Tablet Computers and the Traditional Lecture

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1 Tablet Computers and the Traditional Lecture Mitchell D. Theys*, Kimberly Lawless^, and Stephen George* *Department of Computer Science and ^College of Education University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL {mtheys, klawless, Abstract - A nationwide call has requested educators to emphasize methods that will encourage student participation and engagement during class. Concurrently, technology and ubiquitous computing have been making advancements onto campuses of higher education. This paper will discuss research that is merging these two events and creating a platform using Tablet PCs that can be used in the traditional classroom setting. The platform enables the use of digital ink within slideshow-based note taking, collaborative activities, and formative and summative assessment activities. In addition, course specific software will be made available on the Tablet PCs and used to enhance the learning in individual courses instead of relegating these activities to out-of-classroom experiences. The paper discusses the differences and similarities between Tablet PCs and laptop computers, in general, and also presents information about low cost options to allow the use of digital ink in traditional computer labs. The paper also presents results the author has collected while making use of Tablet PCs to (1) present course material during the lecture period; (2) administer summative assessment during the lecture period; (3) grade assessments with digital ink; and (4) provide timely feedback of student projects. Lastly the paper presents some of the author s long term research plans of making use of Tablet PCs, digital ink, and other currently available technology in the traditional lecture to (1) provide more communication between instructors and students; (2) elicit more frequent and higher quality feedback on student progress; (3) introduce more frequent and varied classroom teaching styles and activities and (4) expose students, in a variety of disciplines, to the technology that is currently available. Index Terms lecture improvements, learning tools, new technologies, technology in the classroom, ubiquitous computing, INTRODUCTION As suggested by Berque et. al. in [6], there is a nationwide call for educators to emphasize instructional methods that encourage student engagement during class. As one notable example, we cite the National Research Council's suggestion that educators should provide active learning environments for all students, even in large section, lecture-dominated courses [11]. The authors of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experiences, and School confirm that active learning approaches are sound when considered from the point of view of contemporary learning theory; they further point out that interactive technologies can be used to create environments where students learn by doing, receive feedback, and continually refine their understanding and build new knowledge [8]. In parallel, many campuses of higher education have begun exploring and developing ubiquitous computing options for teaching and learning. Millions of dollars have been expended updating labs and increasing their size and scope [9]. Further, several universities have undertaken more specific technology initiatives, providing (or requiring) laptops or PDAs to (of) students and some universities are even beginning to explore the potential uses of high volume storage devices, e.g., an Apple ipod, in the student community [18]. Yet, although these initiatives are enabling a larger exposure to technology by students in the higher education environment, the most compelling uses of the technologies are still not being enacted within the confines of the traditional classroom setting. The most pervasive use of technology in the classroom remains digital presentation using tools such as PowerPoint to display lecture slides that supplement and illustrate lecture content [4]. While digital slide shows do help organize class material and combine both visual and textbased information, they are largely constrained to a linear progression through lecture material, affording little flexibility or adaptability to in-time student needs. Computer science educators have recently begun investigating the use of Tablet PCs and digital ink for instructional purposes, and the 2004 ACM SIGCSE conference devoted an entire session to this topic [3][6]. Digital ink affords participants ability to take handwritten notes directly on the tablet and store a digital version of these notes for later retrieval. Inking systems can also record time, pressure, context, and other information for every stroke drawn, and reconstruct this information on demand. This process occurs for both the instructor and the student. For example, an instructor works through solving a mathematical problem in a lecture and digitally writes the process on their Tablet PC for display to the entire class. Meanwhile students receive the instructor s notes as they are created and can further annotate their versions of the lecture notes using a different ink color or pen size. This not only increases the richness of the notes and presentations made in classes, but also affords the opportunity to adjust static digital presentations in ways that are more responsive to student needs. In addition, the entire collection T2G-7

