Teaching with Tablet PCs: demonstration summary

Margo Moore demonstrated her techniques for using a Tablet PC and PowerPoint to deliver lectures that engage students and foster notetaking.

THE TECHNOLOGY

Margo uses a Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC;  an older model (2005) that is maintained as a teaching resource for the Department of Biological Sciences.  The Tablet PC screen turns around and creates a ‘notepad’ for a stylus.  Different pen styles are selected (from icons in lower left of the screen) that can draw, highlight, or add arrows in ‘real time’ to a PowerPoint presentation.  The additions (annotations) are saved as small picture files, allowing the instructor to produce annotated slides and save as a new file.  Media formats such as embedded videos, hyperlinks, or streamed YouTube videos are fully compatible with this approach.   Powerpoint has this annotation tool available in non-Tablet systems, but it is generally easier to write/draw clearly with a stylus directly on the screen rather than a mouse or finger pad.

THE APPROACH

Margo creates PowerPoint slides in which many key points and terms are missing or undefined.  The lecture framework is distributed to students before class.  As she lectures, she writes or draws in the blank spaces to fill in content.  Margo finds the red pen color to show up well and contrast with the typical black text.   Students take their own notes on the un-annotated versions of the slides.  Margo does not distribute annotated versions of the slides as this encourages class attendance and note taking.

THE ADVANTAGES

PowerPoint lectures run the risk of becoming passive, and overwhelming students with large amounts of content. The Tablet PC approach slows down the pace of the lecture, decreases the amount of information that is being delivered, and encourages real time notetaking by the student. This creates an active learning environment and allows the student to absorb more material in class.  Typically, Margo uses 7 – 10 slides in a 50 minute lecture.  When she decides to supplement the lectures with additional material, she assigns mini-research assignments, think and learn questions, or textbook readings.  These are not marked, but are examinable.

THE DISADVANTAGES

- The current software platform only works with PowerPoint and not with word, or PDF files.

- Occasional technical glitches (e.g. switching off pen mode).

- Mac to PC compatibility issues; although these might be resolved with newer software packages.  Part of problem lies in  images or videos that do not transfer seamlessly from Mac to PC.

-Deliver less material (this may also be seen as an advantage).

-File size of annotated Powerpoint slides increases because of added graphics.  Though it can probably be compressed as well, by converting to PDF file format, for example.

EXAMPLE

Margo uses this approach to describe classical breakthrough experiments that support the germ theory of disease.  As shown in the top of Figure 1, the experimental details and outcomes are left blank. These are filled-in during the lecture (Figure 1, bottom).  Figure 2 is from M.Lechner trying it out with a mouse on a non-Tablet PC.  Note how the writing looks like a 5yr old!

Figure 1: Top, example of an un-annotated slide describing one of Louis Pasteur's experiments. Bottom, annotated version of the same slide.

an example of an annotated slide