Friday, February 19, 2010

Checklist for a Tablet Computer to Make us Smarter

Apple Inc.Image via Wikipedia

  1. The tablet should have a personal task manager. People are most productive when they set goals for themselves that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). Learning is an activity like any other, and would benefit from such a system so that when learners approach a chapter, for example, they can set their learning objectives.
  2. The tablet should have a detailed user-activity monitor. The system should be able to quantitatively monitor the amount of time the user spends on each learning resource (each book, each chapter, each page) and each type of activity. It should be able to report such facts as: how much time have I spent surfing the web as opposed to reading? How much time have I spent reading actively (taking notes, etc.) vs. reading passively (skimming)? How much time have I spent drawing diagrams vs. watching youtube? What is my reading rate? This can allow the user to set new goals to be more productive in how they learn and use their tablet.
  3. The tablet should have an extensive annotation system. This would enable active reading. Users should be able to make notes about all kinds of information: e.g., to select some text in the browser document and then make a comment about it. The notes should be attached to the content. Users should also be able to annotate PDFs, editor documents, dictionary definitions, diagrams… basically anything. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to pause a movie and make a note that is anchored to a specific frame or segment? One could then jump to the parts of the movie or podcast describing important material, and skip the rest. Or make a note in a specific part of a physics diagram to indicate what you don’t understand—something that can be done on paper. Users should be able to tag not only entire web pages, but any item (such as part of a sentence), and they should be able to re-use common tags (e.g., “Don’t understand”, “Important”), and easily link items to new or existing tasks (“Review this”). Users should even be able to overlay their own links from existing content to existing content.

  4. The tablet should contain a rich graphic organizer, so that users can create concepts maps, doodles or structured drawings. This will allow users to leverage their visual motor capabilities as they learn. The reader could summarize a page with a drawing linked to that page.
  5. The tablet should contain a powerful outliner. An outliner allows users to organize their thoughts in a hierarchical fashion. Users can collapse, promote, demote and move entire sections of a document very easily. An outliner supports thinking, writing and creating summaries of lectures, books and videos. The annotation system should also embed the outliner, and allow outlines to be linked to any content.
  6. The tablet should contain a spaced learning (self-testing) system. We remember much better when we practice recalling from memory. Beyond rote recall, questions can require comprehension. Users (and content providers) should be able to associate questions with each chapter (or page). And users should be able to gauge for each resource what their degree of learning is as measured by the space learning system (combined with the other monitors mentioned above). Questions should be linkable to exactly where the answers are found in text, multimedia, etc. And why not allow users to directly add dictionary entries to their self-testing database, so that they never have to look up the same word twice? After creating questions, users should be able to enter a review mode to interact with their questions and link back to the appropriate content when desired.
  7. The tablet should be part of a larger system beyond the tablet. Apple should provide syncing services to allow users to move back and forth between the tablet, an iPod and a notebook or desktop. Neither the content one purchases nor the annotations and content one creates should be trapped on the tablet. The digital rights management should allow for the same book purchase (license) to be available on a number (e.g., 3) of different devices. If one’s tablet is lost or broken, one can still prepare for that presentation or exam by switching to another machine, without losing a beat. Similarly, the status of the tasks one sets on the tablet should be updated when one moves back to one’s traditional computer. This could leverage MobileMe and iTunes.
  8. The larger system should also support collaboration. For example, users should be able to share their annotations and other content they develop, so that they can review documents and other resources together and learn from each other.
  9. Content should be very affordable, easy to obtain, and served with an intelligent rating system so that quality content can distinguish itself from the rest.
  10. There needs to be a mute function, so that with one action, all distracting notifications can be silenced, allowing one to concentrate on one’s current task.
 From Smart Brains article by : Luc P. Beaudoin, Adjunct Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University. He specializes in theoretical and applied cognitive science. He has been doing research and development on integrated learning environments since 2001.