Bill Gates, Tablet PCs, and education


Rob Zelt, Neil Roodyn and others from the community had a roundtable luncheon with Bill Gates last week at TechEd. Think about this: How many executives from any tech company you can think of set aside time like this to meet with members of the community? Not many.

Rob Zelt has the best write up at this time.

According to Rob, the main topic of conversation was about education including a bit about Tablet PCs.

It’s great to hear on both accounts.

Bill Gates has been the leading public advocate of Tablet PCs. Just look at his last five speeches listed on Microsoft’s Presspass:

From TechEd: “We’ve also got the pen capability that we’re taking to a whole new level in terms of easy recognition, and how that is implemented in the hardware. I think of every student having a device that avoids the need for paper textbooks. The tablet device will let them take notes, record audio, connect to the Internet. It will be superior in every way, and yet it can’t be purely keyboard based. It has to have this touch and pen as well.”

From advance08 The Future of Media: “So that idea of seeing will have that in many places — your desktop in your office, you’ll be able to have things displayed and just point and expand the information, your whiteboard will be an intelligent whiteboard and you can navigate through information there. So it’s pretty spectacular when you get what we call natural interface. Likewise, being able to talk to the computer, talk to your mobile phone and say what you want or have a tablet-like device that you can just take notes on and those notes can be recognized or searched, sent off to other people. That is the combination of incredible processing power together with software breakthroughs.”

Microsoft CEO Summit: “The early uses of this, besides Surface, include things like the touch on some of the phones, including Apple’s, it includes the pen on tablet computers that are very popular in verticals like medicine, and we expect to catch on with students who want to take notes or people who sit in meetings.”

2008 Government Leaders Forum Asia: “I’ve got one last thing to show, and I previewed this earlier, and that’s related to the student Tablet. To me this is an important milestone, and Microsoft has been investing in this for a long time. We see lots of ways that we’re going to drive this into the mainstream. In fact, my own daughter goes to a school where she uses a Tablet PC, and it’s phenomenal to see how comfortable she is, how she learns better. She tries out her knowledge, she communicates with her teacher in a new way. It is completely digital. The Internet is there, the ability to create things is there.”

Japan Premium Forum: “This will be important in the office and it will be important at home, so it will touch computing everywhere. You’ll see on your phone, of course, we’ll have touch and the pen as well. You’ll see on the portable computer we’ll have a tablet-like device that will have touch and that’s where the pen with the ink and ink recognition comes in.”

Five speeches. Five mentions of Tablets. If I went further through the list of speech transcripts, I imagine the trend would continue. That’s the way Bill Gates has been.

I also like the fact that Bill Gates spent so much talking about education. Oh, how I wish I could have listened in. Early on while developing for the Tablet PC I began to see how ideal a device like it might be for education. I’ve been working on some eWorkbooks (or activity books) for awhile that I think will offer a natural way for students to interact with their learning material. Cancer was a bit of hiccup along the way and now I’m racing to pay off bills like you can’t imagine, so my work has gotten more splintered, however, my goals have not. I can’t help but get inspired each time I think about how education can be improved with the right technology. The time is right. The devices are getting inexpensive enough, mobile enough, connected enough, and interactive enough. Now we need the software and content packaged well to leverage these devices.

I hope you don’t mind a little self-archiving here as I re-post some of my eWorkbook “applications” that I’ve been working on.

These include a variety of components ranging from crossword puzzles, clock problems, coin counting problems, math problems, matching problems, reading problems, word search problems, coloring surfaces, connect the dots problems, and so on that fit together nicely in an eWorkbook format. In addition, each component supports both handwriting and keyboard input as well as most importantly interactive feedback:



And here are a mix of algebra problems:


And an eBook that reads aloud for beginner readers:


As well as a personal diary eBook:


And a music composition eWorkbook:


Technology wise, they’re all written with WPF and XAML with portions ported to Silverlight.

As I look back over these screenshots I get goosebumps.

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[…] I’ve been thinking a lot over the last year about what kind of device might really make my electronic workbooks really sing for instance (see the header of this blog for sample screenshots). I’m convinced […]