[mandelbrot set] MATH DEPT Computer News, Volume 33

How I teach big calculus lectures with a tablet PC

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I taught MATH 165 in Math 175 this past fall using an IBM X-41 ThinkPad Tablet PC. The students said they liked it better than the dual overhead projectors or the three shuffled blackboards. It also made it very easy to post my lecture notes on the web. I explain here how I set it all up.

First, I went to the University Book Store and bought a ten foot VGA extension cord for ten bucks. I plugged one end into the monitor cable that only reaches two feet beyond the computer station in Math 175 and I plugged the other end into the side of my tablet PC, which I placed on the lectern that I put on the table that I slid over toward the aisle closest to the computer station.

I put my tablet PC to sleep before lecture. When I got to Math 175, I plugged everything in, then turned on the projector. After the projector warmed up, I selected RGB-2 for the input to the projector and then fired up my tablet PC in regular laptop mode. When the laptop was ready, I pushed Fn-F7 to set up an external monitor and selected

Presentation on projector and ThinkPad XGA 1024x728

Next, I would fire up Windows Journal. After that, I wanted to turn the ThinkPad laptop into a tablet PC by rotating the screen and closing it down. When I did that, the image from the projector would turn upside down. To correct this, I pushed the rotate 90 degrees button on the right side of the tablet twice. (Don't push it twice too fast. It might hang up. I explain at the end of this page how you can change the orientation order for that button so that you will only need to push it once here.) Now I could begin my lecture. I explain in the next paragraph how I set up Windows Journal to function nicely as a multiple colored pen overhead projector. (Before I do that, I should mention that not all ItaP interfaces to projectors work the same. In REC 317, for example, I had to plug in my sleeping laptop and make sure the input to the projector was on RGB-1, which projects the screen from the desktop in the classroom. Then I would wake up my laptop and select presentation mode. Then I would switch to RGB-2 to get the tablet output to the screen. Any other order would fail.)

Windows Journal has an annoying feature of jumping to the next page when you start getting close to the bottom of a page. To avoid this, I create a Windows Journal document called lecture.jnt that is ten pages long with only one little dot in the bottom corner of each page. I keep it on my desktop. That way I can double click on it and start writing and just scroll past the bottom of each page without the jump, just like an overhead projector with a roller of plastic film. At the end of the lecture, I save it as lecture03-21.jnt. (if the date is 03-21-2009, for example). I delete any blank pages at the end so students won't waste paper printing them.

I like to use an 8.5x11 inch wide ruled note paper style for my paper. That way, if my students decide to save my lecture notes from the web, they will print nicely.

The tablet screen gets projected so large on the screen in class that you can write as small as you can and the students in back can read it just fine. So I set my pen to have the finest thickness possible, fine chisel. I only want the color menu bar to appear at the top of the page, so I go to the View menu and select Toolbars and check the Format setting and uncheck the Pen, Standard, and View settings. (I save the file once after that to lecture.jnt so I don't have to do it every time before lecture.)

It is easy to change the color of the ink now by just tapping on the color box at the top of the screen. (I made the best picture of the complex cosine function I've ever done in MA 530 using six different colors this way.)

The best way to post your lectures on the web is to PRINT the Windows Journal file to a fake printer called Adobe PDF converter (which gets installed in your printer list when you install Adobe Standard). When you print to Adobe PDF converter, it will give you a dialogue box asking you where you want to save the PDF file. See some examples here.

Another way to post the lecture notes on the web is to go to the File menu and select Export and export the file to lecture03-21.mht in Windows Web Archive format. See some examples.

There is also a free Windows program to view Windows Journal Files, so you can even post the notes as lecture03-21.jnt in Windows Journal format and your students can easily view them if they download the free program from microsoft.com.

If your students are mac users, they will need a plug-in to view Windows Web Archive files. If you have Adobe Acrobat Standard, you can also save the Windows Journal file as a TIFF file and use Adobe Acrobat to convert it to PDF, but you'll lose the colors that way. See this example for how a PDF file turns out this way.

You can change the order in which the rotate button changes the screen orientation so that you don't have to push it multiple times to get the output displayed correctly on an exterior monitor. To do this, go to Tools in Windows Journal and select Options. Clik on the Other tab and click on Tablet Settings in the lower right corner. You'll see a link at the bottom of the Display tab that says Go to orientation. There you can mess around with the order until you get it right.

Let me know if you have a better system. If you have Microsoft Office installed, you might like to try the OpenNote program. It is a fancier version of Windows Journal that handles image files better.

Another nifty thing you might like to try is Jing, an application to capture what is happening on your computer screen with voice over in a Flash video. It is a free download at


I tried it and created these Jing things

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