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Back to the slate

The slate is back, and for someone who learnt to read and write on one, the transformation is amazing. No more tellings-off for coloured chalk on your clothing - the colour stays behind a toughened screen.

"The slate" is how a group of Birmingham teachers described the RM Tablet PC they're using on a local trial. These machines, rather like interactive multimedia clipboards, certainly put more of the personal into personal computers with their incredible capacity for handwriting and drawing. Or, even more impressively, giving you the ability to turn your handwriting into computer text. It's still early days - Tablets only came out late last year - but their potential is obvious. And UK schools are already busy unlocking it.

We know computers can be motivating learning tools for young people; and first indications are that, for many of them, Tablet PCs are even more motivational, reducing at a stroke the primacy of keyboard skills (although you can simply plug in a keyboard should you need one). Ironically, this also makes the Tablet PC more appealing to the older generation of teachers, for whom the stylus is an extremely attractive alternative to having to come to terms with a QWERTY keyboard.

All of a sudden, the capabilities that have always been so hotly promoted for computers - portability and connectivity (wireless networking is starting to make real inroads) - have now arrived, yet it seems we're not quite ready. Teachers who would like to use their "laptop allocation" from the DFES "laptops for teachers" scheme are barred from buying Tablet PCs, even though at least two of the current mainstream Tablet products are glorified laptops. Apparently there's a feeling that the technology isn't entirely stable (although Windows has been with us for quite some time) or that teachers can't operate without access to floppy disk drives (yet network managers, ever paranoid about viruses, wish they would).

Sometimes, institutions only spot innovation when it's old hat. Let's hope that some older bureaucrats out there, who remember their old slates, recognize the potential of this new generation of computers.

* The best collaboration TES Online has ever entered into has been the lCT in Practice Awards (page 6), organised by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency and supported by The TES, Pearson and BT. The awards are all about good practice, pure and simple. So for journalists like us it's a dream - they're all good stories, In education, teamwork is so important that there's a reluctance to single anyone out for praise. We recently finished an excellent round of awards (Online March 14) and now we need nominations for 2004. The TES has even sponsored an award for new teachers who are getting to grips with 21st century classrooms, and there's a new one for classroom assistants too.

There's nothing elitist about these awards. If you're working with ICT stars, please send in a nomination so we can reward them. They get a personal award of pound;2,500 and the same amount goes to their schools.

There are even prizes for those who nominate.

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