May 28-June 10, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 10
Back Issues
Finals Weekend 2004
Miksad to leave deanship
Wadley named 2004 inventor of the year
Headlines @ U.Va.
General Assembly roundup
Smackdown your vote
College strikes a high-tech deal with Microsoft and Thomson Learning
A Childhood Dream Come True
A Day in the Life
University’s busiest gym to debut new addition
The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want
Ring CMC telethon phones for 20th year
Museum having 30th birthday party
April 23-May 27, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 8
College strikes a high-tech deal with Microsoft and Thomson Learning
Tablet PCs and digital course materials will make paper and pen obsolete — and improve student learning — thanks to support of IT grants
This fall, thanks to U.Va.’s groundbreaking partnership with Microsoft and Thomson Learning, Tablet PCs like the one shown here will give students access to extra tools and resources, integrated with instructional materials, to help them learn complex subject matter more effectively.

By Kathleen D. Valenzi

Next fall, 400 biochemistry, psychology and statistics students in the College of Arts & Sciences will come to class without their customary notebooks, pens and highlighters.

Instead, they will be toting Tablet PCs in their backpacks, thanks to a groundbreaking collaboration between Microsoft Corp., Thomson Learning and U.Va. The Tablet PCs will be loaded with Microsoft computing software and with Thomson digital course content, the combination of which is expected to improve student understanding and retention of subject matter, potentially increase faculty productivity based on an easier integration of technology into instruction, and give each of the collaborators a better understanding of how digital course materials and instructional tools can be designed effectively.

For the uninitiated, Tablet PCs are the next generation in a long line of notebook-sized personal computers. These fully functional computers use the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, which offers new capabilities that let you create, store and transmit handwritten notes and voice input. The handwritten notes and voice input can also be converted into text for use in other applications.

In addition, the Tablet PCs used at U.Va. will be loaded with Microsoft OneNote software and with Thomson-developed digital learning applications. Students can use OneNote and the Tablet PC’s stylus to draw, make notes or doodle directly on whatever page happens to be on the computer screen, be it a blank sheet of “paper,” or an animated model of a chemical reaction that has been embedded in a PowerPoint slide.

Tablet PC keeps injured student’s studies on track

Last summer, after Catherine Neale injured her right wrist for the third time in six years — this time while surfing in South Carolina — she resisted visiting the doctor. She hoped it was just a sprain, perhaps dreading how another surgery might affect her second year of studies at U.Va.
She wasn’t that lucky. In October, she underwent an operation that left her dominant wrist out of commission for six weeks and of limited use for another three months.

A decade ago, such a predicament might have meant a major setback in Neale’s studies. How could a history and American studies major survive academically without being able to take notes, type papers and write exams?

Then, during a visit to her physical therapist, she saw him using a Tablet PC. He showed her how it worked — particularly, how it could translate her left-handed scrawl and even her voice into neatly typed text. She bought one from Cavalier Computers, and it soon became her constant companion.

The Tablet enabled her to take notes left-handed, and dictate papers and even her final exams (which her professors allowed her to take outside of class). She became instantly more popular with her friends, who found that she could e-mail them legible notes from classes they missed.

Plus, “the combination of the internal wireless card and the well-connected campus allow me to access the Internet just about anywhere on Grounds,” including all of her classrooms, she said.

The Tablet has become indispensable. “Even though my hand is now essentially healed, I don’t use anything else for a computer,” Neale said. “I toss my Tablet into my backpack, and it comes with me to class every day.”

— Dan Heuchert

According to chemistry professor Charles M. Grisham, chief technology officer for the College, this handwriting feature is especially important because research has shown that students who write notes and sketch diagrams by hand actually learn better.

“Over the last 20 to 30 years of using computing technology, we’ve gotten away from using our hands to record information,” Grisham said. “And yet, there’s something about the way the hand and mind work together that allows students to internalize difficult information better when they record it in their own handwriting.”

Tablet PCs will allow students to access online exercises and simulations in the classroom and to embed things — for example, statistical models — into their lecture notes. With the PCs, students will also be able to collaborate with each other and with their instructors during class and afterwards, in real time, from both wired and wireless environments anywhere on or off Grounds.

Won’t this technology tempt students to surf the Web and instant message one another during class? “Yes, and that’s a good thing. I hope to encourage it,” Grisham said. “I want my students to look up something on the Web that may be relevant, or use IM to ask each other for help and tutor each other as the class is going on.”

Edward L. Ayers, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and an early adapter of instructional technologies in his courses on the Civil War, is especially excited by the potential inherent in this collaboration.

“One of the things I’ve been interested in doing as dean is [to] make the College known as a real innovator in the use of information technology in higher education,” Ayers said. “While we’ve built all kinds of great IT tools in the library for disseminating information, we haven’t tried to see what we can do in the classroom before now. These Tablet PCs offer a new kind of tool that is well suited for classroom use.”

The pilot project, which begins this fall, may get an earlier preview, Grisham said. Once a Tablet PC supplier is selected, the collaborators hope to test drive the computers in a biochemistry course being taught this summer by biology professor Reginald H. Garrett. The PCs will be loaded with an online media package developed by Thomson to accompany a textbook co-written by Garrett and Grisham. The media package includes hundreds of text figures and tables, and animations and topic-specific PowerPoint presentations.

In the fall, Grisham will use the same media package in his biochemistry class, while other Thomson-developed course materials and Tablet PCs will be used by students in associate professor Jeffrey J. Holt’s statistics course and in professor Dennis R. Proffitt’s cognitive psychology course.

Microsoft and Thomson are bearing the cost of the project, which will last at least two semesters, Ayers said. In the long-term, he added, the library of digital course material will be expanded to include the College’s humanities courses.


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