David Jakes, who I admire greatly despite his poor taste in Chicago baseball teams, has come to the conclusion that he doesn’t like Tablet PCs. Why? Basically because he thinks they are nothing more than a glorified ink note taking technology. Much like he eschews my Cubbies for the White Sox, he misses the point with tablets. (The point with the Cubs, by the way, is that long suffering is a badge of honor and persistence…in fact, I hope the Cubs never win…no, really.) It’s not just about, as he implies, taking notes using digital ink. It’s about what you can do with those notes once you take them. And it’s also about engaging both teachers and students in ways that regular laptops can’t.

Dave says he would rather save the extra money and “use an overhead and a dime transparency.” Um, ok…and then what? Throw the transparency away? Make paper copies for the kids? Why not take the digital ink notes that you take on a tablet and publish them to a class resource page where the students can review them if they want? Or add to them? Or where you can pull them down and refer to them later? And he also says that he’d stick with paper and pencil instead of tablets to work through problems because “I get enough e-mail.” Well, if all the teacher is doing is asking kids to e-mail in the homework, that’s not a very imaginative teacher. Again, why couldn’t the student post those notes for others to see? Better yet, what about making a screencast of the process complete with ink and sharing that in a similar way. Why couldn’t they become a part of a searchable digital notebook? Last time I checked, paper isn’t searchable.

He says:

What this amounts to is taking a 21st Century tool and applying it to old school teaching, industrial age teaching, where information is transferred passively to even more passive learners….

With the limited uses he cites, he’s absolutely correct. But I’ve seen better. I’ll pull out a couple of results from the white paper we did at my (former) school that was based on the research of a doctoral candidate at Columbia Teachers College and our own internal research that was reviewed by <name drop>Michael Dell</name drop> as a part of Dell’s tablet decision making process. Thirty-three teachers participated in the pilot study, and 100% of them said that the tablet functionality was important to their practice and pedagogy. To quote from the study:

In survey and informal conversation, most teachers said that they would not have thought inking would be so important before they had an opportunity to test it in the classroom and see how powerful a tool it was for student learning. The inking, used in conjunction with the wireless projectors, provided a tool for focusing student attention, helping diverse learning styles, illustrating complex concepts, instantly responding to student questions and capturing a record of each class.

Our researcher found that the pilot teachers cited the following five themes almost universally when using the tablets:

  • Instantaneous capability in the classroom
  • Connecting to students
  • Teacher productivity anytime, anywhere
  • Organization
  • Teacher Empowerment

I look at what happened at my (former) school as incredibly powerful, and meets David’s test of extending learning both for teachers and students. I can tell you that I will never be without an ink enabled computer again as I use it every day to build both a private and in some cases online notebook of work.

Finally, David suggests that using  Google Notebook and del.icio.us and wikis and the like would serve them just fine. Maybe, if they can access all of that. And perhaps our experiences were unique. I have to say that our planning and execution of the pilot had complete buy in from the school community which is why everyone in the pilot and and the technology committee agreed to roll it out to the entire staff this fall (budget cuts willing.) But I think we’re just beginning to see the possibilities.

At any rate, don’t dismiss tablets just yet. The price point may still be high, but they have much to offer besides “just” taking notes.