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Marc Mertens, the CEO of Seso, designed the I-slate interface. The challenge, he says, has been to figure out “what is the ideal way to work with students, while making sure the device does as little as it can.” That approach keeps hardware costs and power consumption low. Animations and other complex, media-rich tools are just not possible. The math program is based on the standard textbook used in the region and allows students to move at their own pace. They can skip problems if they get stuck. Teachers can download information from each student’s device to monitor their progress.

The field tests, which showed that the students’ math skills improved when they used the I-slate, were done using prototypes based on conventional chips. Next year, the researchers will begin producing the three-watt, solar-powered model.

“We keep chewing the hardware down, then evaluating the effectiveness of the interface and the lessons on it,” says Palem. “Once we are comfortable with the user interface, we will switch in the [probabilistic] chip.”

As Palem’s team works on upgrading the hardware, Mertens is working on broadening the curriculum that can be put on the I-slate. It’s much easier to design a program to grade math tests than written work, he says. “We’re exploring how this device could go beyond math and support more creative curricula,” he says.

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Credit: Rice University

Tagged: Computing, Energy, tablets, hardware, education

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