Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education
Volume 5 Number 1
Printed in the U.S.A.
Using the Tablet PC for Instruction
T. Grandon Gill
College of Business Administration, University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Avenue,
CIS1040, Tampa, FL 33620-7800, e-mail: email@example.com
In late 2002 the first Tablet PCs were unveiled. The unique feature of these PCs
was that they allowed the user to write on the screen with a stylus in addition to
using a mouse. Since their introduction reviews of Tablet PCs have been mixed
(Bishop, 2003). Many reviewers and users have questioned whether the novel
features provided by the technology are really useful enough to justify the higher
benefits of the Tablet PC for instructors are analyzed.
WHAT IS A TABLET PC?
as well as allowing for an attached keyboard and mouse. The underlying operat-
ing system, MS Windows XP Professional for Tablet PC, will run any standard
Windows software. It also features a number of built-in applications, such as hand-
writing and voice recognition, that offer even more input flexibility. Included with
the operating system is MS Journal, an application that supports drawing and other
digital ink-based activities. Furthermore, a number of applications—most notably
MS Office 2003—come with embedded support for ink-based annotations.
Tablet PCs come in three distinct form factors, summarized in Table 1. Sup-
port for wireless networking (802.11b) is part of the Tablet standard, so all come
equipped with a built-in wireless adapter, as well as a standard network adapter.
that are impractical on the desktop. The ability to use the stylus to draw makes it a
preferred stylus-based input (using a digitizing tablet) to the traditional mouse. Its
documents, because recent versions of MS Office products (e.g., MS Word 2003)
allow digital ink to be written over text. Ink-to-text conversion, available in all
Tablet-enabled applications, also makes it possible to search handwritten content
just as if it were text. Indeed, a new MS Office product—OneNote—has been
developed specifically to take advantage of the Tablet’s capabilities for moving
between handwriting and text in order to keep collections of handwritten notes
Table 1: Tablet PC form factors.
A pure tablet, with no keyboard
Least suitable for general use
Small form factor
Require docking station or external
External keyboards may be attached,
Longest battery life
devices for desktop use
or a docking station can be used
Processors tend to be slow
No boilt-in CD drive
Many types of ports not available
A tablet that can be transformed to a
Best compromise: both an adequate
Heavier than slate
laptop by rotating the screen
slate and an adequate laptop
Processors tend to be slow
Form factor comparable to
Most susceptible to mechanical failure
many high-end notebooks
No built-in CD drive in many models
Many types of ports not available
Battery life can be problematic
A pure laptop that supports
Least expensive, can be used as
writing on the screen (a retractable
general, purpose PC
Not as suitable for tablet apps
stand is provided to hold the display at
Processor comparable to typical laptop
that benefit from portrait mode
an appropriate angle during writing)
More ports, built-in drives
Stand makes it optimal for lectures
Many of the Tablet’s unique capabilities make it highly suitable for
applications, a number of which hold particular promise for distance learning.
RAPID MULTIMEDIA DEVELOPMENT
The Tablet PC can be a boon to multimedia content development. The technology
is particularly powerful when combined with an animated screen capture soft-
ware, such as the Camtasia Recorder component of Camtasia Studio (details at
http://www.techsmith.com). Since I began using the Tablet (in mid-2003), I have
created over 100 hours of classroom content using the following approach:
rThe original content is developed in a suitable application, such as Power-
long as it has the ability to print.
rThe content is printed to MS Journal. This procedure is identical to that
note (.jnt) file.
rAn animated capture window is set up (e.g., using Camtasia Recorder) in
Point, MS Word, or WordPerfect. The specific source does not matter, as
of printing to Adobe Acrobat (or to a fax modem), but produces a Journal
a suitable area of the MS Journal document that was created by printing.
rThe instructor lectures into a microphone, annotating, or drawing (as ap-
as a multimedia file.
