Tablet PCs

Incorporating HP Tablet PCs
Into the Life Sciences Classroom

See the poster we presented at the 2006 HP Higher Education Technology for Teaching conference (PDF).

Contents:
    Project Abstract
    Quick Facts
    Student Comments
    Rationale
    Implementation (pedagogy)
    Implementation (technology)
    Impact on Teaching
    Impact on Student Learning
    Contact Information
    References

Project Abstract

In April 2005, Penn State Behrend received an HP Technology for Teaching grant to use Tablet PCs to encourage the transformation of teaching and learning. Lisa Mangel, a faculty member in biology, is working with instructional designers and assessment experts to incorporate HP Tablet PCs into her mammalian anatomy and human physiology classes. We anticipate that having students practice Tablet PC-based activities will result in more substantial interactions with course content in and out of lectures and labs, therefore producing better learning.

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Quick Facts

This project is funded in part by an HP Technology for Teaching grant.

Program:   Biology
Courses:   Biology 129, Mammalian Anatomy
Biology 141, Human Physiology
Student Impacted  
in first year:  
58 students during the first full year
(32 from Biology 129 and 26 from Biology 141)
Potential Student  
Impact:  

2208 students per year
(university-wide across multiple sections of Biology 129/141)

Project Team:   Lisa Mangel, Faculty member in Biology
Qi Dunsworth, Instructional Designer
Carla Torgerson, Instructional Designer
Thomas Wortman, Assessment Expert

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Student Comments

  • "The activities are very nice especially with the tablet…I can write directly on the screen and check the answer. This helps studying." - a BIOL 141 student
     
  • "With the use of the Tablet PC in 141 it has helped my grade. I believe that using the tablet has helped solidify the difficult information of human physiology in my brain." - a BIOL 141 student

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Rationale

Tablet PC

Mammalian Anatomy and Human Physiology are introductory level courses in which students must learn a great deal of factual information before more in-depth understanding and synthesis can take place.

Traditionally, biology courses are taught through separate lectures and laboratory activities where lectures present the factual information and laboratory activities encourage application and synthesis of this information. As a result, students have a difficult time integrating lecture information and lab experiences together because they are exposed to these course materials separately. The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that students have little access to the lab materials when studying outside of class time.

We use Tablet PCs to combine lab material with lectures, and give students anytime, anywhere access to their study materials. We believe this will improve learning by having more substantial student interactions with course materials. Tablet PCs are used in two related biology courses: Mammalian Anatomy and Introductory Physiology.

With Tablet PCs, students can:

  1. immediately apply the information they are learning in class, using pen-based PowerPoint activities to recall or explain biological processes by marking on color pictures and photos of things they see in lab;
  2. access additional information (real-time via instructional software and websites) to further enhance their learning;
  3. hand write on their notes, photos, and PowerPoint presentations.

Learning outcomes will be assessed and compared with the same classes from previous years who had not used Tablet PCs. Anticipated results include measurable gains in higher-level thinking skills, which result from better synthesis of the lecture and lab material.

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Implementation (pedagogy)

A major issue in biology learning is that students do not have enough time with the lab material to synthesize it with the lecture material and truly apply their learning. In other disciplines students have the ability to take application-level study materials home for review. In contrast, application activities done in anatomy and physiology classes are usually limited to laboratory hours.

Tablet PC activities

In our redesigned courses we follow spatial contiguity principle (Mayer, 2001) and focus on creating an environment where verbal lecture information and visual lab materials are put together so that students can synthesize them easily. We also make lab materials more available outside of lab time. For example, students take pictures during cat dissection sessions, exchange pictures with classmates, and then label them. This is valuable because every cat looks a little different and being able to identify the organs on the various cats gives students a broader understanding of the internal organs of this mammal, bringing students to a higher level of understanding rather than just memorizing their one specimen (Bloom, 1956).

