Hewlett-Packard has selected the University of California, Santa Cruz, as one of 10 recipients of its 2007 Technology for Teaching Leadership grants. The award, valued at over $120,000, includes 42 tablet computers, additional hardware, and $15,000.
HP's gift to UCSC fits well with the vision of a fully wired classroom long held by Patrick Mantey, UCSC's Jack Baskin Professor of Computer Engineering. In 2004, Mantey designed such a classroom for the Baskin School of Engineering. Called the Simularium, it allows up to 16 computers at a time to upload and download from four projection screens, freeing students from the long, uninterrupted lectures that Mantey calls "death by PowerPoint."
"The more students you have in a classroom, the less interactive and participatory it becomes. So I've been trying to find ways to put more excitement and engagement into classes," Mantey said. "The HP grant is letting us fill the gaps for students who don't have their own computers, so that every student in every seat has a computer. And the tablets have some nice features."
Since 2004, HP reports it has given away more than $40 million to 850 schools worldwide. "HP's Technology for Teaching grant program is intended to stimulate new ideas about the role of computers in the classroom," said Jim Vanides, manager of the Higher Education Philanthropy program at HP.
Tablet computers are similar in size to notebook computers but feature a digital pen that allows users to draw directly on the screen. Wireless connections allow all the machines in a single classroom to link together even without a wi-fi connection. For a student, it's like writing in a notebook, watching a lecture, and standing at the blackboard all at the same time.
Among a half-dozen engineering faculty who use the tablets, Gabriel Elkaim, assistant professor of computer engineering, records his lectures on the fly directly from his tablet, right down to the notes he writes in the margins of his slides. The result, so far, has been better attendance and more participation in class, he said.
Elkaim's recordings go online five minutes after a lecture ends. The archived files free students from furiously transcribing notes, allowing them to think about the material and ask questions, Elkaim said. After class--or just before an exam--students can return to Elkaim's lectures and fast forward to the parts they're having trouble with.
The tablets also thrust students into the middle of classroom action. "I can assign them a little quickie exercise where I have them fill in the blanks on a PowerPoint slide I put up, or write a segment of code, or draw a diagram," said Charlie McDowell, professor of computer science. "Students fire that off to me in class, and I can bring some of them up on the screen for discussion. And it's not threatening, because it's anonymous."
But will students take the new computers and immediately start surfing YouTube in class? "I look at it this way: If students don't want to pay attention in class, they don't need the Internet for that," Elkaim said.
McDowell, too, was philosophical. "If I'm not doing something in class that makes them feel like they want to pay attention, that's partly my problem," he said.
UC Santa Cruz was chosen for the grant based on the engineering school's success in implementing a 2005 HP grant that allowed the school to use HP technology to enhance instruction, to demonstrate a measurable, positive impact on student achievement, and to propose innovative plans to expand its programs. This year's grant, awarded to the top 10 performers among previous grantees, is nearly double the value--and nearly triples the number of tablets--of the 2005 award.
Someday soon, Mantey said, wirelessly networked classes where students participate equally with teachers won't be innovative, they'll be routine. With grants like HP's, he said, the Baskin School of Engineering is getting closer to that day.
For more information about the HP Technology for Teaching program, visit the web site.
Note to reporters: You may contact Mantey at (831) 459-2720 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Elkaim at (831) 459-3054 or email@example.com, and McDowell at (831) 459-4772 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vanides can be contacted at Hewlett-Packard at (650) 857-7403 or email@example.com