A few weeks ago I presented again at our school’s Computer Information Night(s) – annual nights where parents (and some students) come along to learn about the machine that will be purchased the following year, the financing, etc. Our school is a 1:1 school, so each student in year 5 (~10 years old+) and above has their own tablet. As a student, I presented on why we actually use tablets, focusing on Years 5 to 12, and did a few OneNote demos.

PowerPoint: https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?cid=A45FE702DE180B23&resid=A45FE702DE180B23!7420
OneNote Demos: https://skydrive.live.com/edit.aspx/Public/Demo?cid=a45fe702de180b23

Having used my tablet (almost) exclusively for the past two and a half years, I felt that I needed to revisit some of the other technologies available for education.

I started off with paper, which because of its sheer versatility will likely be with us for a long time to come (that is until every surface becomes a ‘screen’ as in Microsoft’s Future Vision video). Being cheap, light, and everywhere, it’s great for quickly jotting something down, demonstrating something, writing short notes, and the list goes on, but that’s about the only area where it comes out as the best – it’s messy (erasers don’t work 100%, you’re limited to a finite surface, you can’t easily add stuff from other sources, etc.) and difficult to organize. In the past year and a half, I’ve collected all the paper that we were given at school and that which we need to print out. Staggeringly, it comes to about 4000 sheets. That’s over 15kg of paper – more than enough to cover a tennis court! Very difficult to organize.

Next up I tried Apple’s iPad, which being nice and light and having a great battery life seemed like it could solve some of the organizational issues of paper, while keeping its versatility. In terms of hardware it is almost there (at least one USB port would be great though), except for one major issue – there is no digitizer, i.e. no way for the OS to recognize that a stylus is touching the screen. There are some creative ways around this including the Jot Pro capacitive stylus and iOS apps that have a ‘zone’ for you to rest your hand on (the program simply ignores the capacitive touches that the OS recognizes from that area), but the end result still looks like it was made with Microsoft Paint:

So much for an improvement in neatness.

The iPad has some great apps that are very useful for discovering information like interactive periodic tables (The Elements), but in terms of research, where quick referencing and being able to see two things at once (ala Windows 8 split screen) are paramount, or for taking notes where it [the iPad] is little more than a glorified piece of paper, its not on par with OneNote on a Tablet (see below).

Tapose (think Courier for the iPad) looks extremely promising and should address some of these issues (though will likely fall short for writing (with a stylus) due the iPad’s hardware (or lack thereof)).

Other students at school sometimes use Microsoft Word for taking notes in class, something that I do not completely understand. Sure, it’s a piece of software that most people are ‘familiar’ with, but typing out notes and painstakingly using [Insert → Shapes → {shape}] (repeat), or taking down diagrams on a separate sheet of paper, is not only slow & inflexible, but seems to perpetuate the idea that note-taking is like taking down a transcript. Students aren’t hansard’s (the people that transcribe everything said in parliament), and note-taking isn’t about transcribing everything – it’s about understanding. For the same reason why we sketch things before we go and make a mock-up, taking notes in low fidelity format, e.g. writing and drawing (by hand) helps us to understand. Using a high fidelity environment like Word, which was designed for printing not drawing, then impedes your learning because your focused on making the content look good, rather than understanding it.

So that just leaves OneNote on a Windows tablet (the iOS app is useful for little more than viewing rather than creating notes). It is not perfect, especially in terms of hardware (ultrabook-style tablets & slates should improve on this though), spontaneity (grab tablet out of bag → remove pen → put password in → switch to OneNote) and interface (the ribbon interface, while being great for mouse input, does not work that well with touch, especially when using your finger), but for schools (especially higher education) it is the best that we have.

Portable: A tablet with a weight generally under 2kg (or down to an almost-there 860 grams with the Samsung Series 7 Slate) is rather portable, especially when compared to (in my case) about 10kg of books and pens. It means that whether I’m getting to school, moving around the school, or coming home again, all that I need to carry with me is my tablet. No printing (mostly, unfortunately), no paper (mostly, again unfortunately), and no heavy books.

Organized: One of the primary advantages of doing work electronically is searchability. With OneNote’s ability to index text, ink, images, and audio, all my work is easily accessible (well most of the time – provided that I can remember what I’m looking for…, but still a lot easier than sifting from thousands of sheets of paper). With all my work in one place (exercise books, questions, solutions, web research, tests, scanned copies of exams, etc.), in OneNote , it is incredibly easy to back-up, and with SkyDrive, OneNote does it automatically – very useful in a school environment where things get lost and damaged.

Flexible: Since this is a tablet, switching between text or touch input is as easy as raising your finger and touching the screen. This means that you can take your notes and draw diagrams in ink, and then with the same machine, and very quickly, start doing research (especially web searches), or work on that report, with the keyboard. Additionally, with OneNote, you can also drag-and-drop content (images, tables, text, etc.) onto the page.

So, now that I have experimented with different options, I still believe that OneNote and tablets are the superior choice for education, for their portability, flexibility and ability to keep information organized. That being said, I eagerly await Windows 8 slates (which should hopefully be fast and light) and OneNote 15 (and of course, any new unforeseen product).

  • cs14

    Amazing fine post.

  • Fin

    In word no one can explain the necessity and importance in terms of preparing the regular study as well as educating someone in a grand way. This is the ultimate in every to all. The rushessay dissertations also can help.Apart from that above mentioned course of actions and the descriptions are very much effective in all the way. In that case tablets are very much effective as well as prominent for all to make it worth for all.

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