Tablet PC stuff

Aug 12, 2006

Miles Berry

I’m rather fond of my Tecra M4 tablet, which might not have been the fastest machine around at the time, but I certainly came to value the pen interface for teaching when used with an LCD projector – much, much better being able to work at the normal scale and look at the class whilst teaching than working on an interactive board with my back to the class; I think my pupils also found it easier coming up to show their work at this scale, and with wifi projector connections one could have lots of fun passing the machine around the class, I guess. Whilst I’m sure that for most home/business use a proper laptop is going to be far better value, I can’t figure out why these haven’t caught on more in the schools sector, where you get at least as good functionality as from an interactive whiteboard, with more portability and less cost. There’s a fairly interesting report on the Becta site about some of the ways schools have been using them, and another onsome of the research backgroundWill Richardson’s thoughts are, as ever, worth reading.

Smart’s Notebook software is pretty good (as, from what little I’ve seen is Promethean’s Flipchart), but I don’t know if you can legally use a copy on a tablet if you’re not also using a Smartboard, which you don’t much need if you’ve got the tablet. I’m becoming happier with a few of the alternatives, M$’s Onenote, which cam bundled with the tablet, is pretty good for notetaking, and would work well for board work if one was working mainly with text and internet clippings. I’m very impressed by the open source inkscape used with the tablet – drag and drop for graphics at least onto the workspace, and a lovely calligraphy style pen. For quick stuff, inkyboard is nice and can run as a semi-transparent overlay for other applications, which is jolly useful. The pencil annotation stuff in the full version of Acrobat would also be useful if it wasn’t quite so cumbersome and quirky.

M$’s Physics Illustrator is good fun (and a free download), and I likePowerPaint too (also free from M$). For maths teaching, dynamic geometry software really comes into its own with this sort of interface, which I think makes it much quicker, and more intuitive, to construct diagrams this way, and good as Geometer’s Sketchpad is, I’m not sure that it’s worth the outlay when there’s great open source code like GeoGebra around, which also handles algebra, and can, like Sketchpad allow you to export interactive diagrams into Moodle (or, if anyone used one ;-), another VLE).

A couple of other applications have caught my eye over the last few weeks:Leon Cych mentioned at the Moot the wiki, which explores lots of ways of using screencasts to enhance maths teaching; this builds on the work I’ve been doing over the last year, recording the introductory phase of the lesson via board/tablet and the Blueberry Flashback screen-recorder (although I see wink now has audio support too) and then uploading into Moodle. Mathcasts also mentions the idea of getting pupils to record their own work in just the same way, so that they can explain ideas to their peers or younger pupils.

The other idea was the whole shared white-boarding thing that got mentioned briefly at the moot, and has come up again in a thread on best practice in maths teaching – of particular interest is a freeware plug-in to skype for shared white-boarding, although the functionality looks limited at the moment, this is still quite an interesting idea, and a quick google shows some interesting alternatives for more general desktop sharing via skype, such as unyte which will only be free for 1-1 use, but that would still work OK for tutoring or conferencing between two classrooms.