Veterinary Students Sing Praises of Tablet Technology

An increasing number of students at the University of Illinois and Tennessee veterinary colleges are participating in pilot studies to gauge the success of using tablet personal computers instead of paper notepads in classrooms. One to two years into the programs, students and educational professionals say the technology enhances the educational experience, saves time with word searches and provides a unique storage option.

“When students have their notes digitally, they can hold four years’ worth of notes in one hand,” said Michael Sims, PhD, professor and director of instructional resources at the University of Tennessee. “It’s quite a treasure to be able to search your own education without thumbing through 30 to 40 notebooks.”

At least two other veterinary colleges in the United States are working on similar programs, and an upcoming article in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education may generate wider interest in tablet technology. A large percentage of the veterinary journal is devoted to e-learning, said Donal Walsh, PhD, editor.

“It’s become apparent that this type of information management is the way of the future,” said Jo Ann Eurell, DVM, PhD, associate professor, who initiated a pilot tablet program at the University of Illinois in 2004.

Illinois students paid about $2,000 for Fujitsu tablet computers, while Tennessee students were given HP tablets on loan. Both groups of students may, in the long run, save money by using the technology, Eurell said. Students pay about $1,000 in copier fees for classroom paper notes, which are provided free-of-charge electronically.

In addition to tablets, Illinois students also using more laptops, which is easier to do since the college installed a wireless communication network last year, Eurell said. In Tennessee, students access the college Intranet to download presentations before class and can handwrite notes over the document, Sims said. Tennessee students also are able to download digitized glass slides to study images and annotations before or after going to a lab, Sims said. He added that the introduction of tablet PCs was “an attempt to get information to students anywhere at anytime.”

And according to a article in the March/April 2005 issue of Trends Magazine, this interest in digital notes is not limited to academia. The article estimates that tablet technology is used in more than 300 practices in the United States, and goes on to say that “practices are most impressed with the tablet’s handwriting-recognition software, which allows doctors and staff to write on the tablet as though they were writing in a paper record.”

While popular with students and some practitioners, Eurell cautions that tablet PCs are not for everybody. “It’s a real change,” she said. “You have to trust that everything is on this computer, that there are no written notes.”

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