Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tablet PCs

My dear readers, all 5 of you (OK, I think it's more like 20, but let's not get pretentious here), I need a little piece of advice.

This September, in London and Brighton, I saw something which caught my interest. For the first time, I saw a tablet PC. Oh, I have known about and probably seen the tablets, but I have never before seen one that was both a lap-top and a tablet, depending on what you did with it.

One of the things I have always wanted to do, was have the opportunity to write or draw on the monitor while I am projecting the image to a screen. The main reason why I want this is so that I can have the flexibility of a blackboard while the presentation stays connected to the internet and while I can show pictures, play soundfiles and show movie clips. Today, teaching is a busy running back and forth to turn light on, turn off projector, pull screen up, write, draw, turn projector on, pull screen down, turn light off... you get the drift. Now this DOES wake up any students who might have fallen asleep while the lights were down, but it steals valuable time and focus from what I want to be an integrated, seamless, lecturing experience.

But while I have been able to dig up good reviews of the machines, particularly the Toshiba I am looking lustily at these days, I have not been able to figure out if there is software that will let me perform the tasks I desire. Does the software for integrated show-and-write exist, like for instance "powerpoint blackboard?" Not being such a very accomplished manipulator of software, fancy, complicated combinations are not an option, and programming is totally out of the question. I need a fairly simple interface which will let me change the image while I am in the middle of a presentation - draw on the slide I am showing, push the slide up into the corner and draw out a modell which relates to the bulletpoints I just presented, put in a whole new page to illustrate a question.

I am aware that an option is to have two programs running, and go out of the presentation when I want to use the other program. But here is the smooth and fluid thing again. Leaving the presentation is so inelegant, and as youthfullness and freshness dwindles, elegance is my best bet ;-)

So, dear readers, you software savvy and tech-accomplished - is it worth it to use my goodwill with the department to get a tablet PC in order to do what I am looking for, or will that be a waste of money for a half-assed lap-top which is too flimsy for the kind of hard use I expect from computers and still does not perform as I want it?

17 comments:

Jill said...

What a nice idea! I don't know of software like that but am so looking forward to your elegant lectures!

Torill said...

Thanks Jill, I am doing my best with the tools I have, but sometimes I woman needs just the right tool, and not everybody can be toolmakers.

Francis S. said...

I recommend chatting with Stephanie Hendrick... she was showing one off when she was down here in Stockholm for the Bloggforum. She could give you some pros and cons, no doubt. (It's not hers, though, it belongs to the university I think.)

Torill said...

Thanks Francis, good advice, I just wrote Stephanie. Let's hope she takes the time to comment on this. Did I see with one of those too, in Brighton? Hmmm.

Torill said...

And the link above should point to Lilia at Mathemagenic: http://blog.mathemagenic.com/

Alexander said...

Can you explain further? I mean, I take it are you looking for something beyond the pen functionality that Powerpoint has (you know: right-click, pointer>pen)-- but what exactly?

Torill said...

I had missed the pen function, but after a quick test I can say that no, it's not sufficiently precise. While I can make arrows and sketch something I and the students can agree looks like a horse (more a symbolic sign than an iconic, my daughter saw it was a horse after I told her so), I can't write anything recognizable.

I think I want some software that does not exist. But what I want from that software is to be able to manipulate the whole screen, for instance split the screen and then write next to the original slide, not just on top of it. Or does powerpoint have that function too? Or I would like to put in a new picture while I am in the slideshow, and then write on this new picture.

There are a lot of other things which would be useful but has nothing to do with the input device: like finding a file while I am in powerpoint, or make an online search without leaving the slide I am in - perhaps have the slide on one side of the screen and the search running in the other.

I am a little vague because I haven't seen what I want, I just have a sense of something missing, something I think ought to be out there. Perhaps it is and somebody knows about it?

Bake said...

YOu may already know about this, but SMART Boards (http://www.smarttech.com/) do a lot of the things you are describing from any computer. You project the computer's display onto the 'interactive whiteboard' and then can control your computer by touching the board (hand=mouse, tap=click), draw/write comments over documents using a stylus, capture those annotated screens into a 'notebook' for future use, and use hadwriting recognition to insert written text annotations into the displayed application. The software that does all this is pretty nifty; only problem is you have to be connected to a SMARTBoard to use any of it, and the hardware side is expensive (~$1500 and up for the board itself, not including the cost of projector and computer).

