Teaching, Learning & Technology
Sharing best practices from faculty around the world who are using technology to transform teaching and learning.

Tablet PC's in the Field - The Vassar Experience Reaches the Barbados!


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In 2004, Vassar College received an HP
Technology for Teaching grant. The HP tablet pcs they received, along with GPS
hardware and GIS software, supported a
variety of field-based science courses
such as geology, archeology, and
environmental science. Students at Vassar even made a
terrific video
showing how their learning experience has been transformed
by using tablet pcs in the field. Now the practice is spreading to the
University of the West Indies...

I periodically get updates from "GIS/GPS
Evangelist" Meg Stewart, Academic Computing Consultant for Geospatial
Technologies at Vassar College. Meg is currently a Fulbright Scholar at the
University of the West Indies, Barbados, and she recently sent me an email
about her experiences sharing "Tablet PCs in the Field" with faculty and
students at the University of the West Indies. With her permission, I share her
email below.

Those of you who are interested in
enhancing student research and learning in the field will find her story to be
very interesting (and helpful!). For more information, check out Meg's blog, GIS @ Vassar.

Thanks for sharing, Meg!


Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants




Dear Jim,

I wanted to check in with you and let you know what I've been up to. I'm having
a great time at the University
of the West Indies
on my Fulbright. The work I'm doing, mostly geospatial
technology projects, is taking me to interesting places in the Caribbean--St
Vincent, Grenada, Union Island, Belize, and of course, Barbados.

I was asked recently to give a talk in the department (the Centre for Resource
Management and Environmental Studies
or CERMES) and I decided to talk about
using tablet PCs for field work. I hoped that the topic would appeal to the
mostly marine scientist researchers and faculty that make up CERMES. I think
that it did. Here are my slides on Slide Share.


I don't have a lot of words on the slides but I will fill in by telling you,
Jim, that I gave a short history of how I started using tablet PCs to begin
with. As a geoscientist, I went to the Geological Society of America meeting in
2003 to give a talk on a GIS-related project, went by the vendor booths, and
saw someone demonstrating the use of a tablet PCs. Light bulbs went off
thinking about using one of these tablets for computer mapping or GIS work. Not
three months later, back at Vassar College where I worked at the time, a
request for proposals came to my attention. It was from Hewlett-Packard looking
for great ideas from colleges and universities that wanted to incorporate
tablet PCs into courses. Members of the department of Earth Science and
Geography and I applied for one of these Technology for Teaching grants and got one in 2004. It was
great! We got to merge two of the department's passions - field work and GIS

I explained in my talk the various ways we use tablet PCs in courses and in
research. Very often research and teaching overlap. Things that I wanted to
make clear are that with a tablet PC you have a full-fledged laptop with all
the software, storage, and past data that you need. However, because it is
tablet PC and not merely a laptop, the computer is your notebook. With the
tablet's pen you can take notes, map, collect data, all on a single device.
They really liked the no transcription errors and faster data collection discussion.

I gave a few examples of how tablet PCs have been used in college-level
classes. As can be seen in the slides, I talked about using a GPS receiver
(that's the black hockey puck-looking thing attached at the USB port) that
functions seamlessly with GIS software. The software we use is ESRI's
. In the archaeology class, the professor uses Microsoft Word for
drawing grid squares of excavation test pits and note-taking. For the ecology
class they developed a plant identification manual viewed in a web browser and
they use the freeware Photogrid.
Photogrid is useful for analyzing the density of plant populations in an area.
And in geomorphology the students map the stream edge with GIS software, GPS
receivers and digitizing with the tablet's pen. Everything I showed in the talk
is software that is ready for pen-based computing.

I also showed videos during the slide presentation linked to my YouTube channel.
Where I have an image and the word "video," if you click on the image
the video will launch. I thought that showing a video would allow the audience
a chance to hear and see how one actually uses the tablet in the field or how
to actually use the specific software without having to demonstrate it live.

I ended the talk by saying that having access to a cart full of tablet PCs,
allowed faculty the flexibility to grab one on the way out into the field. Our
tablet PCs travel all over the world and they're used for the same purpose that
we originally proposed to HP...field work and data collection! On slide 16 is
Vassar Professor Brian McAdoo in Banda Aceh in 2005 mapping tsunami damage and
me in 2008 mapping monasteries in Tibet.

When I came to Barbados for the Fulbright, I carried two tablet PCs with me in
case I had a field work opportunity. Three weeks ago I did...in Belize! I went
with two professors and their students on a water resources and
climate change field course to Belize
, we collected water quality samples
and field observations and put those into the tablet PC that I had with me on a
boat motoring up the beautiful and undeveloped Monkey River. This research is
what I'm referring to in slides 17 to 22.