When the captured file is loaded into a media player (e.g., Windows Media Player
or Real Player), the instructor’s voice and all the activities that occurred while he
It should be added, in this context, that a similar process can be performed on a
lies in the range of annotations that are easily added in the Tablet. Indeed, a blank
Journal page can be used exactly like a Whiteboard, as suggested by Figure 1.
Another area where the Tablet PC outperforms its desktop and laptop counterparts
is in grading. A standing joke in the information systems field is that every time we
create a new tool to move us toward the paperless office (e.g., graphic displays),
we create another (e.g., laser printers) that ends up generating more paper. The
Tablet, however, can dramatically reduce the need for paper as a result of three
characteristics (applicable primarily to slates and convertibles):
rIts portrait mode of display is far better suited for display electronic pa-
itate reading, MS Word has introduced a new display mode—“Reading
rThe pen and ink capability provided by MS Word 2003 makes writing
per than a monitor, which displays in landscape mode. To further facil-
comments on a Word document as easy as scribbling them on hard copy.
Figure 1: Demonstration of MS Journal.
In addition, the stylus can be turned upside down and used like an eraser,
allowing for complete elimination of markings that later need to be re-
tracted. This capability frequently proves to be valuable when grading
ing sometimes surface later in the document. Longer comments can also
be added using voice recognition. Older versions of MS Word can view
inked comments created with the Tablet, meaning students can read them
when they are returned without special software. Graded work can also be
printed to Journal or Acrobat when it is to be returned.
rA Tablet PC can easily be used in many positions and locations, just like a
sitting at a desk in front of a monitor. Furthermore, the wireless adapter
built into all Tablets makes it possible to download and return assignments
from anywhere with an accessible wireless network.
Using a Tablet can also reduce the risk of misplaced assignments, as the instructor
can retain electronic copy as long as needed.
As an experiment, in fall 2003 I allowed my students in one graduate course
to submit project assignments (typically over 10 pages in length) electronically or
in printed form. The electronic submissions proved so much easier to grade that,
in spring semester 2004, the rule was changed so that all submissions had to be
of note is that the class was not a distance-learning class, so the choice was made
entirely based on the instructor’s convenience.
The same capabilities that make a Tablet PC a superb platform for multimedia
development (e.g., the ability to draw and write) can also be used in lecturing. The
Tablet, however, offers three advantages over a chalkboard or whiteboard: (1) it is
easier to write on and erase, (2) lecture slides can be annotated as the instructor
lectures, and (3) all Tablet contents can be saved, should students want copies.
In addition, applications such as Camtasia Recorder can be used to stream screen
content over the Internet, much like a Web cam.
Unexpectedly, the Tablet-enabled laptop proves to be the best of the three
form factors for ease of use while lecturing. The retractable stand holds the display
to bring an external USB keyboard.
activities—peer to peer, distance learning, and in the classroom. One peer-to-peer
collaboration capability, as an example, was introduced in MS OneNote 2003 Ser-
vice Pack 1 (July 27, 2004). It allows users to create an ad hoc network where they
can share and edit notes synchronously. This feature offers considerable promise
for facilitating small-group discussions and assignment preparation—in situations
where students have access to Tablet PC technology.
In the distance-learning context, Tablet PCs offer unparalleled flexibility in
sessions where a shared whiteboard is used. For example, I have experimented
with conducting synchronous case discussions using Elluminate (a synchronous
voice communication tool). In this context, the Tablet PC was used to organize
the discussion on the shared whiteboard (see Figure 2) in the same way that a
was indicated by the fact that 17 of 19 students (surveyed anonymously) voted to
conduct a second online class later in the semester and the same 17 agreed the
online session provided an effective learning environment (11 strongly agreed, 6
When students (as well as the instructor) have access to the technology,
room itself. The Classroom Presenter, developed at the University of Washington
(Simon, Anderson, Hoyer, & Su, 2004), provides the lecturer with all the previ-
ously described “Lecture” capabilities and adds functionality allowing students to
write their own inked annotations and send them to the instructor in real time. The
instructor then can decide to display (or not display) these on the main projection
screen. In using the tool in teaching programming classes, instructors have found
Figure 2: Online case discussion whiteboard (using Elluminate).
