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Tablet PCs Getting Campus Tryouts

Tablet PCs Getting Campus Tryouts
Mobile computing device said to launch new era in personal computing

When Microsoft chairman Bill Gates presided over the introduction of the Tablet PC and its Microsoft operating system in 2002, he declared the mobile computing device, which features a touchpad screen that recognizes handwriting, to be launching a new era in personal computing. Citing sluggish sales by the computer hardware vendors who make the devices, industry observers say Tablet PCs haven’t quite lived up to the hype of their early days. Only 500,000 were sold from the November 2002 debut through the end of 2003, while some 39.5 million laptops were sold in 2003. Tablet PCs are expected to reach up to 1 million units shipped in 2004, according to market researcher International Data Corp.
This fall, the Tablet PC gets an industry-backed tryout at the University of Virginia (UVA), an effort that aims to help stimulate the market for the mobile notebooks among students and faculty members. About 425 students in biochemistry, psychology and statistics courses will receive a new, free Tablet PC, courtesy of Microsoft and Thomson Learning, a software and publishing firm based in Stamford, Conn. The pilot project, involving UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, will produce enhanced digital content and learning applications for Tablet PCs. The pilot will run for at least two semesters starting fall 2004.
Although a number of colleges and universities have begun student and faculty projects that use Tablet PCs, the UVA pilot will represent the largest effort to date in higher education that includes Microsoft backing. Tablet PCs typically can be purchased retail for about $2,000. “In this instance, with the help of Microsoft and Thomson Learning, students will have immediate access to course content whether in the classroom, lab, dorm room or other locations on campus,” said Dr. Edward L. Ayers, dean of arts and sciences at UVA.
As a compact, portable device, the Tablet PC, which is about the size of a typical spiral notebook, is said to add a new dimension to the classroom. The Tablet PC allows students to scrawl notes and draw diagrams onto the screen with the touch of a pen-like stylus. The Tablet PC differs from a conventional laptop computer in that it gives users the power to incorporate handwriting into the personal computing experience. While professors lecture or explain subject matter, students are able to use the Tablet PCs to write lecture notes and save them electronically. They are also able to access online exercises and simulations in the classroom; and could develop three-dimensional chemical structures and statistical models, and embed them into their lecture notes.
A digital instructional solution for a course will be developed by Thomson Learning, in cooperation with school faculty and Microsoft, and delivered to students using Tablet PCs running Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software. Students will be able to collaborate with each other and communicate digitally with their instructor in real time on campus and in wireless classrooms. Expected outcomes of the project are three-fold: improved student learning, enhanced faculty productivity based on easier integration of technology into instruction, and a better understanding of how digital materials can be designed effectively, according to officials.
“This program is part of our ongoing effort to develop new learning solutions to meet the evolving needs of students and faculty. In this project, the digital learning environment will move to center stage, with the textbook playing a complementary supporting role. Students will learn by doing through simulations and interactive exercises, creating a more compelling learning experience,” said Ronald Dunn, CEO, Thomson Learning, Academic Group.
“Innovation demands collaboration, and the cutting-edge vision of the UVA faculty combined with Thomson content and Microsoft technology is a pioneering example that can blaze a trail for other institutions,” said Linda Zecher, vice president of U.S. Public Sector for Microsoft.
 A number of schools, such as MIT, the University of Texas at Austin and Bentley College, have already experimented with Tablet PCs within the classroom. In each project, the tablets have been distributed at no cost to students and faculty under agreements with Microsoft and other tablet vendors. Students and professors in programs ranging from design and engineering at MIT, and community planning at the University of Texas, develop their ideas through sketches and group discussions.
In addition, in an initiative titled “Future Professors Pilot Project,” Microsoft supplied 12 doctoral candidates from three different universities in the spring of 2003 with Tablet PCs and software “to develop innovative educational models built on technology,” according to the company. The company keeps track of the Tablet PC use as the candidates work on their Ph.Ds. 

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