2 of notes (both the students and the instructor s versions) are archived for later access. Tablet PCs also expand classroom interaction by affording a greater range of tools for enhancing a static curricular structure by providing real time opportunities for formative assessment [19] and digital forms of summative assessment. Using a polling system, students can anonymously and immediately respond to an instructor's question during a class lecture. This information is then instantly consolidated and provided to the instructor as a check of student comprehension. When questioning and feedback is frequent and involves students actively reflecting on what they know and how they learn, and when assessment data are used to inform and adjust the course of instruction, formative assessment can produce large gains [7]. From a summative viewpoint, quizzes and tests can also be administered, collected, and graded electronically using the digital ink features of the Tablet PCs, thereby facilitating the process of assessing student learning without sacrificing the nature of feedback Finally, Tablet PCs can also increase collaboration and communication in small group exercises. Students can work together on an involved work-out problem, communicating visually. The provided system captures each student's unique contribution to such an activity as well as the overall group product. By using the Tablet PCs and wireless networking, the students participating in the group will not need time to move about the room, instead switching to another application window on the Tablet PC is all that is required. Additionally, the groups can rotate each time an activity occurred without students having to locate their group during the class period. These experiences can be configured to allow students to be anonymous while participating in the group. Students will not have to feel intimidated or annoyed by being matched with someone who they feel is more or less capable than they think they are. While there have been a number of studies that have attempted to look at the classroom learning potential of Tablet PC based systems, these projects have all limited their scope to examining a particular characteristic of the instructional interactions or environments. For example, [19] examines the use of class polling as a means to improve instruction, where as [4] focused on the contributions of digital ink. Where these multiple tools have been investigated, the Tablet PC were used in a computer lab setting, tying teaching to particular context and hindering the use of the system broadly across instructors, departments and colleges [6]. This paper presents research that seeks to innovate on these prior research studies by examining the use of Tablet PCs and the associated software systems in a natural classroom setting with mobile teaching units. This paper will present a collection of information about Tablet PCs, the tools that are available for use with these devices, the author s successes using Tablet PCs along with a portion of the tools presented and the author s long term research goals of having a 1:1 computer student ratio in a large traditional lecture setting. TABLET PCS Tablet PCs come in two varieties, slate models and convertibles. Examples of slate models include the Motion Computing M1400 [20] and the Electrovaya Scribbler SC 2200 [14] and are shown in Figure 1. Both weigh less than 4 pounds, have a stylus as the primary input device, and include a hard drive, wireless networking, and a variety of peripheral connection options (USB, firewire, etc.). Keyboards can be added to the device and optional accessories typically include a keyboard cover. But again the slate model is intended to use the stylus as the primary input device Convertible Tablet PCs, on the other hand, typically weigh more than 5 pounds, include a hard drive and an optical device, e.g., DVD- ROM/CDRW, an integrated keyboard, along with wireless networking and a variety of peripheral connection options (USB, firewire, etc.). The display typically swivels and rotates so the device can operate in either tablet or laptop modes. The Tablet PCs range in price from sub $1000, for some of the older models or in bulk purchases, to $3000 for the slate models with all of the possible accessories. A typical convertible can be configured and priced to a comparative laptop in many situations, e.g., Acer C300 [1], Averatec 3500 [5], or Element Computers Helium [15]. Examples of Tablet PCs (both slate models and convertible models) are shown in Figure 1. FIGURE 1 EXAMPLES OF TABLET PCS, MANUFACTURERS ARE, FROM TOP AND GOING CLOCKWISE, AVERATEC, ACER, MOTION COMPUTING, AND ELECTROVAYA. T2G-8

