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Catalyst for Change

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Bishop Hartley Becomes the First U.S. High School to Furnish an Entire Class With Tablet PCs

In a world and age dominated by technology, educators may find themselves, at times, ill-equipped to face the needs of an ever-modernizing, ever-mobile student body. Because our goal as educators is always excellence, we cannot afford a lack of foresight; we must always plan the next step and anticipate the next turn. As a pioneer in education technology, Bishop Hartley High School (www.cdeducation.org/ schools/bh), a Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio, has sought to embrace those changes with a revolutionary computer from Hewlett-Packard known as the Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 (www.hp.com/products/tabletpc).

In February 2003, Bishop Hartley became the first high school in the country to give an entire student class their own personal tablet PCs, which they could use during school hours or anytime, anyplace outside of school. The students were loaned 140 tablet PCs for the remainder of the school year; amazingly, every unit was returned intact and undamaged. While knowing this situation required substantial responsibility from the students, the technology staff at Bishop Hartley correctly predicted that the end result would justify the means.

Note-Taking Options

In countless ways, the tablet PCs have proven themselves as an indispensable asset both inside and outside of the classroom. Their mobility, versatility and convenient, user-friendly access have rendered standard computer labs obsolete. Quite literally, everything a student needs for a day's work lies within the confines of a laptop computer smaller and lighter than most textbooks.

For the eternally disorganized student, the tablet PC is the breaker of old habits and the initiator of new ones. By using a note-taking program such as the Microsoft Windows Journal, students can now not only type their notes into the computer, but also handwrite them on the screen using an electronic pen. Not to be confused with the capabilities of the Palm Pilot, the glass screen on the tablet PC is not pressure sensitized, so students can lay their hand on the screen as they write. The end result is that the user can take notes more quickly, comfortably and legibly. The tablet PC software also allows students to convert their handwriting to typewritten text, so those poorly organized students will never again have to look beyond their Windows Journal files to find lost notes.

If, for example, that dreaded final- exam week is here and students need to locate notes for a specific topic, the search process is simple. Students can quickly type in a keyword, and the tablet PC will cross-reference the typewritten request with their handwritten notes, finding the needed material in a matter of seconds. And in the near future, the tablet PC will also include fully downloadable textbooks for every senior course. In addition, in the unfortunate event that a student loses or destroys his computer, all Bishop Hartley tablet PC files are backed up on the school server, where they can be retrieved for future use.

Once a student has opened the Windows Journal, he or she is faced with a multitude of note-taking options, including assorted highlighters and writing utensils of varying colors and widths, symbols to use for marking important notes, cut-and-paste options, and multi- or single-page viewing options. This is one characteristic of the tablet that deserves recognition; not for its ingenuity, but for its practicality. The idea is simple yet true: students are inclined to take more notes when note-taking becomes more interesting. The flexibility of Windows Journal appeals to students and adds the element of excitement, which is lacking when you're stuck using a pen and paper.

The tablet PC "Snippet" program, for example, offers a refreshingly new approach to the old copy-and-paste method by allowing users who come across a Web site containing valuable information on a certain topic to circle the necessary text or images with the digital pen. Everything that falls within the circle will be transferred directly to the student's tablet PC Windows Journal notes without a single change. The tablet PC can also record dictated words and convert them to typewritten text, so a first draft of a paper, a brainstorm, an outline or an e-mail can all be spoken rather than written.

Equal Opportunities

Each year, high school staffs nationwide continue their efforts to provide equal opportunities to all students. In this seemingly uphill battle, the odds against them can be disheartening. For example, when a student misses class, d'es he or she really receive the same quality lecture when asking the teacher what was missed. Will those students who have hearing and visual difficulties choose to sit closer to the teacher? With such questions in mind, teachers at Bishop Hartley have used the tablet PC to bring the lecture to the students' fingertips and confront the problem at its source. Essentially, every desk becomes a front-row seat once each student has his or her own personal tablet PC.

In coordination with a Bishop Hartley Internet program known as "Homework Online," the tablet provides every student with Internet access to all notes, presentations and assignments that a particular teacher has posted on the Web site. So, when students miss a lecture, they can simply follow the link to that day's notes to obtain an on-screen version of what was missed. More importantly, students can actually view those files on their computers while learning about them for the first time. And for those hearing-impaired students, teachers can also record and attach dictated messages that students can listen to. So, not only d'es the tablet PC compensate for the disadvantages of some students, but it also enables all students to spend more time looking at notes or hearing the directions for a second, third or fourth time.

