive calendar
feature, and a tasks (assignme
nts) management tool. In one survey of 25 students
at a private secondary school, sixteen indicated that GoBinder had improved their
ability to keep track of assignments over using the paper assignment book; fourteen
felt that they more reliably turned in

assignments than before they used GoBinder;

and fifteen also stated that they were more likely to have GoBinder in class than
their paper scheduler. Twenty
one of the respondents felt that GoBinder was easy to
use and six felt that their grades had impro
ved from the use of GoBinder. [20]

DyKnow Vision is an innovative product that has received much attention throughout
the higher education arena, and to a lesser extent, at the K
12 level as well. In fact,
in this review, six out of the 17 universities t
hat had deployed Tablets were also
using DyKnow Vision to change the dynamic of student/instructor interaction in the
classroom or lecture hall. [4] DyKnow’s main features are the ability to transmit
content from the instructor’s Tablet to the student Tabl
ets, poll the class, retrieve,
display, and/or replay stroke
stroke student work. The instructor can also share
“whiteboard” control with the students, view thumbnails of student screens, “lock”
student pens, and block distracting applications. Among
the primary benefits of
DyKnow Vision at the K
12 level (supported by interview data and classroom
observations) are high levels of student engagement, better learning and retention of
concepts by students, effective support of student
centered instruction

for teachers,
fewer discipline problems, higher rates of homework completion, and fewer
absences. [5] DyKnow Vision encourages student engagement as the instructor is
able to see and display student panels at will. Students are also provided some
ty when sending content to the instructor or shared screen, which decreases
apprehension and encourages participation. [3] In one survey of 47 students who
were enrolled in a DyKnow Vision enhanced general psychology class, 70% indicated
that the software
had a positive effect on active learning. The software was also
perceived as easy to use and students reported enjoying the increased interaction
with professors and other students that resulted from the use of DyKnow Vision. [12]


Finally, Richard Anders
on et al at the University of Washington has developed two
classroom presentation applications that have proven to be very effective in the
college classroom and lecture hall. Classroom Presenter shares some of the features
with DyKnow Vision, such as the

ability to send and receive content to/from student
Tablets, usually designed around a PowerPoint slide format. However, a unique
feature to Classroom Presenter is the students’ ability to anonymously provide real
time feedback to the instructor on thei
r understanding. A student can annotate an
instructor’s slide with a question or request for more explanation and wirelessly
submit this to the instructor’s Tablet. Because the student view and instructor view
of the presentation are separate, only the i
nstructor sees the request and can choose
to respond within the context of the lecture. Overall, students responded very
positively to the Classroom Presenter system. In one end of course survey, 43 out
of 44 students reported that the system had a posit
ive effect on their learning
experience and 40 out of 44 felt that seeing other student solutions had a positive
effect on their learning. Several students commented positively on the fact that
student submissions are anonymous, “It gives equal voice to t
he quiet person and
the one that talks a lot” and “The best thing about this system is it encourages the
students to actually work on problems…Knowing that my solution will appear on the
screen, but will also remain anonymous, encourages me to participate,

but at the
same time reduces the worry of getting it wrong.” [1] Other features of the
Classroom Presenter system include the ability to “shrink” a slide so that a large
writing space appears around the slide, the ability to “layer” ink on a slide, and
nstructor mode” objects only visible to the instructor (e.g. notes, reminders,
questions to ask, etc.) An outgrowth of Classroom Presenter, Ubiquitous Presenter,
includes the same features as Classroom Presenter but can be used to present
material over th
e Internet. Both applications are free for download: Classroom
Presenter can be found at Richard Anderson’s University of Washington website and

Ubiquitous Presenter can be found at the University of California San Diego’s
website. [2, 29, 30]


