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Does Your Student Need a Tablet?

Tablets offers many benefits, but pen computing isn't right for everyone.


by Jeffrey L. Wilson on July 9, 2008

/uploadedImages/Multimedia_Assets/Images/2008/Mobile_Life/Tablet-PC_sh.jpgTablet PCs, by the very nature of their designs, seem the perfect fit for students, as the convertible slates enable them to take notes with a digital pen (as they would with traditional pen and paper), and when out of class, swivel the screen back into a standard notebook design to surf the Web, check e-mail, or conduct research online. Tablets, however, are known for their relatively high price tags and somewhat bulky designs, among those with larger displays, so the question remains: Can students reap the benefits that tablets offer?

“I would expect that every student could benefit from a tablet, if they felt more comfortable writing to typing or if it was a school requirement,” said Stephen Baker, vice president industry analysis at The NPD Group. The 1,400 students that enter the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech each year would agree. They are required to own a tablet PC; the school faculty believes that this form opens doors to new creative, more interactive, ways of learning.

Students use their tablets to interact with one another, work on group projects, collaborate on group sketches, and share diagrams and notes with their individual mark-ups. “Students like the way they can share documents within OneNote and do that frequently when they are working on team documents,” said Glenda Scales, associate dean for Distance Learning and Computing.

Pen computing has also proven an incredibly useful tool to the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech's instructors who introduce students to numerous diagrams, drawings, and equations that are essential to the study of engineering. Instructors encourage participation by asking students to solve problems or complete a design on their tablets, and then beam the answers onto a whiteboard using a wireless projector for all to see.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech recommends students purchase the Fujitsu LifeBook T4000 series, chosen for their sweet balance of weight (4.3 pounds), screen size (12.1 inches), and flexibility (Intel Core 2 Duo processors, Windows Vista Business with Mirosoft OneNote, 1GB of RAM). Students can use any brand or model tablet of their choosing, but the college offers a significant discount for purchasing the Fujitsu LifeBook T4000 through the college.

Of course, the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is just one college. The vast majority of students entering institutes of higher learning will not be required to purchase a tablet, but that doesn't mean that they can't benefit from a tablet PC. If your child meets the following criteria, he or she may be a prime candidate for a tablet.

You Should Buy a Tablet For Your Child If He/She:

  • Is required to draw electronically.
  • Is a poor typist. The student may feel more comfortable with a pen in hand.
  • Has good handwriting. Excellent penmanship makes it easy for the tablet software to recognize letters and words.

Conversely, if your college-bound offspring meets the following criteria, you should pass on a tablet.

You Shouldn't Buy a Tablet For Your Child If:

  • He/She isn't required to draw electronically.
  • Money is an issue. Tablets, on average, cost a grand or more.
  • Has poor handwriting. The software may have difficulty recognizing handwritten inputs.
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