Archive for the ‘PC Tablets’ Category

Abandon the Red Pen!

I have a new Teaching with Tech column published in MAA FOCUS about digital grading. In particular…

  • Why would you want to grade papers digitally?
  • What kind of hardware/software would you need?
  • How do you manage the files and workflow?
  • How to use custom stamps to give more detailed feedback (more details on that one on an older blog post)

Abandon the Red Pen, MAA FOCUS, October/November 2011

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Orkin Rolltop Computer

I saw this last fall at the AMATYC Conference, and I’m just getting around to posting it now (how sad is that?).  Thanks to Fred for showing us this one!

This is just a design vision – what could computing be like in the future? But I would say that it’s a vision that totally “leaves the box” and it’s really a beautiful solution to the multiple uses issue.

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Lost Pointer in Tablet Projection?


Many of us in math (and many other technical subjects) are now using tablets (slate tablets, tablet PCs, or peripheral tablets) to teach classes.  Using a tablet to project what you’re writing has several advantages over traditional whiteboards/blackboards:

1.  You can face the students (instead of facing the board).
2.  You can make better use of color, shading, and drawing tools (see How Tablets Enhance the Math).
3.  You can save your lessons in as either images or screencaptures (videos of the computer screen with your audio recorded in sync).

There is, however, one problem.  When you project the image of your journaling software onto the “big screen” in your room, the pen tip is typically projected as a black pixel.  This is not so much of a problem when you’re actually writing, but is a big problem when you’re using the cursor to point at some part of the screen (nobody in the classroom can see where you’re pointing).

Luckily, there’s a simple solution.  Kenrick Mock (@macharoni on twitter), from the University of Alaska Anchorage, a computer programmer and tablet PC enthusiast has written two programs that simply create a colored circle of emphasis around the cursor area.  The pen tip becomes easily visible.


I’ve written Kenrick’s free PenAttention program before, but it was worth mentioning again for two reasons.  First, Kenrick has just written an update for the PenAttention (for tablet computers) .  Second, Kenrick also quietly wrote a program called CursorAttention, designed for those of you using peripheral tablets (external tablets that plug in to your computer via USB, like the Wacom Bamboo).

The new update has a few new features:

  • Support for mapping to extended displays (displays a highlight on extended displays like Microsoft PowerPoint in Presenter View mode or Classroom Presenter in Dual-Monitor Output Mode)
  • Support for rectangular highlight (useful for highlighting text passages or lines)
  • Right-click to toggle highlight color


Kenrick also recorded a nice tutorial video to show you what PenAttention will do on both the native computer screen and on the projected screen.

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5 Tips for Using a Bamboo Tablet

If you (or your college) can’t afford a tablet computer, then a peripheral tablet or digital pen can be a good inexpensive option.

For those who have never used a Bamboo Tablet, it’s like writing with a pen.  You hold the stylus like a pen.  When you apply pressure to the tablet, the mark (digital ink) does show up on the screen, but… It’s also not like a pen, in that the friction between the stylus and tablet is much different than that of ink gliding across paper.  This causes an “unanticipated roughness” in the appearance of text written on the tablet.

That being said, here are my 5 tips for using the tablet:

1.  Use proper ink width.  If you are given a choice, that is.  Your choice of ink width will probably depend on your writing style.  If you normally have small writing, you may want to use a thinner ink width.  Likewise, if you make larger letters, try a thicker ink.  Here are examples of different widths:

2. Relax. Clutching the pen and writing slowly is not worth the effort. You’re better off trying to imitate what you do naturally (with a real pen) than trying to “reteach” your hand how to write altogether.
Here’s what I mean.

3. Find a comfortable way to hold the stylus without disturbing the pen buttons.  If you accidentally press the button, which is right where you grip the pen,  it is like right-clicking with the mouse.  I’m not sure why the buttons on these styluses are always in such a bad location but they are on every tablet pen I’ve ever encountered.

4. Make an extra effort to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. These don’t always show up (especially if you normally do them quickly on paper).

5. Practice, practice, practice! (Did you think this wouldn’t make the top 5?)

To learn more about the Wacom Bamboo Tablet, here is the user’s manual.

