Are tablets really as great as they seem in the classroom?

I have always overlooked tablet PCs as overpriced, underpowered, and somewhat gimmicky. If you read the catalogs that companies like CDW send out every month, you would think that I'm the only educator on the planet not currently using a tablet.

I have always overlooked tablet PCs as overpriced, underpowered, and somewhat gimmicky. If you read the catalogs that companies like CDW send out every month, you would think that I'm the only educator on the planet not currently using a tablet. While I don't think that's the case, I did have the chance to see a tablet in action for the first time last night as something more than a glorified laptop.

In a nutshell, it was really cool. This won't be big news to those of you already using tablets in the classroom. However, for those of us in the dark ages of mere laptops and whiteboards, I have to say that I was very impressed.

I'm afraid I'm back to school myself now; last night was the first night of classes in my last year (!) of my Master's program. As I sat down in my numerical analysis class, the professor pulled out a tablet, hooked up the projector, and fired up a notes page. He also recorded the class and everything that happened on his computer for students who were unable to attend in person.

The notetaking software bundled with most Windows Tablet PC Edition computers allows for continuous pages of multi-colored notes and drawings, complete with copy and paste abilities and highlighting. What really struck me, though, in terms of educational value, was the contribution the tablet, software, and projector made to the lecture. There are about 20 students in the class and we all sat around several large tables pushed together. The professor sat with us, facilitating easy discussion, and, instead of using a chalkboard or whiteboard, simply wrote notes on his tablet. He easily changed colors, highlighted important materials, moved back and forth between sections of the lecture (just pages in the notetaking software), and copied and pasted relevant figures, all while projecting on a large screen.

Later last night, the lecture notes were all up on the web. Bingo. I'm already trying to rationalize giving my laptop to my oldest kid and buying a tablet. The tougher sell will be getting these in the hands of some of the teachers in our school. However, if used correctly, these machines could be an incredible asset in the classroom.

My question for you is, are they as great as they seem? What problems have you encountered? How much luck have you had with non-Windows platforms? Talk back below and let us know.

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