Forest City, Iowa, high school sophomore Liv Anderson isn’t using any paper for classroom notes or assignments for four weeks. Instead she’s using the latest in portable computer technology, a Compaq Tablet PC T1000 from Hewlett-Packard Co., as an experiment.

The Tablet PC can be used as a laptop with a keyboard or as a slate with a special digital pen to navigate and take handwritten notes. A portable document scanner allows Anderson to transfer homework assignments and reference material handed out in class into the computer.

The experiment was born when Anderson’s father, Rolf Anderson—a technology speaker, consultant, and author—brought home a Tablet PC in February. Liv Anderson asked what it would take for her to earn one.

Her father challenged her to use the computer in class for four weeks, keep an online journal of her experiences, and write a summary review and conclusions to be published on his web site.

“This is not an experiment to prove a ‘paperless world’ is possible,” he said. Instead, the idea is to “test to see if this new breed of computer that has been welcomed by businesses will find a niche in the educational system.”

Anderson began using the Tablet PC in class on April 22. “It’s been interesting,” she said.

With the special pen, using the Tablet PC to take notes in class “is pretty much like writing on paper,” Anderson said. Because she isn’t using the keyboard, the Tablet PC also doesn’t disrupt class the way an ordinary laptop would.

Taking notes on the Tablet PC also helps Anderson when she is studying for tests. Instead of flipping through a paper notebook to look for the information she needs, “I can look through my files, pop it up, and there it is.”

The Tablet PC comes with a built-in wireless modem, which allows her to do research on the internet right in the classroom.

Anderson said some of her teachers are really interested in what happens with the experiment. They are curious to see if it will work for her to scan in tests and complete them on her Tablet PC.

As for her classmates, “They think it’s really cool,” Anderson said. They enjoy trying it out.

Anderson, 16, is already a veteran when it comes to using technology.

“My dad has been speaking about and testing new computer technologies for over 18 years, and I always asked for his old equipment when he got new [stuff],” she said. “Over the last six years I’ve had several laptops, many digital cameras, and had wireless internet at home. My dad always called me his ‘techno-geek daughter.'”

Anderson asked Dwight Pierson, superintendent of the Forest City School District, for permission to use the Tablet PC in class.

“We are also very interested in how it plays out,” Pierson said.

As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, “We will have to address the issue of high school students wanting to bring a computer into the classroom,” Pierson said. “We will have to take a new look at the issues and rewrite or write policies to govern their use. Will it cause a split in the students’ classes of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’? We’re not sure.”

On the other hand, if teachers, students, and administrators could communicate by computer, “maybe, just maybe, the savings of paper cost and staff time to prepare and distribute information by paper could pay for the school providing a Tablet PC to every high school student,” Pierson said. “A bold statement, but it may not be far down the road.”

In April, eSchool News reported that Bishop Hartley High School—a 600-student private Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio—could be the first school in the country to provide Tablet PCs for an entire grade level of students when it issues the devices to seniors this fall. (See “Tablet Computing: The ‘next big thing’ in school computing has arrived,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/TabletSpec403.)

Public schools have been slower to adopt the technology, probably because it costs more than handheld computers and most laptops. The Compaq Tablet PC T1000 starts at $1,781 for a unit with built-in wireless internet access.

Links:

Rolf Anderson Seminars
http://www.rolfanderson.com

Hewlett-Packard Co.
http://www.hp.com