Tablet computers help TTU professors move toward paperless classrooms

“No more pencils, no more books” used to just be a motto for celebrating summer vacation, but a group of Tennessee Tech University instructors could be making it a phrase that’s applicable year-round.

When the fall semester begins, those 11 instructors — who represent various fields of study from all six colleges within the university — will be using new tablet computers as teaching tools to help move TTU toward paperless classrooms.

“These computers are made for portability and durability. At only two or three pounds each, they’re half the weight of the average laptop computer, and they’re the same dimensions as a legal pad,” said Sandi Smith, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.

Because they include a digital stylus and software for “hand writing” capabilities and connect directly to classroom projection systems, they also completely eliminate the instructor’s need for chalkboards or whiteboards, said Bob Clougherty, director of TTU’s Institute for Technological Scholarship.

Craig Henderson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, says he looks forward to the added flexibility the computers will bring in addressing material outside a preplanned lecture.

“The instructor must often use the whiteboard or overhead projector to address student questions, but with the tablet, it’s possible to write directly on top of the current presentation,” he said.

Steve Isbell, associate professor of economics, finance and marketing, also noted that all of the material generated during a class session can easily be saved in a standard format so that it’s still available afterward, possibly on a web site.

“This means that whatever [notes] I have written on the tablet will be completely available to my students after class, thus removing the ephemeral nature of the chalkboard,” he said.

For Melinda Swafford, assistant professor of human ecology, the tablet computer will enable her to offer her first online course.

“The course I teach is required for teachers who want to be certified in Occupational Family and Consumer Sciences, but it’s not offered by very many universities. Therefore, we will have students from across the state taking this course,” she said.

Ben He, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said he thinks the computers are applicable to all fields of study.

“The tablet computer is just fabulous. It will be beneficial to almost any class by enhancing the interactive teaching and learning environment,” he said.

Isbell agreed, saying, “I’ve only had the equipment for a week, but I can already tell that the tablet computer has potential for use in my classroom.”

A total of 12 hours of training is required for each of the instructors before he or she can implement the technology in his or her classroom. At the end of the academic year, they will be required to evaluate the success of the venture.