Long a leader in the implementation of technology in education, the College of Engineering updated our computer requirement to a convertible Tablet PC in the Fall of 2006. The requirement was updated again in the Fall of 2012 to allow students to decide how they wanted to meet our active digital ink requirement. Students can choose a traditional laptop and any Windows device that supports active digital inking. As all undergraduate Engineering students have tablets or slates, faculty can freely use them in the classroom.
The ability to use active ink has many advantages for students and faculty including:
Using OneNote students can take searchable (in their own handwriting) notes on their tablets that are continually saved and backed up to the cloud. Using an active digital pen allows precise, scalable, accurate drawings and equations in addition to handwriting. No longer are students restricted to an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper as OneNote allows students to "add space" to a piece of paper as needed. Research supports taking notes by hand is better than using a keyboard.
In many classes (including all of our Engineering Education courses) students are required to turn in their work digitally. Paper isn't accepted. Faculty grade work digitally and can easily return it digitally without the painful distribution of paper. A favorite tool for grading is PDF Annotator which is included in the Engineering Bundle.
In some classes faculty engage and interact with students using their tablets. Student's work can be anonymously displayed in class on the board using products like DyKnow and Classroom Presenter.
Using active digital ink allows the students the freedom to make mistakes and encourages greater creativity. On a tablet pc erasing the last few strokes of the pen is as easy as hitting the "undo" button or using a digital eraser. If they change their mind the "redo" button brings back their erased pen strokes.
Using online shared whiteboards, students can work on shared problems. In class, DyKnow is used to work on group problems and solutions.
A keyboard is still available for tasks where it is faster to type than ink. The pen is clearly not the appropriate tool for all tasks.
Sometimes you may want to use handwriting but need to convert it to text. Microsoft has been working on handwriting recognition for many years and it is amazingly accurate.
In 2011, 42% of Engineering text books were available in digital format. Every year more texts are available and prices for books are coming down. Virginia Tech is piloting CourseLoad which allows students to print their books to .PDF and allows annotations and pressure-sensitive highlighting using the pen if desired. Digital texts allow easier searching and organizing of notes.
The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard - why taking notes with a pen makes sense