One more tip, if you’ve got a Bamboo Tablet and can’t find an inking program on your computer (like OneNote or Windows Journal), then try installing the free program Jarnal (see Jarnal Tutorials in previous post).

This post was written by Christine Gardner (Assistant Busynessgirl) and edited by Maria Andersen.  Chris is trying her hand at blogging to keep us on a more regular blogging schedule. If anyone has any idea how to turn on the “author”  field of WordPress, let us know, because we can’t seem to find it.

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Jarnal Tutorials

A peripheral tablet (like the Wacom Bamboo tablets we gave away at the workshop) can be a very inexpensive option for getting handwriting to the screen.  Unfortunately, obtaining a software program that is designed for this purpose is not as easy.  Windows Journal, although designed for use on tablets, is only available with Windows XP Tablet and certain versions of Windows Vista.  Incidentally, if you have Windows Vista, and are trying to find Windows Journal, try typing “Journal” into the search box in the start menu.


Another tablet option is to buy OneNote, but if you’re already trying to save money, this kind of defeats the purpose (and it’s not available for Linux or Mac).

Which brings us to Jarnal.  Jarnal is open-source freeware built by David K. Levine and Gunnar Teege.  It can be used in Windows, Linux, or Mac operating systems (see the download page).  Yes … this means all of your online students could use it for free!

Jarnal is not a program that I use regularly (because I have a tablet PC, Journal, and OneNote).  However, one of our workshop participants, Daniel Kopsas, turned out to be an expert on using  Jarnal with a peripheral tablet. Even better, he was inspired to make an awesome set of Jarnal Tutorials during the workshop and has put them on the web for everyone to use!


The Jarnal Tutorials cover:

  • How to download and create a shortcut
  • Adding a toolbar button and changing default pen, paper style, etc.
  • Using pens, highlighters, and rulers
  • Typing text
  • Inserting and resizing an image
  • Deleting, moving, cutting, or copying objects
  • Inserting and deleting pages
  • Inserting a PDF background
  • Opening files, saving files, and saving as a PDF

Bravo to Daniel Kopsas, from Ozarks Technical Community College for “thinking big” and making a set of tutorials that we (and our students) can all use!

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Infinite Whiteboard in Windows Journal?

The last few weeks of the semester I was teaching rational expressions in my algebra class. It seems to make the most sense to students if you simplify expressions while writing each subsequent step horizontally across the page. At the end of one line, I moved my pen to the next line of the Windows Journal page, and then stopped. Why on earth can’t I add more space to the right edge of the page like I can do on the bottom of the page? I’d like to get to the right edge of the screen and have the option to insert space on the right to extend the page horizontally.

It’s all digital for heaven’s sake! My virtual “whiteboard” could go on for miles horizontally in the digital world. Why doesn’t it?

On the off chance that I have the attention of someone at Microsoft … can you please fix the PDF problem in Windows Journal while you’re in there tinkering with the code?

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Reason to be excited about Windows 7

Eleven months ago, I discovered a little-known program called Microsoft Math (read old post here). This was the first decent attempt that I’d seen at handwriting recognition for math. I’m guessing that Microsoft Math was the testing ground for a new feature that will be released with Microsoft’s Windows 7 – handwriting recognition for math (see Gizmodo post for more Windows 7 spoilers). You can see similarity in the screenshots of the Microsoft Math interface and the image that has been posted for Windows 7.

Here’s Windows 7 Math Handwriting Recognition.

Here’s the older Microsoft Math Interface.

While handwriting recognition is certainly fantastic news for us math folks, it still does not solve the problem of getting cheap tablet technology into the hands of students. Without that, handwriting recognition for math will only be useful for those of us who have been blessed with Tablet PCs or peripheral tablets.

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How Tablets Enhance the Math

Let me just say how much I love having a tablet PC to teach with. It is certainly useful for my online classes, but it has also become essential in my face-to-face classes as well. Consider this image, one of the examples we covered in class today:

The problem was to find the derivative of  f(x)=x^3 – x.  We began by graphing  f and then sketching the graph of the derivative.  Using the tablet, we could highlight the parts of f that had positive slopes in yellow, and highlight the parts of f with negative slopes in green.  Yes, you can do this with colored chalk or colored pens, but the impact is just different visually.

