Engineering Departments

Information Technology

Tablet PC Requirement Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below is a list of questions we have either received or anticipated about our computer requirements. If you cannot find the answer to your question here, please email the Director of Information Technology.

How much financial aid is available for the purchase of my computer?
$2,500 is included in the total cost of attendance for the purchase of a computer and associated peripherals for all first-year students at Virginia Tech. This in effect increases the amount of financial assistance students may be eligible for their first year. It is not included in later years. Please take this into consideration when making your decision regarding our tablet PC requirement.

Can I buy an Apple or other brand laptop?
Students bringing laptops including the Apple Macbook are still expected to have a Windows 7 or 8.1 companion device for inking. Please review our Apple Notes before making your purchasing decision.

Why can't I buy an external USB drawing pad?
External drawing pads without displays do not completely emulate using a pen on the screen. They require extra cognitive skills to use effectively which distract from the learning process. They also require significant eye-to-hand coordination. Student pilot studies indicated these devices were unsatisfactory substitutes for Tablet PCs. There are new external USB displays that support active styluses and digital inking. Please review our list of approved devices.

How are we going to use the Tablet PC?
Your introductory engineering classes are paperless, ENGE1024 in the Fall Semester, and ENGE1104 or ENGE1114 in the Spring Semester may make use of the tablet and do require all work to be turned in digitally. Without a Tablet PC or slate, you may not be able to participate in class or easily submit assignments. In addition you can use your tablet in other classes to take notes and read e-textbooks. Handwriting ability on tablets also makes math equations and diagramming easy. Various classes across departments and levels may use the Tablet PC in class. Outside of class tablets are great for brainstorming and collaborating on projects.

Will I just use this for one or two classes and then never need the Tablet PC functionality again?
No, many first and second year engineering professors will have specific applications for the Tablet PCs in their classes. You will learn its capabilities in the Engineering Education first year classes. Unlike a "critical" textbook which ends up never being opened after the class is over, the Tablet PC functionality will continue to be useful throughout your career in engineering. The list of classes using the tablet functionality spreads across almost all departments and levels.

What are the screen sizes for Tablet PCs and slates?
Currently, there are a wide variety of screen sizes available from 10" to 14". Student Technology Council members found the smaller screens less desirable than the additional weight associated with larger screen size devices.

Why did you change the base-level requirements this year?
Each year we evaluate the market and decide on base-level requirements based on input from our faculty and students as well as vendor roadmaps. A minimum baseline specification is developed that should last a student for four years.

I have friends in Engineering who have laptops. They say there's no reason to bring them to class. Why do I need a Tablet PC?
We are seeing a drastic shift in how engineering is being taught in the 21st Century as mobile computing technologies and human computer interactions get better defined in education. The Tablet PC is now offering professors and students ways to interact during and outside of class time that was not possible before. The limitations of laptops for note taking are what prevent students from taking their laptop to class, instead opting for the traditional paper notebook. The Tablet PC provides a more natural way to enter notes, and will provide more reasons, not less, to bring your computer to class. As the majority of our students live off campus, they find they need to have their Tablet PC with them everyday to work on homework and projects between classes.

Don't tablets cost more and offer less power than traditional laptops?
The gap has been closed. Many traditional laptops have a corresponding Tablet PC with the exact same specifications, but with the Tablet PC pen functionality costing an extra $100-$200 depending on vendor.

Isn't this an unprecedented move?
Unprecedented? Yes. Unsupported? No. We have been using Tablet PCs for over ten years now. Many others are now investigating the option for their students as prices have continued to decline and vendor offerings have increased. To fully realize the benefit of this new technology, students must take ownership of the machines and use them to their full potential.

With the laptop requirement, wasn't it just used in the first two years? Is the same going to happen with the Tablets?
It's true that for some students their in-class use of the laptops waned after the classes were no longer specifically built around the computer. One of the main points behind the Tablet PC requirement is that it offers a lot more value to students because of its flexibility in and out of the classroom. To get students to bring their computer to class more often, they must get more out of it from having it there. This is exactly the value-add the Tablet PC offers. We have also invested in a software package (DyKnow Vision) that is being adopted by faculty across the college and leverages Tablet PC technology throughout the curriculum.

I've heard other schools are recommending the tablet instead of requiring, why don't you do this?
We'd have to have two sections of every course. If a professor couldn't count on using the Tablet PC in his/her classroom, those without Tablet PCs could be left out, and those with Tablet PCs would feel like it was a waste if they didn't use them.

Why don't you just tell us what we need to use our computer for, and then let us decide?
Similar to the question above, if professors couldn't count on a certain level of technology available in their classrooms, then students with extra technology would be unable to make use of it. Students with less technology would be left at a disadvantage. Just like course prerequisites ensure a common level of knowledge among students, a computing requirement ensures a common level of technology.

Why did you change from laptops to tablets?
There was no specific problem we wanted to address with the Tablet PCs. By continually raising the computing requirement each year we stay ahead of many challenges to the education process. Additionally, we are not just proactively avoiding technology issues, but we are continually on the lookout for new tools that allow the student to make the most of his/her career. The Tablet PC is one of these tools.

What is the educational value of tablets?
See this list of software that use Tablet PC functionality. By allowing students to work with software in a more natural way, the computer has less overhead involved, and students can get straight to learning.

Are there any trade-offs between a Tablet PC and a regular laptop?
Yes, but they are minimal. By not getting a Tablet PC, you would save between $100 and $200, but all features available on regular laptops are also available on Tablet PCs, with exceptions for some of the very large wide screen laptops which have discrete graphics cards.

What benefit do slates have?
Slates are the next logical step for the tablet initiative. Now that they have begun to gain in power and offer Windows based operating systems, they offer most of the benefits of the Tablet PC’s that predated them. While they still lack the same amount of power of modern Tablet PC’s, they are becoming increasingly popular in the consumer market and therefore are becoming both more powerful and less expensive.

Are Tablet PCs as stable as laptops?
Absolutely! The Tablet PC hardware (except for the screen which allows pen input) is the same as standard laptops and no more or less reliable.

If you have any questions, please email the Director of Information Technology or phone her at 540-231-2117.