Best practices for tablet PCs for teaching in Engineering and Computer Science

Linda Franzoni Professor of Practice, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering
Jeffrey Forbes Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Computer Science, Arts and Sciences
Lisa Huettel Assistant Professor of the Practice, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Robert Malkin Professor of the Practice, Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Joseph Nadeau Associate Professor of the Practice, Civil Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Kathryn Nightingale Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Gary Ybarra Professor of Practice, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

Project descriptionHPtablet
During the 2006-2007 academic year, a group of faculty in Engineering investigated the use of tablet PCs in teaching, specifically to seeking to connect theoretical lecture material and practical applications that students need to be successful. The faculty hoped to build a knowledge base of best practices in teaching with tablet PCs by involving faculty teaching a variety of courses and sharing their experiences.

Faculty attended a day-long orientation with hands-on demonstrations of specialized software for teaching and sharing student responses by Dr. Beth Simon. Monthly meetings promoted successful tablet PC use, as participants discussed their experiences in the classroom, shared their experiments with different software and presentation techniques, and monitored student reactions. Students in the classes were regularly polled both formally and informally about their experiences, and these reactions were discussed. Faculty set goals for their classes, and assessed their efforts in reflective writings, which formed the basis for several presentations.student using tablet

The group collaborated on a report “Transcending the Traditional: Using Tablet PCs to Enhance Engineering and Computer Science Instruction” to be presented at the Frontiers in Education Conference, October 2007. A link to the conference proceedings will be posted after the conference.

The team has identified excellent uses of tablet PCs in class, both for students and for instructors. Overall, the faculty use of tablets is a clear winner; faculty experimented with different presentation software and all like the ability to write while facing the students, to use color, and to save their notes. Even faculty members who state that they love blackboards now use a tablet PC as a presentation device. Everyone answered “positive” or “extremely positive” to questions about how the project improved teaching and student learning. When the students used tablets, there were definite gains in student engagement, and the majority of students responded positively. However, the hurdles to effective student use included logistical and technical problems that were not attributable to the tablets themselves.

An additional benefit of using tablets is that several faculty members stated that incorporating the technology encouraged them to rethink their course and their teaching objectives. Faculty indicated that they were more focused on student learning.

The fellowship group participated in a panel discussion at the Center for Instructional Technology Showcase in 2007.
Press release about Dr. Huettel’s course redesign: Innovative Intro Course Offers Depth, Breadth
Press release: Duke’s Pratt School Wins Second Hewlett-Packard Technology for Teaching Leadership Grant

Project start date: 8/30/2006
Funding awarded: $17,500