"I have to say, as a complete technophile that I'm not convinced computers have a place in school anywhere other than in the IT class. I'm pretty damn sure that funding books and more teachers is more cost effective. Plus you have to consider that education isn't about learning knowledge - it's about learning skills. Social skills, communication skills and assertiveness are all important things to learn at school. How does a tablet PC help there?"
Aside from realizing that the TabletPC still needs some improvement (touch screen rather than digitizer, better & faster multiple doc mgmt), I couldn't disagree with you more.
I think that maybe the Key is not to think of this as being "TabletPC's in the class", but as an improved method for the Teacher to monitor the class's progress, for instance where with these in the classroom, students will be able to get real time answers in the midst of a lecture, where a Teacher's Assistant could answer low level questions and bring those students back into line with the lecturer, whereas before they would be drifting off into the fog, or interupting the lecture and interfering with others ability to comprehend the material.
A good Lecturer/TA combo, would be so much better able to keep the class's level of understanding in line with the lecture, and direct the class towards more towards achieving the goal of the class.
"I'm pretty damn sure that funding books and more teachers is more cost effective"
I've got 350 "books" in my PocketPC alone - classics, recent publications, "textbooks", etc. Their cost in standard paper books would be massive, not to mention being completely impractical to use. If a question comes up on Shakespeare or Newton or most anything else, I've got relevant material literaly in my hands, to find answers with. The TabletPC (and hopefully the upcoming UMPC) has far more capability.
Can't you imagine what a good prof, with real understanding of the material could do to direct a class towards a broader understanding of their material, as opposed to being bound to the number of materials a student can fit into their backpack or retrieve from the library? And how about class based blogs & discussion forums monitored by the Lecturer/TA?
"All replacing paper with tablets does is add more barriers to entry on to learning... Meaning it is harder for people to learn because they have things to learn or to master. And then if you add on "Messing around" ... Well you get the idea."
A proper use of technology in the classroom won't add bariers to learning, but free the student/teacher from current barriers of time (interupting lectures for isolated questions) and space (available materials & interaction with teacher/TA & rest
of class long after leaving class).
As far as students "Messing around" in class; for those that do because they got hopelessly lost in the lecture, they'd now have a way of gettng questions answered as needed and help keep them involved and up to speed. For other students that are messing around just because they're fools... technology can't help them, and maybe they'll be so involved in their own foolishness that they won't bother the rest of the class.
"education isn't about learning knowledge - it's about learning skills. Social skills, communication skills and assertiveness are all important things to learn at school."
Sorry, but IMHO that's sounds mostly like Ed School silliness. Education is about not only learning knowledge, but then integrating it with the rest of your knowledge, opinions & your life. Life is where you learn Social skills, communication skills and assertiveness - if you haven't picked them up by your teens, I don't see any Institutional school helping you out much there... other than maybe what may follow from a more involved experience and dialoge with your Teacher, and fellow students... which this kind of creative use of Technology might be able to help draw you into.