Note: Names and identifying information obscured.
particular benefits in conducting complex/rich problem-solving exercises (where
illustrations or diagrams often clarify text) and in the initiation of spontaneous
classroom activities. The ability to control the anonymity of student responses
was also noted as being useful in encouraging participation from shy students.
Ubiquitous Presenter, a tool which extends the capabilities to non-Tablet student
participants using a browser interface (Wilkerson, Griswold, & Simon, 2005), has
also been developed.
it was designed primarily to meet the needs of academics? Whatever the reason,
after having used a Tablet for 2 years, I would never voluntarily go back to a
standard desktop or laptop. Creating multimedia content, grading, and lecturing
have all become easier since I acquired the first of my Tablets. Even more abstract
tasks, such as conceptualizing research and course design have been enhanced.
Rather than using a pad of paper and sketching out thoughts, those thoughts are
now written in OneNote where—unlike a pad—I can erase them cleanly, move
them around to reorganize them, add extra lines to the middle of a page when I
discover I forgot something, and convert the thoughts to text for pasting into other
Table 2: Tablet PC effectiveness, rated by task.
Drawing capability and MS Journal are very useful. Slate
can move to “better” ranking with docking station.
MS Office 2003 allows writing (and erasing comments).
Used in portrait mode, away from the desk, electronic
grading easier than paper.
Ability to draw and save screen, available in MS Office
2003 and Acrobat, turns PC into whiteboard.
Tablet-enabled laptop most suitable because keyboard is
available while drawing. External keyboards can be used
for other form factors.
Journal and OneNote provide all the benefits of a pad of
paper, while also offering clean erasing and organization.
Weaknesses of Tablet-enabled laptop are its lack of
portrait mode and a form factor best suited to a desk.
Note taking in meetings
Similar to conceptualizing, except power chord tends to be
needed, unless meetings are short. Slate models tend toboast slightly longer battery life.
Built-in wireless and slate form factor make email and Web
browsing easy to do from anywhere (chair, couch, table).
Convertible offers advantage of being able to access
keyboard when longer text must be entered.
wireless not available
Advantages of slate form factor reduced when network
cable must also be connected.
General PC tasks (e.g.,
Tablets tend to be less powerful and require a lot more
external devices be connected. They also tend to operateat lower screen resolutions. Tablet-enabled laptops, incontrast, are pretty comparable.
190 Download full-text
applications or emailing to colleagues. I can also find the notes that I sketched
out a few months ago—something I could never do when pads of paper were my
medium of choice.
My assessments relating to the suitability of the different Tablet form factors
for various academic tasks are summarized in Table 2, based upon my experiences
using a Toshiba 3500 (convertible) and an Acer 250 PE (Tablet-enabled laptop) for
each of the described tasks.
Bishop, T. (2003, November 20). Take note: Gates may be disappointed by Tablet
PC’s reception. Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter.
Shaw, K. (2005). Will the Tablet PC ever become mainstream? Network World.
fsrc=rss-wireless on 7/14/05, accessed June 14, 2005.
Simon, B., Anderson, R., Hoyer, C., & Su, J. (2004). Preliminary experiences with
a Tablet PC based system to support active learning in computer science
courses. ITICSE’04, June 28–30, 2004, Leeds, UK.
Wilkerson, M., Griswold, W. G., & Simon, B. (2005). Ubiquitous Presenter:
Increasing student access and control in a digital lecturing environment.
SIGCSE’05, February 23–27, 2005, St. Louis, MO.
T. Grandon Gill is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida. He
received his MBA and DBA from Harvard Business School. He has numerous
His research interests are currently focused on distance learning, organizational
learning, and management information systems education. His publications in-
clude articles in MIS Quarterly, IRMJ, Data Base, Accounting, Management and
Information Technologies, and Education and Information Technologies.