3 A low-cost alternative to Tablet PCs that allows digitalink to be placed into your existing computer laboratories is the Wacom Digitizers [25] that attach to a USB interface and provide a mouse and stylus as input devices. Both allow for digital ink and can be used like a normal pen. A disadvantage of these types of devices is that one s hand-eye coordination has to improve before one is comfortable writing on a device and having to look elsewhere to see what you have written. These devices come in a variety of sizes and start with a 4 x6 digitizing area that can be found for under $100. One can easily adapt an existing computer lab with these devices for the cost of a single Tablet PC. A more expensive alternative to adapt to existing computer labs is the Wacom Cintiq [26] that replaces your existing display. This device uses a stylus as input and allows for writing on what you are seeing. This device replaces the monitor and can be phased in gradually in existing computer labs. This device tends to be a little more expensive, about $2000 per device. CLASSROOM COMMUNICATION SYSTEM (CCS) Classroom Communication Systems (CCSs) have evolved from calculators that facilitate multiple-choice polling [12], to PDAs with access to web based polling systems [2] and now Tablet PCs with wireless connectivity that facilitate shared note taking and electronic assessment. The CCS provides a mechanism for formative handwritten feedback and collaboration in the natural classroom setting. The CCS enables in-class polls, and provides the ability to show which percentage answered a particular way and also showcase student examples, both good and bad, in real-time. Group exercises are easier to implement because students are not required to move around the room - they can collaborate through shared spaces in the CCS. Examples of CCSs include DyKnow Vision Suite [13] and Classroom Presenter [3]. Both of these tools provide, at a minimum, slide-show based note taking. Some of the features listed are also included, e.g., polling in DyKnow Vision, while others are part of the author s long term vision, e.g., shared group spaces. EXPERIENCES USING A TABLET PC The Tablet PC has been piloted in classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) for a number of semesters now. Because of funding limitations these pilots have been somewhat limited. Long-term goals involving a 1:1 student computer ratio will be discussed in a later section. In this section we discuss the benefits an instructor can obtain from a single Tablet PC that they use to complement many of the day-to-day activities that are already being performed, but are improved by using a Tablet PC. The first improvement is in the presentation of class notes. Whether you are accustomed to writing on a chalkboard, an overhead, or lecturing with pre-prepared slides, a Tablet PC with digital ink will improve your experience. First is the digital record of what you have completed in class. This includes annotations that you make to your pre-prepared slides, or your entire session if you write them out each period. In addition this actual transcript can be made available for your students so they can supplement their notes and see what actually happened in class if they happened to miss a class or a portion of a class. If a CCS is utilized, the archiving and access can be done automatically. If for complexity or cost considerations a CCS is not utilized, there are other alternatives for this process, one example is discussed below. The UIC pilot utilized Microsoft Journal to write all course notes during class. Examples and figures in a variety of formats can be imported or printed to a journal file and then annotated with digital ink. The file at the end of the class period was uploaded to a course web site where the students could retrieve the file. Students were required to have access to a machine that had the viewer, or a full version of Microsoft Journal installed. Most students downloaded the Journal Viewer and installed it with few problems. Overall students were very pleased to have an actual transcript of the class, including complex annotations on figures and diagrams. This process is not as elegant as the CCSs discussed and has some negatives. For example, students cannot playback the notes to follow the process of solving a problem, instead they only receive a completed problem and have to recall the process or attempt to recreate the process on their own. Again the point to notice is that students are able to pay attention to the solving of the problem during the class, make a few notes to remind themselves of the process, and the instructors notes will be available for them to download and make use of during homework completion and exam studying. Examples of the types of materials that can be prepared and utilized in the classroom can be found at the authors research lab website [22]. The second improvement is in the process of grading students work. Over the course of the pilot, at UIC, students prepared group project reports that detailed the work completed and showcased the functionality of the design. The instructor was able to annotate, again in digital ink, a variety of submitted document types and return them to the students with the feedback. The amount of time required to prepare the feedback was lessened, since comments were made directly on the report. As such, the time to return the work was shortened because the documents and the comments were digital and were easily transported and graded. The next improvement dealt with assessment and was an extension to the annotating of submitted reports. The UIC pilot utilized enough Tablet PCs to allow the graduate course to take their exams using Tablet PCs (again the long term goal is a 1:1 ratio and this borrowing was a small step towards this goal that will be discussed in a later section). Each student received a Tablet PC for the course period and the exam was preloaded on each Tablet as a Journal file. The students spent the period completing the exam inside Journal as if it were a traditional paper exam. The exams were then manually collected off of each Tablet and given to the instructor for grading. During the first exam this process meant ing them since the instructor was at FIE It was nice to have the exams and begin grading them before returning to campus. If the exams were paper based more time would have been T2G-9