Then we began to work through the derivative using the limit definition of the derivative. Calculus students seem to struggle with their algebra a lot, so I wanted to work through the cubic expansion of the binomial (x+h). Some of the students have trouble following the distribution, and I think the color-coding of terms helps here.

Finally, towards the end of the problem, there is that final step where we finally take the limit as h approaches zero. Again, using the highlighting feature to emphasize the terms where h=0 is substituted seems to enhance the understanding of the problem.

Now if you’re going to use a tablet and highlighting in class, you might want to remind students that they could use a highlighter (or two) in their notes too. An alternative would be to bring a set of highlighters to class for topics where you anticipate the highlighting to be really important. Here’s my set of highlighters:

… which has now replaced my old set of colored pencils (yes, the mug with the pencils IS leaning, it’s my Leaning Mug of Pisa)

Of course, I can also post the notes from class online, complete with color highlighting. Because it’s difficult to post Journal files in a format that is easily-viewable by all students (see previous post for details), I use SnagIt to capture the image for each example as a jpg file(or you could use Jing too). I can then post the jpg file or use Acrobat to bundle several examples together as a PDF file.

UPDATE: I was asked how, exactly, the highlighting with a tablet is visually different than what you could do by underlining the same sections.  I suspected it has something to do with how the eye is drawn to the swaths of color, but was unsure how to “prove” it.  So I asked a friend who teaches graphic design.  She said that it has to do with establishing a focal point.  When you underline, the focal point becomes the line under the written text (instead of the text itself), when you highlight, the focal point becomes the highlighted swath of color (which includes the text).  So visually, the highlighting keeps the emphasis on the mathematics instead of distracting the eye to the new line that has been drawn.

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Unexpected Errors in Windows Journal

If you’re a PC tablet user, then probably you’ve used Windows Journal a bit, or maybe a lot. Imagine my distress when, last Thursday, Windows Journal stopped playing nice. Suddenly, several rather necessary operations became non-functional.

1. Journal would no longer save files.
2. No ability to “print to Journal” as a standard print option.
3. No ability to import files to Journal.
4. No ability to open old Journal files.

Yikes! I’m sure you’re all thinking – hey, glad it wasn’t me!

I tried all the standard tricks … searching for the error message on the Internet, looking for Windows Updates to uninstall, rebooting, but to no avail. I had to resort to asking for help from our IT department. After two days, and help from Chris-squared, we finally stumbled upon the problem. So I pass on this wisdom to you, in case you ever need it.

The My Notes folder had become read-only, and it wouldn’t let go of these settings. Every attempt to do one of these four actions started with trying to save a file in this folder, which would not allow new files. We created a new folder, very cleverly named My Notes2, moved all the old files to this folder, and then repointed the “print properties” for Windows Journal (found in the settings folder with all the printers) to this folder. We tried to remove and rebuild the offending My Notes folder, but something is causing it to rebuild itself with the Read-only setting as well.

So, I have no idea what caused this incident, and I can’t blame the LHC, since that’s not online for another seven hours. I am thankful to have this particular problem fixed. Between this and my disappearing Blackboard grade center, I am feeling a bit like a knight slaying technology dragons. And I have a cold. Ugh.

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Like Windows Journal, but for any platform

I can’t believe I never posted this. I certainly meant to. A while ago I asked Kenrick Mock if he had any suggestions for programs like Windows Journal that would run on non-tablet computers. Why would you want one? Well, students can use them to sketch a graph or write a few steps of a problem. Also, those of you with peripheral tablets (like the Wacom Bamboo) still need to have tablet software, and Windows Journal is not so easy to get if it doesn’t come with your computer. A couple of my students tried these out and said they did actually work okay.

Jarnal: an open-source application for notetaking, sketching, keeping a journal, making a presentation, annotating a document – including pdf – or collaborating using a stylus, mouse or keyboard.

NoteLab: an advanced “digital notebook” specifically designed for tablet computers.

Tablet PC Post: has an interesting collection of Tablet software that might be of interest to you, each is a little different.

Grafigo: this is Corel’s version of the standard tablet drawing interface.

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