Use of the Tablet PC in an educational setting is only going to be as functional as the
wireless network to which it is connected. An existing robust, high
speed wireless
network and a reliable server make the integration of Tablet PCs far more prod
and less frustrating. Unfortunately, many of the K
12 schools for which Tablet
deployment case studies are available were also simultaneously installing their
wireless networks for the first time. Indeed, the introduction of Tablets was the first
foray into the world of mobile computing for many of these schools. Most of the
schools studied had relied on shared desktop computer labs for all of their
technology integrated lessons before the introduction of the Tablets. Because of
these factors, mu
ch of the data on K
12 Tablet integration is more representative of
a transition period than of the beginning of educational innovation. [26]

In addition to the network and server, a data projector is an indispensable tool for
fully utilizing the power
of technology in the classroom. Some teachers have
indicated a preference for a wireless projector that each wireless Tablet could “talk”
to independently. Another, perhaps more robust, option, employed by Richard
Anderson at the University of Washington
, is to maintain a desktop computer wired
to the data projector. The instructor’s Tablet communicates wirelessly with the
desktop computer and the student Tablets communicate wirelessly with the
instructor’s Tablet. [1,2] In this way, student Tablet scree
ns can still be projected
onto the shared projected screen.


The most effective classroom deployment of Tablet PCs includes a Tablet for the
instructor as well as Tablets for individual or pairs of students. A more detailed
discussion of Tablet sharing
will follow in the next section. Because of the number of
Tablets normally utilized in the classroom setting, provisions must be made for
charging the Tablet batteries. This is particularly an issue at the K
12 level as most
university courses seldom las
t longer than 3 hours. Although the latest models of
Tablets have a much improved battery life (i.e. up to 7 hours), the earlier versions
are only able to hold a charge for up to 3 hours. This has caused many problems in
schools with too few power outlet
s. A charging cart must be available and a battery
charging regimen must be put into place.

For the purposes of this review, the two most common deployment strategies will be
called “ownership” and “sharing”. In an ownership scenario, Tablets are eit
assigned to or owned by an individual instructor or student who carries the Tablet
with them from class to class. In the sharing scenario, there is a set of Tablets,
usually stored in a mobile cart, available for checkout by instructors to use with th
classes. Ownership increases familiarity and confidence with the technology and
results in more handwritten note taking during whole class sessions. [23] Also,
ownership relieves the user of being obligated to save work to a server, which can be
a pro
blematic task for younger students. When Tablets are shared, lost work
becomes a much bigger problem and is extremely frustrating to students. In
addition, when Tablets are shared, they are often not booked or not used during
large portions of a “booked”

lesson. Studies have shown that the ownership type of
deployment is most likely to lead to a transformation of the curriculum. [23]


Based Interface

The pen is particularly useful for children, for students learning to handwrite in any
language, and

for students and instructors who need to work heavily with diagrams
and formulas (e.g. in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

For children, the pen allows a truer, more personal record of student’s work. The
student’s personality is ev
ident in the work. Papers can be easily lost, destroyed, or
disposed of, but a digital portfolio is an excellent way to document and share student
growth and work history with parents. With the Tablet and a pen, a student’s
handwriting can be analyzed
stroke, enabling the instructor to evaluate
the student’s technique and offer suggestions for improvement. Children find it
easier to write and do more of it with the Tablet. In addition, it is easier for young
students to erase, change, move t
ext around, and edit their work. [19] One study
found that when children used the Tablet, they wrote as much, if not more than the
children using pen and paper. In addition, they appeared to write neater and
concentrate more than the other children and to

produce stories that were of a
similar standard to the rest of the class. [21] Little has been done at the K
12 level
to study how pen
based technology might influence math and science learning.

