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Beth Simon

Beth Simon discusses using the Tablet PC platform to deliver PowerPoint in an engaging way.

Beth Simon is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of San Diego, in San Diego, California, USA. Her research interests lie in Computer Science education and include both educational technology and multi-national, multi-institutional education research. She works jointly with the University of Washington's Educational Technology group and the University of California, San Diego's ActiveCampus group on Classroom Presenter, a Tablet PC-based system to increase interaction in the classroom.

Geetesh: Tell us more about your typical PowerPoint usage.

Beth: I use PowerPoint as a presentation design tool, but no longer use it in actual "live" presentations, talks, or lectures. For presentation I use a tool called Classroom Presenter. Most of my presentations are actually college-level lectures for various Computer Science undergraduate courses including beginning programming courses, computer architecture courses, programming language courses, and computer ethics courses.

Geetesh: What is your favorite PowerPoint feature? Also, which is the most sorely missed feature that you wish PowerPoint should have had.

Beth: I can't think of any particular feature of PowerPoint that is a favorite of mine - certainly nothing unusual that isn't in common use.

The ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY feature that PowerPoint needs for Tablet PC use is the ability to use ink from the Tablet pen in the design mode of PowerPoint. Instead of typing each of my bullet points, I'd like to be able write them by hand. More importantly, I'd like to be able to just draw figures and diagrams - rather than having to make them in Microsoft's Journal program and paste them in. That is so awkward that I just don't do it. I know most math instructors would love to be able to hand write their equations in PowerPoint, rather than having to worry about the Equation Editor.


Geetesh: Tell us more about Classroom Presenter.

Beth: Classroom Presenter is a Tablet PC-based presentation system that combines the advantages of existing computer-based systems with the flexibility of spontaneous handwriting. Running on a Tablet PC, Presenter allows the instructor to handwrite over computer-projected slides. The slides and ink are then broadcast to other machines for students' use or to drive a public display (a digital projector). Additionally, Presenter supports inked input to the presentation from the audience. Called "student submissions", during presentation the instructor can stop and ask the audience to perform a task based on a slide of the presentation. This can be a quick problem to check for understanding or a brainstorming session on a certain topic. Members of the audience, equipped with Tablets, can ink on that slide and wirelessly send their responses to the instructor Tablet. The instructor can then preview these responses and choose to display some for the class - possibly performing additional inking to clarify a point. Pedagogically, this can ease the use of active learning techniques in an electronically-based presentation. Initial development of Classroom Presenter began with Dr. Richard Anderson (University of Washington) while on sabbatical at Microsoft Research.


Geetesh: How is the Tablet PC platform changing the way of education.

Beth: I believe that the true impact that the Tablet PC will have on education has not yet been seen. Tablet PC penetration into the educational market has been slower than desired - both by vendors and by those of us educators who want to make use of them! I believe that the Tablet (with wireless capability) will have a huge impact on education. Consider the modern electronic classroom. The instructor can communicate in a few modes: oral (speaking) and static textual and visual (presentation of static material on a slide). Students have one primary mode of interaction - that can raise their hands and orally ask a question. However, in some cultures and in larger classrooms even this form of interaction by students can be scarce. Now consider a wireless classroom where students have Tablet PCs. Interaction can happen wirelessly with the naturalness of handwriting and diagramming or drawing. Additionally, questions, comments or problems can be expressed in the context of the lecture - directly on top of lecture materials on slides. Finally, instructors with Tablets can now combine more traditional chalkboard-style lecturing (using ink on the Tablet PC) with high-quality pre-prepared materials including text, pictures, and diagrams on slides in class.


Geetesh: Would you like to share some trivia about a non-conventional usage of technology or a software application.

Beth: One comment that I receive about potential use of student submissions in a classroom concerns what happens when not all students in the class have access to a Tablet PC. A common occurrence in these situations is that a group of students will work together on a particular Tablet - then, if they finish while others are still working - they will clear their screen and hand the Tablet PC to a Tablet-less group. Then that group will create their own submission.

This was never anything that I suggested to my classes - it just happens naturally.