Even though Bill Gates is headed into retirement this summer, Tablet PC will remain a focus of his as he continues to work at Microsoft part-time. This is evidenced in a speech he gave on January 23rd at the Government Leaders Form. Here are a few snippets, but you’ll need to read the entire thing for context. In addition, there is some follow-up from one of the educators involved in the program in Spain:
Finally, the way we interact with these devices will change. To date it’s been overwhelmingly the keyboard and the mouse, and those will continue to be important, but those will be added to as we have the ability to touch, to touch the surface of a table or a display to give a command. We’ll have the ability to use a pen so that we can take notes and annotate things. We’ll have the ability to use speech, so we can just say to our mobile phone, you know, where is the nearest gas station, where are my family right now, what are they doing, and it will understand our voice and be able to respond to that.
So, vision and touch and speech and ink, all of those I call natural user interface. And along with the lower cost computers, this natural interface will make computing far more pervasive. Something that today you would think of as very difficult, like organizing all of the photos and things you have about your child growing up, this type of new interface will make that very, very natural. And you won’t think of a boundary as you move from your phone to your PC to the TV in the living room to your car; you’ll think of all your information being with you wherever you go.
Well, now I want to talk about a program that I personally think is quite fantastic, and I hope we can spread very broadly, and that’s what we call our Tablet PC Program. That’s the idea of an individual student having a tablet computer that they can use so that they get to browse the Internet and do their homework, and even taking the textbook, the curriculum, and getting those down onto the PC so that it’s interactive, it connects up to the Internet, and so you can actually take the money that was invested in printing those textbooks and actually spend it on making sure they can have a great tablet computer.
This is something we’ve been doing in a number of pilot computers around the world, and helping them with the curriculum, and really learning, having conferences with them and spreading this around.
One of the largest projects, actually the largest in the world, is in Spain, in Aragon, Spain, which, of course, is in northeastern Spain, and these are primary school students who are doing amazing things with their tablet computers.
This started almost five years ago, but recently they added a number of schools, 48 schools two years ago, and then just last year 170 schools, and so they’re reaching a very high part of the region with this amazing approach.
You can see on the video some examples of the students using this thing. Our role was to provide the training, support, curriculum, a lot of the software, so that this wouldn’t just be outside the normal learning experience, it would be a central part of it.
The reaction of the students and teachers has been amazing, and for people who like objective results, it’s also been great to see that the PISA test scores, which are benchmarks used across all OECD countries, those have significantly improved as well, particularly in the areas like math and science where the tablet is being used most heavily, and there are now new ideas for using the tablet in even some new ways.