New techies in town:
Tablet PCs allow journalism students
to research, report and write with one tool
The Tablet PC
||Swivel screen transforms laptop
into writing tablet
notes can be saved or translated into text
By Chantal Breedlove
Move over engineering and computer science –
it's the Communication Department that is rubbing elbows
with the likes of Bill Gates.
Thanks to a $77,000 grant from ITaP and additional
funding from the School of Liberal Arts, 14 communication students
received Toshiba Portégé tablet PCs to use as their
personal computers during the semester.
"We are fortunate to have a department head
who is so enthusiastic about technology," said Susan Brockus,
instructor for Communication 359, Public Affairs Reporting.
It was Howard Sypher, head of the department, who
applied for the grant and asked for the additional funding needed
to purchase more than 40 of the lightweight laptops. Weighing
less than three pounds, the tablet PC is as big as a 100-page
spiral-bound notebook that fits easily into any backpack. Its
size and convertible feature from laptop to interactive writing
tablet have given the computer the same benefits associated with
paper and pen – portability and inconspicuousness.
The obtrusiveness that accompanies laptops –
such as the clicking of the keyboard – can be eliminated
in two steps. By first rotating the monitor 180 degrees and then
folding it down so the screen is in the closed position but with
the screen facing up, the tablet PC looks like an oversized personal
digital assistant. In this mode, a stylus is used to write text
as handwriting or to "type" text using a virtual keypad.
Other features of the tablet PC are handwriting recognition and
audio and visual recording.
|COM359 students receive instruction
on how to use the tablet PCs
The Public Affairs course was chosen to use the
tablet PCs fulltime because of the various advantages they offer
to the process of news reporting and gathering.
"Journalism was an obvious choice," said
Jane Natt, assistant professor of journalism and instructor of
Communication 252, Journalistic Writing. "Reporters can take
notes, make voice recordings and check their facts on the Internet
at the same time."
Sypher agreed, saying that the goal was for the
technology to be used for a longer period of time as opposed to
short-term checkouts. "My thoughts are that in a few years,
an entire journalism track will include this type of technology,"
As for the students' first-hand experiences,
Brockus said they had run into an unanticipated side effect of
the new technology while using the tablet PCs for off-campus reporting.
At the West Lafayette Community School Corp. board meeting, the
students had problems getting interviews because everyone wanted
to talk to them about the "cool little machines."
Kristen Clark, junior in telecommunications, had
a similar experience at the Lafayette City Council meeting. "I
went to my meeting for my story and I had one of the reporters
from WLFI Channel 18 come up to me," said Clark. "The
mayor and city clerk even wanted to check it out."
Despite a few problems with the new software and
the hesitancy of some students to use the tablet PC for everything
related to the class, the consensus is that the technology has
been an advantage – the biggest being its wireless capabilities.
"I like to do my homework in a variety of
places, and this lets me access a computer wherever I need it,
like at Barnes and Noble," said Darci Kirby, senior in journalism.
Sypher said the tablet PCs and their wireless capabilities
make every place on campus a virtual classroom.
Making full use of this concept, Brockus said that
she plans to have a virtual class in which the students "chat"
on AOL Instant Messenger about their stories instead of going
to class that day. Without the tablet PCs, such a virtual "budget
meeting" would have been impossible.
"Journalism has changed in the past 20 years,
and technology has driven that change," said Brockus.
However, future integration of the tablet PCs will
depend on more funding from the department and the adoption of
the technology into the classroom.
"These things are expensive," said Laura
Vercler, a second year master's student in Media Technology
and Society who is researching the Com 359 students' use of the
tablets, about the $1,700 convertible laptop/tablet. "The
department will want evidence that it's a worthwhile investment
before they spend that much."
Through Vercler's research of the Com 359
class this semester, her master's thesis project will show
if the tablet PCs represent money well spent. Three surveys will
be given to the students to collect data about how the technology
is being used and to what frequency.
"If the students are using the machines to
check e-mail and other stuff outside of their class work, then
the technology will have a higher rate of adoption," said
Vercler. Other information will be collected through monitoring
software, which tracks the different uses, and from meetings with