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ICT strategy? 'Just keep taking the tablets'

John Parmiter cites many problems with interactive whiteboards, not least teachers being blinded by the bright light of the projector shining in their faces.

"You can't see the clock, you can't make good eye contact with pupils and two or three years down the line it wouldn't surprise me if there were health and safety issues," he said.

Mr Parmiter is ICT strategy manager for Warwickshire education authority, and he prefers the tablet PC, a touchscreen computer that looks like a hi-tech chalk slate or a laptop without a lid. By next year 1,500 teachers in the county will be issued with tablet PCs under a pound;16m PFI deal with computer firm RM.

"I know whiteboards have helped to advance teaching and learning," he said.

"And for younger children who can use them with fingers, they can be good.

But they have a number of disadvantages."

First, he cites the cost. "With whiteboards you need a PC, projector and the whiteboard, each costing about pound;1,000. The tablet is pound;1,000 but prices have dropped 40 per cent in the past 18 months. You still need a data projector but you can use any old screen or white wall, and save Pounds 1,000.

"Second, when teachers stand near a whiteboard, they often cast a shadow and obscure some information. With a data tablet, you can be standing anywhere in the class."

The size of the whiteboard determines how many people a teacher can talk to. "With a tablet and data projector you can make an image as big or small as you want to cater for any audience size," he said.

"Another factor is handwriting. With the whiteboard you use a chunky pen or a finger, and neither is very natural. With the tablet PC you use a normal-size pen.

"There has been concern about whether tablet PCs recognise children's handwriting. But our research shows pupils desperately want to improve their writing so that the tablets can recognise it.

"In three or four years, costs will have come down and they will take over from whiteboards.

"Tablet PCs help teachers to make lessons more exciting," Mr Parmiter said.

Teacher magazine 21

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