Unlike at the pre
college level, higher education has grasp
ed on to the potential for
using pen
based technologies in the STEM fields. Out of 19 studies that examined
the use of the Tablet PC in higher education, 13 of them focused on deployment in
STEM courses. Six were in computer science, two in engineering,
two in
mathematics, two in geology, and one in technical communications. [4] The pen was
extremely useful in these courses for drawing diagrams and flow charts (e.g. binary
trees in computer science) [3], working through mathematical formulas (e.g. digital

transcripts of dynamic derivations in calculus) [10], and providing in
field access

to data analysis and interpretation tools (e.g. GIS and GPS in field geology). [13, 17]
Particularly in math, using the Tablet to capture the actual process of workin
through a formula with the pen is an innovative and effective use of technology.
When students are studying outside of class, the ability to replay the process offers
greater learning potential than the formulas written on a static book page. [10]

edagogical Significance

The innovative (to mobile computing!) pen
based user
interface and the increased
mobility of the Tablet PC bring a set of brand new features and a fresh combination
of capabilities to the technology enabled classroom or lecture hall
. This section will
explore how the Tablet has had a positive impact on active learning, collaborative
learning, student/instructor interaction, and the facilitation of feedback both from
student to instructor and vice versa.

Classroom Engagement

s have shown themselves to be quite effective at increasing student
engagement in class. The knowledge that their work may be displayed on the
shared screen and recognized by the instructor motivates students to be well
prepared for class. In a student q
uestionnaire that produced 237 responses, 71% of
the respondents agreed that knowing they had the potential to share their work with
the class had increased their motivation, and 53% thought that seeing the work of
others had had a strong positive influenc
e on them. [9] In addition, the anonymity of
submissions encourages students to contribute to the class discourse without fear of
exposing their lack of understanding to their peers or instructor. Beyond that,
students were more inclined to ask questions
when they realized that they were not
the only ones having difficulty with the material. [9] In another study, one instructor

commented on the immediate “risk
free” environment created by the Tablets. A
high school art teacher, he felt that the Tablet act
ually had a positive effect on the
quality of work students were able to do as they felt free to go backwards, erase, or
even start over on their work. [28] Others felt that the pace of learning had
improved and that more cross
curricular work was now poss
ible. The richness and
variety of content that was now available to the class also had a positive impact on
student engagement. [26]


Feedback is a critical piece for both students and teachers who hope to be successful
in learning and teaching
. The Tablet PC simplifies and facilitates feedback for both
parties in the learning enterprise. By polling the class, posing questions or problems
to be worked out in class on the Tablet and remotely observing student’s screens,
instructors can gain rea
time information about how much their students understand
and what difficulties they may be experiencing. Likewise, with the ability to
anonymously ask a question or request more explanation on a topic, a student is
able to give valuable feedback to the

instructor on the level of understanding in the
class. The instructor is then free to adjust the lesson “on the fly” based on this

The Tablets greatly facilitate and enhance the feedback that students receive from
their instructors as w
ell. Guidelines and criteria alone are not enough to help
learners understand what is expected of them; “learners will only come to
understand the statements by seeing them exemplified in the form of actual pieces
of students’ work.” [31] When instructors

display (anonymous) student work on the
shared screen, the student whose work is being displayed receives immediate,
authentic feedback and the other students are able to benefit by seeing and

discussing an actual student work sample. With a Tablet, an in
structor is able to walk
around the classroom and record observations and assessment. One study reported
that eleven out of fifteen K
8 teachers used their Tablets in this way during the first
three months of Tablet integration. [19] When teachers are abl
e to use digital ink for
grading, many benefits emerge. Teachers are able to provide far more rapid
feedback than is possible when work must be manually collected, graded, and
returned to the student in person. One teacher was observed to print off a copy

of an
assessment a few minutes after a student’s presentation ended and then hand it to
the student. The student appreciated the quick response, and indeed, the instructor
could have returned the feedback electronically if class time had ended. [19] With

digital work and grading, the originals remain intact and a portfolio of work develops
as the entire history of the process is on the computer rather than scattered across
various sheets of paper. [28] Teachers are freed from lugging home stacks of papers

and notebooks. Work can be graded and returned anytime. Some teachers actually
added GIF “stickers” to young students’ digital work, just as they would have to work
submitted on paper. [19]

