The Tablet PC has potential for transforming the laptop classroom, but what if not every student in class has a tablet? Although some schools (e.g., Villanova) limit students to one laptop model, many others see choice as an indispensable feature of their laptop mandate programs. As the laptop market diverges with its emphasis on either power or portability, it will become increasingly difficult to please everyone with just one model. Currently, WSU students and faculty can choose between two laptops: an MPC (Gateway) M285 convertible tablet or an Apple MacBook (more). Because tablet functionality has become aligned with portability, with most vendors not offering anything larger than a 12″ tablet, one of the possible outcomes of our 2008 Laptop RFP is the introduction of a second PC choice: a larger, more powerful, non-tablet model in addition to a thin-and-light or ultra-portable convertible tablet.

Such a decision would have an impact on our plans for supporting the use of tablets in the classroom. WSU is already a mixed laptop environment. Although the majority of our students currently opt for the tablet and Macs tend to be more popular with certain majors, WSU instructors can already expect any class roster to include a substantial number of Mac users. The addition of a traditional, desktop-replacement laptop as a third choice would further reduce the number of tablets in a given classroom. Tools like Microsoft OneNote retain their value as end-user applications in a mixed environment. However, the value of groupware applications like DyKnow Vision and Monitor would need to be revisited. Although the full power of DyKnow to transform a laptop classroom is unleashed when everyone is using a tablet, it still has considerable value if just the instructor and a group of students have tablets. 

  • Instructors can capture their own board work and monitor student screens. Instructors can still use all of the features of DyKnow Vision and Monitor themselves to display and capture their own work and monitor/control student laptop activity. Although instructors would be able to approximate this using a shared OneNote session, this would not allow students to take private notes and annotate the instructor’s work. They would also not be able to replay the instructor’s notes stroke-for-stroke, a feature of DyKnow with considerable educational value. Finally, OneNote does not have any capacity for student screen activity monitoring/control.
  • Group tablet-based activities are still possible. Although some collaborative work will no longer be possible, many group activities can still be conducted if at least one student in each group has a tablet. For example, a group can elect a scribe and work together on a problem. Although instructors will not be able to depend on this, the chances are good that enough students in any given class will have tablets. There are also other collaborative features of DyKnow that do not depend on digital ink (e.g., polling).  
  • Students can capture, annotate, and replay instructor notes. Students without tablets will still be able to use their keyboards and pointing devices to annotate the instructor’s work. They also will be able to save, replay, and annotate their notebooks at any time after class.

I think DyKnow Vision and Monitor will remain valuable tools for the laptop classroom, even in a mixed laptop environment. Using Boot Camp and running DyKnow in the Windows partition, WSU Mac users were able to participate in DyKnow class sessions quite easily last term. The same will be true for students who opt for a traditional PC if that choice is introduced. It will probably be essential for instructors interested in using DyKnow to opt for a tablet, but I think this can be communicated effectively through an informational campaign and training. Helping students determine which of the three models is best for them will be the big challenge.