Professor pioneers use of tablet PCs to improve learning

Professor QiuTablet personal computers present a new frontier in the field of teaching and learning technology, and Lin Qiu of SUNY Oswego’s computer science faculty is one of the pioneers.

He has received grants from Microsoft Research and Hewlett Packard, totaling nearly $114,000, to develop software and acquire equipment that will help computer science and software engineering students get immediate feedback on their classroom work on tablet PCs.

He is working with four computer science and human-computer interaction students on the two projects.

A tablet PC is a laptop computer with the added capability of converting into a flat tablet or notebook whose screen students and instructors can hand write and draw on with a pen-like stylus. It has a natural application in computer software design classes, where diagrams are a step in the process of creating computer programs.

In the Microsoft Research-funded project, Qiu will develop software that helps teachers and students create thread interaction diagrams in such classes as “Project-based Software Engineering” (CS 380) and “Concurrent Programming” (CS 375). A diagram on a student’s or instructor’s tablet PC screen can be “associated with a running program to provide dynamism to the static artifact,” Qiu said.

“It’s a natural way to help students engage in active learning in the classroom, the learning-by-doing paradigm,” he said.

In the Hewlett Packard-funded project, the software will provide direct feedback to students on their diagrams. “My software will look at these diagrams, see the drawing, read the writing, identify common problems and provide the feedback,” he said. It will also facilitate manual feedback by the instructor, he said.

The Hewlett Packard “Technology for Teaching” grant comprises $58,314 for equipment, including 20 tablet PCs for classroom use, and $15,500 for software development. Qiu’s HP project is titled “Using Mobile Technology to Facilitate Learning by Doing and Critiquing in Software Engineering Classes.”

Qiu said he expects the new equipment to be used first in the “System Design and Analysis” course (CS 458) next spring.

He received the $40,000 grant from Microsoft Research as part of its program for enhancing the computing curriculum for higher education by integrating tablet PC technology. His Microsoft project is titled “Developing Tablet-based Tools for Teaching Concurrent Programming.”

Qiu’s was one of just 11 projects chosen for funding from among more than 165 proposals from 18 countries reviewed, said Doreen O’Skea, speaking for Microsoft Research. The rigorous review process encompassed 40 reviewers across a wide variety of disciplines who examined each proposal, she said. The winning proposals focused on using the tablet PC to enrich the classroom experience for instructors and students across all disciplines.

“The purpose of these projects is to share examples of how new technology can be used to promote learning,” Qiu said.

He joined Oswego’s computer science faculty in 2004 to help start the college’s master’s degree program in human-computer interaction.

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(Posted: Aug 23, 2006)