As for the tablets, our university (http://www.moreheadstate.edu) is moving toward an all-mobile/wireless campus and faculty are being given the choice between a new conventional laptop or one of the 'convertible' laptop/tablets (we went with Gateway because, I assume, they gave the lowest bid). Many are taking the tablet option and, FWIW, those that I have talked to all seem very pleased with the machines and the stylus interface. These aren't necessarily technophilic faculty; just people who want to do their work with a minimum of fuss. (My 2-year-old daughter is also a fan of the stylus interface. She can play all her games practically on her own using the pen, whereas a mouse still mostly baffles her). Me, I'm still waiting for one of the incessant false rumors about an Apple tablet to come true.

Torill said...

I didn't know about the smart boards, thanks, I'll take note of that. The problem is however, as you point out, that you need a smart board, and I guess they don't come in neat, portable lap-top sizes, do they?

But thank you for the input on the convertibles, I'll check if Gateway is an alternative in Norway. According to the review of the Toshiba there are a few features missing which I would like in a new lap-top.

Alexander said...
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Alexander said...
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Alexander said...

Ok, yep, that makes sense. And not just for teaching. I've seen enough people fumbling through Alt-Tabs during business presentations lately that there has to be a better way. I think the idea would be to have an area "off screen" where you could drag things in. Yes, I know you can do this with some laptops, but I think it's the killer app for tablets. Someone needs to make a Power Point killer, if they haven't already.

The convertible I've been looking at is the Averatec C3200. It is in my price range 5(well, almost), and from what reviewers say it is as fast and more solidly constructed than the Toshiba (which costs twice as much). Its one down side is truly abysmal battery life, but there are ways around that, I guess.

Torill said...

Alexander, I can't find that brand at any Norewgian sites, and if it doesn't sell in Norway, it probably does not come with a Norwegian keyboard or operating system :( I'll have to talk to our IT guys, if they know anybody who sell it here. I liked it, as far as I can understand that one has an integrated optical drive. What I can't see is bluetooth, firewire and the possibility to have more than 512 M RAM. Hmmm. The search continues :)

Torill said...

Checked out the Gateway computers, and they are not available in Norway either,and I can't see if the memory can be extended. Accidentally, the computers I have been able to find at Norwegian sites lack the integrated optical drives.

Dennis G. Jerz said...

We have several smartboards at SHU. I'll be quite honest... I don't really use all their functionality. We do have a few classrooms where the overhead projector points at a whiteboard, which means you can just walk up to the board and write on it with a dry-erase marker. And the board seems to need calibration every time I do try it, which means I have to interrupt my train of thought to calibrate the pointer. I suppose one only has to do that once per lecture... but I'm a more discusson/workshop teacher than a lecture teacher.

Torill said...

Dennis: I was never really good at the workshop version, although I do a lot of that and I don't do it badly (not even according to the students). I admire the teachers who can do that really well :)

Back to the convertibles: After having looked at a lot where the technical specifications are only half-way satisfying, it looks like the best offer actually is an Acer TravelMate C300. The only thing I find a little confusing in their specifications is the DVD-CD/RW module, which is "hot swappable" - does that mean it is plugged in next to the machine, that it can be in a slot in the machine and can be swapped with a battery or a floppy drive without turning the machine off, or can it be both (as on my current Dell).

But I have mostly given up the thought of a convertible lap-top so far. Since I am not a designer, I have not been able to find software which seems useful for me. I wish I could visit Dennis again to test the smart boards.

Thomas said...

Hey Torill, too bad I discovered this post so late. No blogreading during the busy holiday season. Anyway I have a Fujitsu Siemesn Stylistic tablet. The one without the keyboard and I love it! It has already replaced my main computer. It is perfect for using in my library wi-fi zone and I can input while talking to people. It also works as a 2-3 person presentation tool. If I need to do a presentation to so few people I can just use the whole screen with powerpoint presentations and hold it on my arm while talking, or put it on the table. You can't input directly to Powerpoint, but if you use Windows Journal you can both do a presentation and input pen writing. Awfully cool and just the right tool for me. I think there is a few other academics who use this. Espen is one of them and he has an interesting comment on presenting with the tablet: http://www.espen.com/weblog/archives/000167.html
Hopefully this helps. Good luck in finding the right tool. Call me if you want to talk about it or if you are in Bergen you could drop in and test it:-)