Collaborative Learning

Tablets are designed as peer
peer ne
twork devices. Students and instructors can
share work easily, augment, edit, and collaborate. Group concept mapping can be
almost effortless with a Tablet and wireless data projector. Every student can
contribute directly, or the instructor can draw in

students’ suggestions. When
collaboration is completed, the concept
map can be distributed electronically to
every Tablet for further expansion. The facility with which the Tablet supported this
kind of collaboration was deeply appreciated by one teache
r, “The ability to create
graphic organization to demonstrate higher order thinking, and then discuss it

is a great thing that the technology has made available.” [19] With instructor and

student Tablets, each member of the class can construct a digit
al notebook that
includes pieces of work from other students and the instructor as well as their own
work. A small group of students (up to 3) could even work on a single Tablet with
multiple pens. When Tablets are shared during collaborative group work,

the ideal
number of group participant is three, simply to ensure clear sight of the screen for all
participants. [9]

Student/Instructor Interaction

Interaction between student and instructor is vital to student learning. In a small
class, such interacti
on may not be difficult to achieve, but the Tablet can make it
even easier. For example, with a Tablet, the instructor spends more time facing the
class and less time with his back to the class while writing on the board. The right
software can enable th
e instructor to choose student answers based on the work
rather than on a face or a hand. [2] One instructor commented that the lack of a
vertical computer screen eliminated a barrier between the student and instructor
that is often experienced with laptop
s. [28]

In large, university
level lecture classes, soliciting student response can be more
challenging. [2] Anderson et al identifies three specific challenges to
student/instructor interaction in the large, lecture class:


Feedback Lag: Students doubt
the value of their question until the topic
is closed, then perceive that it’s too late as the instructor has moved on


Student Apprehension: Fear of speaking in front of a large group, fear of
being “wrong” in front of peers or the instructor


r paradigm: Only one person speaks at a time, this model
doesn’t scale to large classes


A Tablet PC, specifically equipped with Classroom Presenter software, can help
diminish these barriers to student/instructor interaction. Students are able to
sly submit their questions at any time and the instructor is free to address
the question at the most opportune moment. When submissions are anonymous,
student apprehension is greatly reduced. When questions or feedback are submitted
via the Tablet, ther
e is no need to “take turns”. Instructors have identified some
drawbacks with this new anonymous, multi
speaker paradigm however. An
instructor is not able to know if she is receiving many questions from one student, or
one question from each of many stu
dents. It would be helpful for the instructor to
be able to identify subsequent questions from a single student so as to put the
question (and hence, the answer) into context. Also, it can be a bit flustering to be
an instructor who is being bombarded wi
th digital questions. [2]

Conclusion and Future Research Possibilities

Because the Tablet PC is so new to education, there hasn’t been the opportunity to
conduct much large scale, quantitative analysis of the impact and benefit of this
technology. Cer
tainly, more has been done at the university level than at the pre
college level, but the possibilities for future research at both levels are many!
Specifically, there is evidence that the integration of Tablet PCs increases student
engagement and studen
t/instructor interaction. This review has shown that Tablets
may have a positive effect on the efficiency, frequency, and effectiveness of
feedback in the classroom. There is also some indication that Tablets may support
collaborative and active learning
in new ways.

It would be very valuable to educators to have some solid data that links the impact
of Tablet PCs on student achievement. Does this increase in student/instructor

interaction correlate with student achievement? Can this improved environm
ent for
feedback translate to higher test scores? More research should be done to explore
the links between student/instructor interaction, feedback and achievement and how
the Tablet PC might play a significant role in that formula. Educators have only
begun figuring out how to implement this new technology into their learning
environments. Soon, many will have worked out the inevitable kinks in instruction
that arise when new technology is introduced. Instructors will then have reached a
level of
comfort and facility that will make it possible to conduct larger, more
controlled studies of the impact these machines are having on teaching and learning.




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