A Forest City, Iowa, high school sophomore’s four-week experiment using the latest in portable computer technology—a Compaq Tablet PC T1000 from Hewlett-Packard Co.—stands as an early testament to the tablet’s potential in the classroom.

Student Liv Anderson didn’t use any paper for her classroom notes or assignments for an entire month. Instead, she relied on the Tablet PC, which 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 allowed 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 [was] not an experiment to prove a ‘paperless world’ is possible,” he said. Instead, the idea was 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. “At first it was a little strange getting used to it,” she said. “It was really interesting.”

With the special pen, using the Tablet PC to take notes in class “is pretty much like writing on paper,” Anderson said. The model that Anderson used in the experiment also came equipped with a keyboard, though Anderson said she generally used only the machine’s stylus so she wouldn’t disrupt the other students.

Taking notes on the Tablet PC also helped Anderson prepare for tests. Instead of flipping through a paper notebook to look for the information she needed, the tablet allowed her to store all of her notes in one easily accessible location. “It was just like having a notebook,” she said.

The Tablet PC comes with a built-in wireless modem, which allowed her to do research on the internet right in the classroom. Anderson said there were a couple of instances during the experiment where she was able to go online and look up answers to questions raised in the classroom.

“It was really neat to go on the internet,” she said. “It was just really handy.”

According to Anderson, the experiment went off without a hitch. The tablet, she said, worked well in the classroom overall and came equipped with enough battery power to last her through the school day.

She also didn’t have much difficulty toting the machine around. It fit “like a notebook” into a bag with the rest of her books. And while it made her load slightly heavier, the added weight wasn’t unbearable.

The one innovation Anderson didn’t try was eMailing her homework assignments to teachers. After she finished her homework assignments on the tablet, she would print them out on a portable printer at the school and turn them in, her father said.

Rolf Anderson said the experiment has piqued the interest of the school’s principal in exploring the use of Tablet PCs on a wider scale.

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

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 might not be far down the road.”

See these related links:

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

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