4 required to return the graded exams to the students. Students already had exposure with Microsoft Journal Viewer from the course notes, so returning the exam in this format was not a problem. Electronic testing is not a new occurrence, but most testing systems restrict students in how they can prove their comprehension of material [10], whereas the Tablet PC approach is closer to the traditional paper and pencil methods that we all use. There were a few technical difficulties and some complaints about the process. The most common and easily resolved issue dealt with the screen size, in terms of actual writing area. The Tablets procured for the examination had only 10 screens, long term plans include using 12 screens and many convertible Tablet PCs have 14 screens. These larger screens were used, along with some smaller 10 screens, during the final and students preferred the larger writing areas these Tablet PCs provided. A few students had issues with battery life and intermittent rebooting. In the small case study we easily found enough outlets for charging and the reboots were not problematic. In a larger course, with 50 or more students we would expect more of an issue finding outlets and so making sure all of the Tablet PCs are fully charged during usage is a concern we are investigating. There was no problem with distractions during the exam, as students were more concerned about completing the exam. Students were provided the Tablet PCs during a single course period before the first exam so they had a chance to play with them a little and get comfortable writing on them. TABLAB The authors have been working to establish a laboratory that will examine the benefits of using Tablet PCs and digital ink in the traditional classroom [22]. One of the goals of the research is to develop the Tabmobile system. A Tabmobile consists of a mobile cart, wireless connectivity, approximately thirty Tablet PCs, and a small server that can be reconfigured to allow the type of network connectivity desired during the classroom activities. The wireless network allows the students flexibility in the seating and also in the use of small group activities during class. Developing a means of controlling the wireless networking dynamically to restrict students from accessing certain software running on the Tablets or sites on the Internet is an active area of research. Another area of research is how the Tablet PCs can improve student/instructor interaction in traditionally large lecture classes. It is thought that the Tabmobile system would enable students to pay more attention to the instructor, and allow students to create a richer set of course notes than is currently possible. In addition, using the polling of the CCS, enables the instructor to obtain more feedback about whether the students comprehend the topic being discussed. The Tabmobile system will also supplement the CCS by providing a mechanism for students to instant message other students and/or the instructor questions and comments. This will empower students to ask questions without disturbing the entire class and without the stress of peer pressure or a feeling of inadequacy. During the lecture the instructor can then customize the presentation to address the feedback received via polling and the instant messages. The Tabmobile system is not limited to formative assessments via polling. Summative assessment will be possible and encouraged. The system can be configured for test taking mode and the students will have limited applications that can be accessed and no wireless connectivity (if none is desired). In this way students will be able to complete their exams and have the system collect their results for grading. As one of the author s has experienced, having the exams in an electronic form allows for richer and quicker feedback to be made available to the students. Because students would have notes and exercises in an electronic format, it becomes practical to provide an online repository where students can retrieve class notes from home for review. Again, with the storage of ink strokes in as a timeline and not as a whole, it would be possible for a student to play back his or her own work-out problems in the same order that they were produced. Such access provides students a quick and easy means to review previous semester s material when appropriate for current courses. The creation of a mobile system allows the Tabmobile to be moved to different lecture halls to meet the needs of a variety of instructors. In addition, multiple Tabmobiles can be brought to a single room to handle larger classes. This does involve a scheduling process of reserving the systems that will probably become quite complex if/when the system becomes popular. It is envisioned that as the demand for the Tabmobile systems increases, additional units can be procured by the university or departments to handle rising needs. In the long term it is expected that a majority of students will have their own computer that they regularly bring to lecture and can be used for in-class activities. The Tabmobile system is thus a bridge to expose students to the benefits of Tablet PCs and digital ink so that they are exposed to technology and how it can benefit their academic careers. Some students have already purchased their own Tablet PCs based on experiences