Moreover, we developed Tablet PC activities for students to use in and out of lecture. These activities are made in PowerPoint, and depending on the expected learning outcome, students use the digital pen to label diagrams, trace paths through pictures of human organs, match related terms and definitions to pictures, and number the phases of biological processes in the order which they occur. These activities carry correct answers, which are displayed on an overlay slide so students write their answers, then advance the slide and see the correct answers beside theirs. The purpose of these activities is to have students compare their answers with the correct ones. These activities give students a chance to recall both lecture and lab content and to think independently, thereby facilitating transfer of learning and higher level thinking. Our next step is to design and implement activities that will trigger in-class discussion. This kind of activity may include asking students to correct errors in a picture and explain why, or to diagnose a disease based on the organs depicted in the picture, and similar tasks. It is our goal for the coming year to have students more involved in demonstrating their ability of synthesizing knowledge in class.

Throughout this process the faculty member, Lisa Mangel, has been heavily supported by Qi Dunsworth, an instructional designer in the Center for Teaching and Educational Technologies. Qi has worked closely with Lisa to brainstorm and develop the class activities. In addition, Qi and Thomas Wortman are doctoral-level assessment experts and have surveyed students throughout the course and have used that data to continuously improve our instructional use of the Tablet PCs.

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Implementation (technology)

The instructor, Lisa Mangel, has a Tablet PC which she uses as her primary computer to prepare for class and use while teaching. She annotates PowerPoint slides as she lectures, and writes comments on electronically submitted student homework. She also has 20 Tablet PCs for her students in each of the two classes affected by this project.

In the anatomy class, students work on the activities in pairs and use the digital camera to take pictures of their specimens in lab for additional practice after class. They then exchange their pictures and practice labeling them on Tablet PCs. In the physiology class, students complete Tablet PC activities as homework after the lecture session. The activities are distributed online through Penn State’s course management system. Every topic has unique activities which are posted immediately after the lecture session. In both classes, students have secure wireless internet connection in class to access course materials or save them in their personal space provided by the college.

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Impact on Teaching

The goal of the project is to help students synthesize information and learn the subject matter more deeply by using interactive Tablet PC activities. The impact on teaching is observed in the following aspects:

  1. The instructor planned the course in a more systematic way. Examples used in lectures, explanations in lab sessions, Tablet PC activities, and assessment items must be well aligned to teaching objectives of each lesson.
  2. The instructor emphasized and elaborated the key points by annotating the slides to help students relate new information to prior knowledge and digest the new concept.
  3. The instructor focused on how to make classes more active, rather than just giving a presentation.

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Impact on Student Learning

Students used to have difficulty recalling and synthesizing factual knowledge from lectures in the lab environment. Now, with the Tablet PC activities, students constantly explain to themselves as they write their answers on the screen. Working in small groups, group members naturally try to teach or convince each other and figure out the correct answer. Also, students ask more complicated questions that involve interconnections of several concepts. We expect to see this trend continue next year and will document peer instruction behaviors in class and the questions answered through working on Tablet PC activities.

To determine which Tablet PC activities have been helping students synthesizing knowledge better, we are comparing BIOL 129 student answers to three questions that involve synthesis of biological concepts. Data from the Spring 2005 class (never used Tablet PCs) and Fall 2005 (used Tablet PCs) were collected. We are tabulating the results and expect to see a higher class average of Fall 2005 than Spring.

Next year we plan to designate more time in class for Tablet PC activities, possibly in the form of case studies. We would like to have students work in small teams and find answers through inquiry and peer instruction (Mazur, 1997). We anticipate greater student motivation toward the content, higher ability to synthesize course materials and explaining health questions.

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Contact Information

Lisa Mangel, Faculty member in Biology - lam26@psu.edu
Qi Dunsworth, Instructional Designer - QiDunsworth@psu.edu
Carla Torgerson, Instructional Designer - cnt2@psu.edu
Thomas Wortman, Assessment Expert - twortman@psu.edu

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References

    Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning . New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: the cognitive domain. Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

    Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction. A user's manual. New Jersey : Prentice Hall.

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Web site contact: BDTeachingCenter@psu.edu
Updated May 25, 2006
© 2006 The Pennsylvania State University