Finally, I talked about how much of what I learned as an instructional
technologist about the utility of tablet PCs in the field, for classes or
research or both, I learned from student feedback. Student's opinions and
observations of technology use must be factored into the development or
modification of any course design, maybe especially when technology is

This is a long story, I know, but probably the best thing that came out of my
talk is that now CERMES is seriously thinking about buying a couple of tablet
PCs specifically for use in the field. The trick for them will be to keep the
tablets dry! I think they can manage.

Take care,



Why "STEM" Education is SO 20th Century...

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I'm preparing for a California STEM education summit next week. It has me thinking about what "STEM" really means, and how it falls short in preparing students for their future. Here's why...

Classic "STEM" education refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It's a great acronym that captures some of the core "technical literacies" that all students should graduate with - even if they don't become scientists, technologists, engineers, or mathematicians. I think we all agree that today's society, and tomorrow's even more so, is driven (and we hope improved) by technology.

But (in today's vernacular) STEM by itself is so 20th century. Acronyms are great, but silos are not - and how we talk about education reform will influence where we go. The 21st century, and arguably the last several decades, is an interdisciplinary world. Big challenges face society that only collaborative, interdisciplinary thinkers can address. Climate change, human disease, education for all - these are all very complex social, political, and technical challenges.

So I propose three improvements to how we talk about "STEM" education:

First, let's call it "STEM+" (OK - I know it's not all that creative, so feel free to post a comment with your own suggested acronym!). In my thinking, the "+" encompasses a host of skills and experiences that students need:

  • Interdisciplinary thinking

  • Global collaboration and communication

  • Ingenuity and creativity

  • (add your own favorite "21st century skill" here)

Second, let's shift from talking about STEM+ "education" to STEM+ "learning experiences". We all know that declarative and procedural knowledge is important, but our students need that and so much more. By focusing on STEM+ learning experiences, new transformations come in view:

  • Moving from simply delivering content and memorizing science facts, math proofs, etc. to engaging students in applying scientific thinking, and mathematical logic and modeling.

  • Going beyond having students repeat science experiments as though they are recipes, to engaging students in true inquiry.

  • Going past problem sets that demand The Right Answer to learning experiences that equip students to tackle the unknown and see that often there are many good answers - and that many times, you don't even know what the question is (at first).

Students around the world need to graduate ready and excited to make the world a better place.  To that end, my third and final suggestion (for today) is related to assessment. I am now of the opinion that if you can Google the answer, then it shouldn't be on the test. Rather, the ultimate exit exam could be a significant, open-ended real-world challenge which requires a thoughtful recommended course of action. The test would be an open-book, open-internet, phone-a-friend, poll-your-personal-learning-network, work-in-groups, ask-your-mentor, type of test. (Students: For those of you who can navigate this type of challenge, we have a career waiting for you...).

So let's move beyond talking about "STEM Education" and begin to consciously, and urgently, focus on "STEM+ Learning Experiences" for our students. My hat's off to those of you who already are...

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants





DyKnow Video Contest - Watch and Rate by March 28!

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As you know, I'm a big fan of DyKnow classroom interaction software. For those of you who haven't seen what an interactive classroom with Tablet PCs can look like, you'll enjoy watching and rating the videos submitted to the DyKnow Video Contest...

The videos are quite interesting - and I'm proud to say that some of them are submitted by some of our recent HP grant recipients! Bravo to:

Linn-Benton Community College



Albion College


Seneca College


Three cheers, also, to Intel for sponsoring the contest!

To watch more of the videos, go to http://www.dyknow.com/videocontest/. If you want to help your favorites win, you have until March 28 to view and rate them.



Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants





Changing the Education Equation (part 1): beyond "delivering content"

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I may be stating the obvious, but - reading a textbook doesn't make you smart. A textbook is one way to deliver content. A webpage or eBook can do the same. In any case, converting this information into true understanding requires a deeper learning experience. As obvious as this may be, it's critically important that we get this right when we talk about the role technology plays in education...

I bring this up (again) because I often hear the phrase "delivering content" whenever there's a discussion about ed tech. I think to myself, "Oh, my - this is going to be a long conversation."

It's true: Computers, smartphones, and a host of internet-connected devices can now deliver amazing content at blistering fast speeds from and to all corners of the world. So it's no wonder that there are many people focus on using technology for "delivering content". I have no problem with that, per se - just don't stop there. I get worried when this view leads people to believe that some day computers will/should replace teachers. Let me go on record - I do not hold this point of view.

But this limited view of the role that education technology plays is not surprising. Take this simple test: As an instructor, what percentage of our time with our students is spent "delivering content"? Many of our grant recipients are finding that technology allows them to reconfigure instructional time and does a better job of delivering content - giving them time to interact with their students and guide them through and beyond their current misconceptions.