and discussions that have been had with the authors. As more students are exposed to the benefits it is expected that more will purchase a Tablet PCs (most likely a convertible model) instead of just a laptop. Another research area that will exploit the mobile nature of the Tabmobile system is using the system in K-12 education. One of the needs of the K-12 system is to educate instructors on how to effectively use technology during their day-to-day activities. By teaming with the departments on campus that are training the next generation of K-12 teachers, we can expose the college students to the technology before they become K-12 teachers. In addition, a process will be developed where student teachers can make use of the Tabmobile system during their student teaching visits at K-12 institutions. This will allow the student teachers to expose the existing K-12 teachers and students to the technology and some of its possible uses in the classroom. In addition, it will begin the creation of a digital library of K-12 teaching artifacts that can be used at the college level for training purposes. For example, a student teacher can create a worksheet on writing T2G-10

5 sentences that they intend to have the grammar students complete. Currently the student teacher has to create paper copies of the worksheet, disperse them to the grammar students, collect the results, grade them, scan some into the computer for use in their teaching portfolio, and leave results for the grammar school teacher. By making use of the Tabmobile system and its collection of tools, the student teacher can make a digital handout that is administered to the students via the Tablet PC. The results are then already electronic, and after stripping any identifying features from the document, can be used in their teaching portfolio. The materials can also be placed into a digital repository that allows college instructors to pull examples that can be used for teaching the next generation of K-12 instructors. It is anticipated that there would be classes and activities that would benefit from having a laptop in the lecture and not the digital ink capabilities. An example is in a programming course. In this case the Tablet PCs could be configured with a keyboard so that programming could occur during class. The instructor can make available code examples and ask the students to determine the problems with the code, or have them compile the code and interact with the result. A variety of activities would be made possible in-class that are typically relegated to out-of-class experiences because large enough computer labs don t exist. Another example would be in making use of existing simulators in a course [16], [21], [23], [24]. Since existing simulators are prevalent, the Tablet PCs would enable the class to move these typically out-of-class experiences into the lecture for a more hands-on approach to learning. A final research area the author s are pursuing is in the development of course specific software that can make use of the digital ink capabilities of the Tablet PC. One example of such a package is InkWire [17]. This package would be used in a digital logic course to allow students to draw their own circuits on the Tablet PC. Currently, software packages exist that allow students to draw circuits by using the mouse and a menuing system to choose the device that should be placed in the circuit, then changing tools to connect the devices with wires. The InkWire application enables a more intuitive approach to circuit creation by having students draw the gates and the wires and having the application recognize the wires and the gates. The InkWire application would interface with a traditional circuit simulation tool for testing of the circuits. This paper has presented research activities that are similar to research proposed. Some major differences between the existing research and the long term plans of the authors include making use of the technology in non-technical courses on campus and in the K-12 arena. In addition, the existing research has not emphasized the use of the technology at a 1:1 ratio in large lecture courses (more than 60 students). THE TABMOBILE SYSTEM The Tabmobile System is not a pure off the shelf entity, and requires some research to occur before a working system is possible. The authors are currently working to solve the connectivity configuration problem and determining the appropriate suite of software to include on the Tablet PCs. Many (most) campuses are deploying wireless networking on campus for their faculty and students to access. The solution for use in classrooms has typically been an on/off relationship. The instructor can leave the wireless on and allow students to connect to any sites they desire, or the instructor can disable the connection entirely. The current research is to be able to reconfigure the connectivity in realtime. Students should be restricted to certain sites (if any) during a short quiz, and then have unlimited access during the group exercise that follows. A survey of software that can be utilized by the Tabmobile system is currently being completed. The choice of software to include on the Tabmobile has been influenced by cost, scalability, and ease of use issues. Current forerunners for inclusion includes Microsoft Journal, a modified Conference Presenter, and software created at UIC for assessment dispersement and collection. DRAWBACKS OF TABLET PCS The paper has put a very