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UOIT leads the way with tablet computers

Oshawa, Ont. -In a pioneering pilot project, science professors at Canada's newest university are harnessing technology to take learning to a new level. The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) is believed to be the first university in Canada to teach using tablet personal computers in every course across an entire faculty. "We're ahead of the curve," says Dr. William Smith, the dean of the School of Science at UOIT. "For teaching, it's the way to go."

Tablet PCs combine the computing power and wireless connectivity of a laptop with the portability of a pad of paper. A stylus allows the user to write directly on the screen, and, in the classroom, those notations can be displayed on a large projection screen for the entire class to view. The model used at UOIT also features a keyboard that swings away from the screen, allowing the device to be used like a laptop. Special software allows a professor to convert handwritten notations into text for distribution to students. Instructors can also import graphics and other files, and display them on a projection screen using a data projector. The files can be labelled or marked up during a lecture, and later saved to a course Web site.

Tablet PCs are particularly useful for math and technical text notations, and are more versatile than electronic whiteboards or standard presentation software, says Dr. Smith. They are currently being used in every course by all professors in UOIT's School of Science (www.uoit.ca/schoolofscience). The tablet computers were first used this fall semester, and the results of the pilot project will be fully evaluated in January.

"For the students, it's a lot easier than writing on a blackboard," says Dr. Mark Staley of the School of Science, whose research area is mathematical finance. If students need clarification on a mathematical problem, Dr. Staley says he can simply scroll back. On a blackboard, the problem may have already been erased. Dr. Staley says he can also save his notations as a graphics file and post it to WebCT, a software program that gives students access to learning materials.

For students frustrated by the proverbial professorial scrawl, tablets can promote effective learning in another way: "My writing is more legible on the tablet than the blackboard because it feels more natural," says Staley. "It makes sense for math."

Because the professor's in-class notes can be saved and made available to students, they are freed from madly scribbling for the entire lecture and can focus on learning. "To my mind, this is the next generation of computing," says Dr. Bill Muirhead, UOIT's Associate Provost, Learning Technologies. "As Ontario's first laptop university, we are committed to seeking out new technologies that will assist our teaching and learning mandate."

Recent news reports indicate that tablet computers have been slow to catch on with consumers. Dr. Muirhead predicts that the growth in their popularity will begin in the education sector before spreading to areas such as sales and health care. At November's EDUCAUSE annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., the largest educational technology conference in North America, "the buzz was around tablet computers and wireless," says Dr. Muirhead. "I think," he adds, "that there is tremendous opportunity for this kind of technology in educational environments."

The tablet technology, in its current form, first began appearing on the market late last year. In a trial last year sponsored by Microsoft, prototype tablets were tested by professors and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Texas at Austin, and Bentley College, a business college in Waltham, Mass. The devices received positive reviews from both students and professors, who were studying in areas such as design and mechanical engineering, community planning, and marketing.

About the University of Ontario Institute of Technology

As Canada's newest university, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology provides a unique combination of academic knowledge, vibrant student life, leading-edge research and hands-on skills. The university offers career-focused degree undergraduate programs and is developing leading-edge research and graduate programs. Located in Oshawa, Ontario, and sharing selected facilities with Durham College, the university welcomed its first students this September. To find out more, visit www.uoit.ca, or call 1.866.844.8648.

For more information on Science Studies at UOIT, please contact:
905.721.3229
e-mail: schoolofscience@uoit.ca
or refer to the school's Web site, at www.uoit.ca/schoolofscience.


About Ontario Tech University
Ontario Tech University advances the discovery and application of knowledge through a technology-enriched learning environment and the delivery of innovative market-driven programs responsive to the needs of students and industry. With more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in more than 90 programs, the university promotes social engagement, fosters critical thinking and integrates outcomes-based learning experiences inside and outside the classroom. The university's commitment to accelerating economic growth and social innovation is realized through faculty research collaborations with leading organizations such as Ontario Power Generation, IBM, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the Durham Regional Police Service. To find out more, visit ontariotechu.ca.


Media contact
John Schofield
Communications and Marketing
Ontario Tech University
905.721.3111, ext. 2162
john.schofield@uoit.ca