Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, traditionally one of the ten largest colleges of engineering in the U.S., has announced it will require its entering freshmen to purchase Convertible Tablet PCs.

This type of PC has all of the functionality of a laptop and the additional capability to act as a notebook for pen-based input. This announcement follows a number of firsts by Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering in the area of personal computing.

In 1984, the college was the first public institution in the U.S. to require its entering engineering freshmen to own a personal computer. In 2002, the College moved to a laptop requirement as many of the academic buildings offered wireless capabilities. “With our decision to move to Convertible Tablet PCs, our College of Engineering continues to lead in the implementation and use of technology in education,” said Richard Benson, dean of the College of Engineering.

“The Tablet PC offers all the functionality of a notebook computer with the addition of a built in writing tablet. This opens the way for instructional opportunities not found with traditional notebook computers. Students will use Tablet PC’s in their first year studies for in class assignments and projects,” said Glenda Scales, associate dean of distance learning and computing.

Students can write or sketch equations onto the tablet portion and save these handwritten notes, taken during class, to the computer as a document. The approximately 1,250 entering freshmen will use Tablet-specific software in class and for homework assignments.

Faculty using the Tablet PC in the classroom, according to Scales, will have additional flexibility to implement active learning techniques. Currently several faculty are using the Tablet PC for easily annotating their presentations during class, electronic grading, electronic submission of lab reports, acquiring student feedback electronically, and peer grading. Additional applications for use of the Tablet in or outside of class include digital sketchpad for diagrams, writing mathematical equations, advanced note taking, organizing and sharing with OneNote, collaboration tools including ConferenceXP and ReMarkable Texts, tools like Physics Illustrator and ChemPad for exploring different concepts, handwritten class notes can be converted to digital text, complete diagrams and projects in class, and pen-based 3D design software. Virginia Tech is currently in discussion with vendors, and will make a recommendation to the incoming 2006 class soon.

In the most recent (2004) survey of the Engineering Workforce Commission of the American Association of Engineering Societies, Inc., the Virginia Tech College of Engineering ranks eighth nationally for the number of undergraduate degrees awarded. “America's Best Colleges 2006” survey, released by U.S. News & World Report in August 2004, ranks Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering's undergraduate program 14 in the nation among all accredited engineering schools that offer doctorates, and eighth at public universities.

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The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 5,500 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 1,800 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.