positive spin on Tablet PCs and the opportunities they provide. The authors believe that the benefits Tablet PCs provide far outweigh any negatives that might exist. The authors are aware of some negatives and drawbacks associated with Tablet PCs, and any technology and its use in the classroom, and these are now presented. First is the obvious cost associated with the Tablet PCs. Many schools are implementing laptop initiatives (the states of Maine and Michigan and also several schools), and the authors expect to see results from these initiatives in the forthcoming years. Convertible Tablet PCs can easily be chosen instead of a pure laptop solution with a minor increase in cost. (The exact differential in cost is dependent on the exact model chose, deals with individual manufacturers and distributors, and the number of devices needed). Second is the distraction that the Tablet introduces into the classroom. Some preliminary research [6] has discussed that these distractions are no worse the than the student that reads the paper in class or the student that plays games on their cell phone. Once the benefits of using the device is experienced, the novelty and distraction will wane and productivity is expected to increase.. A complicated issue is the lack of battery life provided by some devices. If a student's battery dies during an assessment we can easily move the student closer to an outlet for charging. But if this occurs for multiple students (or all 150 students) during a final, we can only imagine the issues this will introduce. Of course this issue is equally likely when using a Tablet, a PDA, or any other electronic device. It is anticipated that battery technology will continue to improve, and some tablet manufacturers are advertising 8-hours of battery life from their devices [20]. SUMMARY This paper has introduced Tablet PCs to the reader and compared them to the traditional laptop computer. Details T2G-11

6 about the tools that are available to make use of digital ink and can be used in the traditional classroom have also been presented. The experiences of one of the authors in using Tablet PCs in the natural classroom have been summarized and the long-term research goals of the authors have also been presented. In summary, the research goals aim to address the needs of students and instructors by introducing ubiquitous computing, Tablet PCs, and digital ink to (1) provide more communication between instructors and students; (2) elicit more frequent and higher quality feedback on student progress; (3) introduce more frequent and varied classroom teaching styles and activities and (4) expose students in a variety of disciplines to the technology is that currently available. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors would like to thank the University of Illinois at Chicago, Center for Excellence in Teaching, for providing seed money for some of the research discussed here. REFERENCES [1] Acer Products & Services Tablet PCs, [2] Active Class: 19 [3] R. Anderson, R. Anderson, B. Simon, S. Wolfman, T. VanDeGrift, and K. Yasuhara, Experiences with a Tablet PC Based Lecture Presentation System in Computer Science Courses, Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, SIGCSE 2004, Norfolk Virginia, March [4] R. J. Anderson, C. Hoyer, S. Wolfman, and R. A. Anderson, Study of Digital Ink in Lecture Presentation, Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Vienna, Austria, 2004 [5] Averatec, [6] D. Berque, T. Bonebright, and M. Whitesell, Using Pen-Based Computers across the Computer Science Curriculum, Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, SIGCSE 2004, Norfolk Virginia, March [7] P. Black, and D. Wiliam, Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, London: King's College London, [8] J. Bransford, A. Brown, and R. Cocking (eds), How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, [9] D. Brown, and K. Petitto, The status of ubiquitous computing, EDUCAUSE, 2003, [10] K. Bushweller, Throw away the No. 2 pencils, here comes computerized testing, Electronic School, June [11] Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education, Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, Committee on Undergraduate Science Education, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, [12] Classtalk - The Classroom Communication System, [13] DyKnow, [14] Electrovaya Scribbler 2200, [15] Element Computer :: Linux + Hardware = Solution id=33 [16] Roland Ibbett and Frederic Mallet, Computer Architecture Simulation Applets for Use in Teaching, Frontiers in Education 2003, November [17] InkWire Home Page, [18] D. Keefe, and A. Zucker, Ubiquitous computing projects: A Brief history, Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium, SRI, 2003, [19] J. Roschelle, W. Penuel, and L. Abrahamson, Classroom Response and Communication Systems: Research Review and Theory, American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, [20] Motion Computing Tablet PC Products and Services, [21] Mythsim project info at sourceforge.net, [22] TabLab, [23] M. D. Theys and P. A. Troy, Lessons Learned from Teaching Computer Architecture to Computer Science Students, Frontiers in Education 2003, November [24] J. Vroustouris and M. D. Theys, MythSim: The Mythical Processor Simulator for Real Students, Frontiers in Education 2004, October [25] Wacom Graphire3 [26] Wacom Cintiq Interactive Pen Display T2G-12

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