DeBrock at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used a Tablet
PC in his Microeconomic Principles class in the Spring 2002 semester.
The information in this section is derived from personal communication
and presentations made by Professor DeBrock. The reader should
note that Professor DeBrock has not yet reviewed this document. Any
errors that may be in the following material are those of the current
author (Hursh), not Professor DeBrock himself.
Microeconomic Principles (ECON 102) is a large
lecture format course normally taken by freshmen. There are two lecture
sections with enrollments of 660 and 750 students. There are also quiz
sections which are handled by teaching assistants.
Professor DeBrock dislikes standard PowerPoint
presentations, believing that this format often leads the instructor to
move too quickly, and to put too much material on each slide. He
also found annotating and drawing on PowerPoint slides using a mouse
His teaching technique has evolved from
overhead slides created with word processing software (which also made
it possible for the lecturer to move too quickly) to the technique he's
been using in recent semesters: blank or nearly-blank overhead slides
which he filled in as the class progressed. Though the overheads allowed
him to make annotations and draw, and the manual drawing process helped
with pacing, they still suffered from several shortcomings. The
overheads were ephemeral. The instructor disposed of them after each
class, forcing the students to make their own drawings if they wanted to
keep a copy (some instructors make copies of overheads available at
local copy shops, but this has its own set of problems, discussed
DeBrock thought that the Tablet PC might allow him
to work in his preferred style, while also allowing students to retain
permanent access to the slides without the trouble of making their own
DeBrock first used the bundled Microsoft Journal
Software. This worked well in the classroom itself, but proved to be
less than convenient for archiving. Annotating the slides
for web use produced an unesthetic result. Also, the software only
allowed saving the slides in one of two proprietary formats, .JNL or
.MHTML. The .JNL format would have required the students to download and
install the Microsoft Journal Viewer Software (available only for
Windows), while the .MHTML format was only viewable on Microsoft
Internet Explorer. Neither was a satisfactory option for such a large
and diverse student population.
The professor then hit on a novel solution: use
PowerPoint, but start with blank slides. The stylus made it easy to
"draw" on the blank PowerPoint slides, just as he'd always done with
overheads, and PowerPoint made it possible to save the slides in a
format (HTML) that was viewable by most students.
DeBrock's current procedure is this:
- Teach the first lecture of the day, creating each slide in real
- Save the slides on the Tablet PC and return to his office.
- Use the wireless network feature to move the slides onto his
desktop PC for printing.
- Print a copy of the slides on his color printer to use in the
second lecture (he recreates the slides in real time for the second
lecture, but having the first lecture as a reference helps maintain
- Teach the second lecture.
- In his office (or elsewhere), review the slides, add additional
annotations as needed, save the slides as HTML, and post them on
DeBrock has identified the following major
attractions of using the Tablet PC:
- Drawing in color in real-time. Few new technology skills
are needed when switching from overheads to the Tablet.
- Paging back and forth. It's easy to revisit earlier material
(unlike a blackboard that may have been erased, or trying to find an
earlier overhead slide in a dimly-lit room)
- Efficient posting of the lecture slides to the Web.
He also identified some shortcomings:
- Unlike a mouse, the Tablet PC stylus doesn't leave an arrow on
the screen when you're not holding it. This makes it difficult to point
at specific material without actually drawing something. This can be
done with a pen or finger on a traditional overhead, of course.
- The stylus cursor sometimes bencomes
unstable at the extreme edges of the screen.
- The Tablet PC can be hard to read under some fluorescent lights.
- DeBrock found the handwriting recognition good for standard
vocabulary words, but less useful for technical terms from his
Tablet PCs offer some
unique abilities for instructional use. The portability, pen-based
input, low power consumption, and optional portrait screen format may
make it possible to present material in new ways. As always, these new
capabilities come at a price: the Tablets are expensive.