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W2 - Tablet PCs in Engineering Education & Research



Joseph G. Tront, Virginia Tech (

Jane Prey, Microsoft Corp. (

Deborah Olsen, Virginia Tech


Workshop description:


Tablet PCs are one of the newest innovations in the computing and communications world.  These devices consist of a standard notebook PC configured with a screen (tablet/slate) which acts as both a display device as well as an input device.  A stylus or pen can be used to input standard mouse-type commands as well as gesture commands and electronic ink drawings.  Native tablet operating systems support the use of this new input capability allowing users to input basic commands and drawings, while also facilitating the creation of innovative applications by software developers.  Typical tablet PCs also include built-in wireless networking hardware that allows the user to relatively easily communicate in localized ad hoc networks or over the broader Internet.


Several software packages are available to support the pedagogical needs of the engineering classroom as well as typical engineering group collaborative environments.  Classroom Presenter, WriteOn and MS OneNote are examples of some of the packages that provide excellent classroom presentation capabilities.  These packages also allow for a highly interactive environment with both teacher-student and student-student bi-direction real-time interaction. See to download tablet PC software.


In this three workshop faculty will receive a hands-on introduction to the use of Classroom Presenter, WriteOn, ChemPad, VectorPad and OneNote along with a rudimentary three dimensional drawing package called 3D Journal.  We will provide sufficient instruction for faculty to have a basic competency with the technology.  Most importantly, we will show faculty various pedagogical practices that we have found helpful in using these technology tools in the classroom over the past two years.  Active learning exercises for various disciplines will be emphasized.  Faculty will be tasked with developing short active learning exercises starting from the development of goals for the exercise, through the desired student interaction, and ending with the exercise assessment and improvement strategy.  Exercises will be determined by the individual faculty member’s disciplinary interests. 


Learning Objectives:


Workshop participants:

·         Will be able to use Tablet PCs to significantly enhance the teacher-student and student-student interaction in the engineering learning environment.

·         Will have the understanding of how to transform their classrooms into a much more active learning environment.

·         Will understand Tablet PC technology well enough so that they can begin to convert their PowerPoint presentations into notes capable of being used in a real-time electronic ink environment.

·         Will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the course transformations produced by the introduction of the Tablet PC and new pedagogical techniques as related to the overall course learning objectives.


Expected audience:


Engineering faculty members from the broad spectrum of engineering disciplines can benefit from attending this workshop.  The desire to improve teaching and learning through the appropriate use technology is the only prerequisite.  Participants should also be willing to partake in the lively discussions that this workshop generally invokes.  The workshop will be at a level that will allow faculty members who have a minimum of technology training to participate.  Faculty should know how to develop PowerPoint presentations.


Maximum number of participants: 20


Presenters’ profile:


Dr. Joseph G. Tront is a professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. He had a leadership role in the NSF sponsored engineering education coalition called SUCCEED where was director of the center for computing and communications for the nine university coalition.  He is a co-editor for NEEDS and is also co-editor for the MERLOT engineering collection.  Dr. Tront also serves as editor for the Premier Award for Excellence in Engineering Education – an international award competition aimed at recognizing outstanding non-commercial courseware for use in engineering education.  He has published articles in various venues describing the appropriate use of technology in higher education.  He is developing tools and techniques for using Tablet PCs in the classroom where his work is sponsored by Microsoft and HP.  He is currently playing a lead role in Virginia Tech’s Tablet PC Requirement initiative in which all entering engineering students are required to own a Tablet PC.  In 2005, Dr. Tront won the Excalibur Award for Excellence in Teaching with Technology.


Dr. Jane Prey is an Academic Innovation Manager at Microsoft Research. She spent 11 years as a faculty member in the Computer Science Department at the University of Virginia. In addition, Jane spent 2 years as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Jane is an IEEE CS representative and the chair of the FIE Steering Committee as well as a former member of the ACM SIGCSE board.


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