Tablet PCs A Must-Buy For Hokie Engineers

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Incoming freshman to Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering have to pickup a pricey item before starting classes – a tablet PC.

The technology requirement for aspiring engineers at Virginia Tech goes beyond the laptops that had been required by that school and many others.

Now, Virginia Tech wants its new engineering students to pick up a tablet PC, a more expensive item than a typical laptop. The school said it is working with vendors to try and get the best price for students, and recommends they wait until May or June before buying a tablet PC.

Students also have to purchase a $500 bundle of software that includes licenses for a variety of Microsoft products, as well as AutoDesk and MatLab.

The switch from laptop to tablet requirements has raised some eyebrows in the student body. A story from U-Wire noted the hardware being used by students currently doesn’t get much support from instructors:

“When they changed over to laptops, it was perceived that they would be heavily incorporated into the coursework,” Ryan Harne, a junior mechanical engineering major, said. “The average engineer will use that laptop for the two intro courses and that’s it. As in any major, they will take it to class and sit in the back and chat on AIM. That’s the most use it gets after those intro courses.”

“I have never, except for my first year, never been given even slides to follow along with … it’s all things I have to write down by hand in class,” Harne said. “I can perceive that they will effectively use this in the intro course … but after that, it’s an expensive piece of machinery that will have little use.”

That expense should be lower than what students and their parents might expect. The school said it would have competitive pricing under its vendor negotiations:

“(The students voicing concern) don’t have access to the non-disclosure stuff we’re getting from the vendors,” said Tom Walker, associate professor in the department of engineering education. “Students get a great price break from all these vendors that we’re talking about. We’re talking about a price gap of only $100 to $200 dollars (between tablets and laptops).”


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

Tablet PCs A Must-Buy For Hokie Engineers
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  • http://vtluug.org/wiki/Tablet_requirement Hokie Tablet User

    While Dyknow is sometimes used into the sophomore level courses, most of the other programs like OneNote lose their effectiveness when assignments are required to be written up in a professional manner in the higher level courses. Even in classes like major-specific math courses, the homeworks can be required to be typed up.

    In addition, all the modeling and simulation tools that students use at higher levels require keyboard and mouse input. While the tablet has the potential to revolutionize teaching, there’s a lot of software that needs pen input capabilities before this can happen. Taking a look at the required software at Virginia Tech, it’s easy to see that most of it is proprietary, so students, faculty, and staff can’t add the functionality themselves. The College of Engineering seems to think that through their exclusive deal with Fujitsu they can somehow encourage commercial development, but to date this has been fruitless.

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