York Region District School Board is going back to basics by bringing tablets back into schools.

These aren’t the chalk slates of yore, but Tablet PCs co-branded with a Microsoft XP operating system on Acer hardware. York

Region is currently using them for curriclum consultants (teachers who are training other teachers) to use as note-taking devices, but plans to introduce them more broadly into school life.

“”The three of us who have had them since about October do a lot of curriculum work: presentations, teacher training, also a lot of meetings (and) strategizing. We essentially rely on mobility — being able to take everything we have with us wherever we go,”” said Todd Wright, curriculum coordinator for information technology. “”In meetings we can be capturing notes unobtrusively. We can be sharing information via the network in a hand-written format with each other.””

Microsoft Canada product manager Elliot Katz said that this is precisely the type of situation the tablets were designed for. “”When you write on tablet PC, it’s just like writing on a piece of paper,”” he said. “”You can leave it as hand-writing (but) still treat it as electronic text by highlighting it, by copying it, by moving it, by searching against it. It really makes it very, very powerful.””

York Region was one of the first Canadian organizations to get its hands on the tablets and was using them for several weeks before the official Tablet PC launch last November.

In the short term, York Region will purchase 20 more tablets for teachers and consultants, but in the long term they may be favoured over the laptops the schools system has traditionally used. “”Based on the price, which is coming down, it’s looking much better. We have reached a decision pretty well not to buy notebook PCs for administrators. We’re going to go for all tablet configurations. It’s only a few hundred dollars more,”” said Wright.

Later this year, York Region aims to make tablets available for student use. A school opening next year in Aurora, Ont., will emphasize mobile computing over desktop machines. Most schools usually have 70 desktops, but this one will open with 20 desktops and several roving wireless labs — one of which will be composed of tablets.

There are advantages the tablets have over laptops — foremost, handwriting recognition — but Wright doesn’t expect laptops to disappear from the school system anytime soon. One reason is that York Region plans to support more Apple equipment in schools for multimedia purposes.

“”Ideally if you could have all things in one box, that would be great. But I don’t see the Apple operating system and the Microsoft operating system existing side by side,”” said Wright. “”For digital media, you’ll want to pull out your Apple.””

Also, 10 new elementary schools opening up in York Region will have more laptops than in any school previous. “”You pull a book off the shelf when you need the book. Well, you pull the laptop off the shelf when you need it,”” said Wright. “”That is the future, no doubt about it.””

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