Sunday, June 10, 2007

Smartboard vs. Tablet PCs Pros and Cons Continued

A few comments on Elky Langer’s proposed scenarios.

1. Using the Airliner of similar digitizer tablets (e.g. Wacom digitizers) either wired or wireless, is not as simple as it may seem. It requires a significant amount of eye-hand coordination since you are moving your hand based on what you are seeing on a screen across the room. I experimented with such a setup (a USB wired Wacom digitizer pen tablet ~$35)and found that I did not have the coordination or dexterity for it to be a worthwhile endeavor, although my results did improve when I was seated and was using the digitizer tablet as one would use a mouse. Since I too tend to move around my classroom, the fixed desk approach is not a viable option for me.

2. Although I have been using the tablet PC for a short time now I find that I am most comfortable using it based from a moveable lectern. I have the Tablet PC connected to an LCD projector wirelessly (it uses the WiFi 802.11g protocol not Bluetooth) and have the projector on a desk mid-classroom pointing at my white dry-erase board. The projector does occasionally get bumped or jarred but since it does not have to be re-oriented, it is not particularly disruptive to an ongoing lesson.

3. While new Tablet PCs are pricier than standard laptops (they start at around $800-900) used and refurbished models are available for substantially less (e.g. $400-$500 for a Gateway M275 still under the original Gateway warranty). Since what you are probably doing in the classroom will not be stretching the capabilities of an older machine (assuming you are not trying to run MS Windows Vista), you should enjoy the benefits of a Tablet PC without breaking the bank.

4. An unanticipated advantage to the Tablet PC setup versus the whiteboard setup relates to classroom management. When I use the Smartboard I have to turn my back on the class, just as when I write on the whiteboard. When using a Tablet PC I do not have to turn my back on the class. (While I am sure that absolutely none of us have students who might act up while a teacher’s back is turned ;) this may be a factor for those “other” teachers who may have such issues.)

5. I liked the Smartboards with the built in projector, but felt guilty investing in a non-sharable resource. While I like the idea of always having access to the resource, I realize that I will not be using it every period every day. This leads me to my next point…

6. My students were enthralled the first time I used the Smartboard, in every class since they have been asking for me to use it But like any other tool it is not a panacea and it certainly can be misused or overused. I am finding that one of the challenges in developing technologically dependent lessons is maintaining a balance. I want to be sure that I will be using the technology when it will improve and enhance the learning experience rather than using technology for its own sake.


Elky Langer said...

Thanks for exploring this further. I'm still looking over the options and debating what to go with.

How fragile are those tablet PC's? Can you walk around the classroom holding one? Is it comfortable to hold and work with, or does it need to be used on a hard surface? If the price is that low for the refurbished models then it seems worthwhile as long as they can stand up to my everyday use. I typically move around the classroom, and I don't want to be tethered to a single spot.

Also, what do you think of the Interwrite option of an interactive whiteboard but using a wireless tablet PC as the controlling medium? That might be the best of both worlds--fully interactive at the front for the students to use, but you can use the Tablet PC and remain at large in the room. The Interwrite version of the Smartboard is portable. There's an option for a wall-mounted projector, but the board itself is mounted on wheels, so you could have a second projector in a classroom that isn't used as often and move the Interwrite board from place to place.

Elky Langer said...

Sorry to monopolize your entry, but I've got to ask one more question--where are you finding these prices? The lowest price I found on the refurbished Gateway was over $600 and it only had a 30 day warranty. I'm also finding that the new Tablet PC's are typically well over $1,000. Where do you shop?

Rabbi D. Nimchinsky said...

I am not sure if this is the mos

Rabbi D. Nimchinsky said...

Oops sorry about that...
What I was trying to say is that I a not sure if this is the most efficient way to communicate but... A tablet PC is no more or less durable than any other laptop. They do tend to be lighter, I find am partial to convertibles myself. The screen is actually more durable than a standard laptop since both the LCD screen and the digitizer are covered with a protective glass screen. I would not spend an entire class moving around with it but I would keep it on a lectern and can easily move with it whenever I would need to. The Interwrite does not seem to be much more than a wireless digitizer tablet, and the coordination issues would still be a factor. I would rather have a student come forward and write on my tablet screen. (I would advise getting at least one spare pen)

I picked up a used Gateway M275 on Ebay for $499 plus $20 shipping. The seller offers their own warranty for after the Gateway warranty expires. I am very happy with the machine but am considering adding 512mb of ram to speed up multitasking. When I last checked they had over 30 of the M275s left.

Eli said...

Please do continue to communicate on the blog, this lets all the other participants and interested individuals enjoy these valuable conversations.
FYI: The blog had more then 530 visits over the last 30 days.

Elky Langer said...

I was also thinking that this isn't a great communication method, but I guess that's what the blog is here for. So I will try to check it frequently to keep the conversation going!

Regarding the Interwrite, they apparently offer both a digital tablet and an interactive board similiar to the Smartboard, though supposedly quite a bit less expensive. I can't vouch for that because the Interwrite rep didn't get back to me yet.

The non-intuitive problem of the wireless tablet seems to vary from person to person. A few people told me that they found it very awkward, just like you did, while others claimed it was simple to get used to. Interwrite told me that I could try it out for 30 days to see if I'm comfortable with it. I still like the Tablet PC idea better, though.

I suppose the question is whether the interactive whiteboard is necessary at all. It does achieve a certain dynamic when a student is there in front, making things happen, as opposed to being at a desk with the computer.

Is that dynamic important enough to make the interactive board necessary, or can it be accomplished just as well with the tablet PC & projector?

That's what I'm trying to decide. Since we might be trying to achieve slightly different results, we may end up in different directions on this issue.

Elky Langer said...

Oh, and thank you for the referral to ebay. It is much less expensive there!

Tony Layton said...

I've tried the airliner for 2 weeks at a local college and it was very light and enjoyed the 1-1 connection. It took about 5 tries before I finally got the coordination right, from there on smooth sailing. During this time we also tried the toshiba tablet pc. One advantage I liked using the airliner was that I didn't have to purchase a separate wireless connection to the projector which adds to the cost, whereas the airliner uses the bluetooth usb to connect. This is assuming there is a cpu in the current room.

Comparing "new" educational prices

tablet pc: cost $1100, wireless projector $1000, regular projector $750, wireless device accessory $329.

airliner: cost $379, regular projector $75.

You also need to take into acct. future costs, i.e., replacement, lost or damaged. Also, 2 rooms next to each other using wirless connection tend to "bleed" signals bluetooth is 1-1. Both offer great portability.