For example, lectures and demonstrations can be pre-recorded and assigned as "pre-reading" homework. So when you meet with your students, you now have more time for more powerful teachable moments. Delivering content can then take a back seat to discussion, debate, hands-on labs, and collaborative design sessions.

The content is just part of the equation. But we change the education equation when we combine excellent pedagogy with the right technologies to create new and powerful learning experiences for our students.

THEN the magic happens - more students succeed.

I say "bravo!" to the many, many HP grant recipients around the world who are doing this today...

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants

Join us "virtually" at the 2010 HP Innovations in Education Worldwide Summit! See www.hpiie.org for details...

3 Reasons Why Learning by Computer Alone is Not Enough

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While I am convinced that technology combined with excellent instruction can allow the creation of new and powerful learning experiences for students, I am also convinced that "learning by computer" alone will never adequately prepare students for the complex challenges they will face as adults. Here's why...

Reason #1 - Learning is socially situated, and computer-mediated social interactions are a narrow approximation of human interaction

James Greeno (Stanford University) and numerous education researchers agree that learning is socially situated. The behaviorists of the 1920's were only partly right, it turns out. For example, learning to read a book is an important skill (behavior). But while reading a book by yourself engages your mind with the author's mind, it's only a one way street. Reading a book with others, and discussing it, then (in some cases) putting it to practice, brings the learning to new levels.

This is why I'm currently underwhelmed by current attempts to replace textbooks with electronic textbooks. While there is an obvious cost saving potential from eliminating the printing costs (and with open resources, the cost of content itself) and the backpack weight reductions are much appreciated, the exciting breakthrough will be when the electronic book does MORE than a printed book.

At Carnegie Mellon, Professor Ananda Gunawardena has shown what is possible through his "adaptive book" research. This electronic textbook system allows for the annotation of electronic text, but more importantly, the annotations are can be SHARED. Imagine margin notes that can be traded among study partners, and the ability download "expert commentaries" that can be revealed while reading. In essence, the textbook moves from a "solo learning experience" to becoming the foundation for shared conversation - and a new form of assessment.

Even so, sharing annotations is complementary to but not a substitute for live, scholarly discourse and debate.

Reason #2 - Enriching experiences help to develop the brain's capacity for intelligence and creativity

Marian Diamond, in her book, "Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child's Intelligence, Creativity, and Healthy Emotions from Birth Through Adolescence" (1998), describes in their research how "enriching experiences" positively impact the brain's neurological capacity. At the risk of over-simplifying their work, the net result of enrichment is that the neuron's dendritic structure becomes more complex and capable - even with adults.

One could argue that ICT-mediated learning is, itself, enriching. Clearly this is true in as much as computers can provide experiences that complement many traditional classroom experiences. Having ready access to data collection and analysis tools, for example, allows students to ask deeper, what-if types of questions in real-time during an experiment or out in the field. But notice that in these two cases, the technology use is part of a larger instructional experience (the lab or the field).

Using computers to REPLACE enriching experiences will not accomplish the same purpose - your neurons will know the difference! Designing a 3D model of a house on a computer is one type of experience; using that design to build an actual scale model, then going on to building the full-scale object introduces a rich set of experiences that you cannot have with the computer alone. Going on a virtual field trip is nice when the real trip is impossible, but it can never be as enriching as the actual visit.

Let's give students the FULL set of experiences whenever we can so that their neurons will flourish to the fullest extent.

Reason #3 - Simulations only simulate reality

Simulations are wonderful - they can help us explore the edges of our ideas; they let us test our mathematical representations; they let us play "what if" scenarios quickly. But these are no substitute for the experience of grappling with the vagaries and variability of real-life. A simulated electronic circuit is great - to an extent. But so much more is learned when you then wire up the real components - and discover the variability of a solder joint, or that the component specs have a "range" of performance that can contribute to unexpected results. Error analysis takes on new significance - and problem solving skills rise to a new level.

Heaven help us if civil engineers design a bridge based only on simulations, and stop testing the strength of new materials. We should be similarly uneasy with a surgeon who has only learned from textbooks and simulated cadavers.

The bottom line: It's all about "and"

In the final analysis, students benefit the most from a combination of MANY types of experiences, and the best uses of technology for education is when it allows for the creation of new and powerful learning experiences that complement what great teachers are doing already.

Let's use the full power of technology to connect students to experts and mentors and each other, AND let them grapple with the challenge of real, face-to-face social engagement.

Let's use technology to engage students in complex, creative projects that would be difficult or impractical without the technology, AND let's treat these experiences as only a subset of the wide range of enriching experiences that students engage in.

Let's use the best simulations available to let our students explore, AND let's be sure they confront the variability of real life through hands-on, inquiry based experiences that are messy and unpredictable.

If we view education technology from this perspective, then the technology will help us realize the best possible outcomes for our students...

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants



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About the Author(s)
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
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