Groans of frustration can often be heard from students whose teacher moves too quickly through a PowerPoint presentation. With the tablet PC, however, this common method of instruction is taken to a new level. Students are now able to annotate each slide on their tablet PCs, copy material from the slide to their tablet notes and even control the speed at which the slides progress. Imagine how this option benefits students who have difficulty focusing in the classroom. At their own discretion, free of distraction, these students can take the time appropriate for their individual needs to learn any new material.

A Study Partner

Last year, senior government teacher Curt Hansen led students in a simulated government program based out of the University of Michigan, which provided them with an opportunity to politically interact with students worldwide via their tablet PCs. "The tablet PCs were absolutely vital to the project's success," says Hansen. "We really needed computers with good mobility and Internet access; the tablets provided both."

However, government is not the only academic department to benefit from the tablet's innovative characteristics. In past years, computers have been inadequate as note-taking assistants in math and science because of their inability to recognize functions and equations. In a class where formulas are the basis of finding answers to all problems, what is the advantage of using a computer that lacks the keys to express them? While it could be argued that most computers possess a sufficient list of symbols to accommodate math and science classes, one crucial flaw remains: these symbols can only be expressed through a time-consuming, multikey sequence. The idea behind the tablet is that it allows students to learn more easily and more equally.

But, the idea of constantly using multikey sequences is frustrating for many students, and if the necessary symbol d'esn't exist on their computer, it is altogether impossible. The tablet PC eliminates both of these problems through its ability to record digitally handwritten notes. By using the Windows Journal, students can now handwrite any formula quickly and easily; no longer having to rely on a limited selection of symbols. Aside from this option, many tablets also contain virtual Texas Instruments' TI-89 calculators for added assistance.

In addition, the tablet has proved its originality and effectiveness within the language department - this time as a computerized study assistant. While many of its applications are recognized for their assistance within the classroom, those programs used outside of the classroom are no less impressive. The tablet PC makes it possible for students to assess themselves in the event that there is no one else who can do it for them. For a student without a study partner, preparing for tests can be extremely difficult.

If, for example, students need to practice for a spelling bee, they must first hear the word dictated. If students need to practice pronunciation of certain foreign-language terms, they first need to hear them correctly pronounced. With the tablet PC, this concern no longer persists, because now students can select a link that will play their teacher's recorded voice speaking the words. And for students practicing for a spelling bee, the tablet has the ability to tell them when they're wrong. For vocabulary practice, a teacher can even type words with specific definitions and record them online. The students can then use the same type of self-assessing program to answer a series of vocabulary questions, which will have the definitions cross-referenced with those of the teacher. Again, the tablet will grade the students' answers, fulfilling its role as a study partner.

Endless Possibilities

With these types of advantages, it is important that usage of the tablet PC is not only restricted to school hours. Whereas other students may have to wait for the library to open or school to begin, owners of a tablet enjoy anytime, anywhere access to the resources it has to offer. Because of the tablet's wireless Internet connection, students and teachers can also access the Web from outside of the school within a certain proximity. The students can even connect the tablet PC to an Internet line at home, which is especially valuable for students whose study time d'esn't always fall into a regular schedule, such as those involved in extracurricular events or those with part-time jobs.

Just as the tablet PC has realized a more fulfilling education for the Bishop Hartley seniors, it would be an injustice not to mention the added convenience and quality it has brought to the teaching field as well. Imagine, for instance, that instead of carrying home piles of tests to sort through and grade, teachers could simply bring home their lightweight tablets and grade students' tests in the form of computer files. Not only could teachers grade the tests, but they could also create backup copies of those tests or assignments for future reference. The possibilities of the tablet PC have also enabled teachers to add spoken critiques and comments to students' work, providing a more personal and detailed approach to grading that would not have otherwise been possible.

Although the tablet PC has already become the catalyst for change at Bishop Hartley, we are reminded that its full potential within the educational world is far from realized. As we pave the road for educational technology, we must do so with our sights set upon improving the students' learning experience. This is the vision of Bishop Hartley High School, and the tablet PC has helped change that vision - one school day at a time - into a reality.

For more information on the Diocese of Columbus Department of Education's tablet PC technology initiative, visit www.tabletpctalk.com/reviews/everydesk.shtml.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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