Leveraging Handheld Technology in the Classroom


Leveraging Handheld Technology in the Classroom

In this era of education reform, high-stakes testing and teacher accountability issues are constantly forcing educators to seek new, innovative methods that address classroom assessment mandates of the president, school board, administrators and parents. As a result, the pressure is on to find technologies and methods that deliver efficient and affordable tools that provide ongoing assessment data to effectively monitor students' progress.

As an algebra II/calculus instructor at University High School in Irvine, Calif. - with a faculty of 99 educators and 2,307 students - I have the responsibility, like other educators, to encourage and inspire my students to learn, while also preparing them to score well on standardized tests. Along with you, I've followed articles, discussions and product announcements of myriad approaches on how to help students improve their standardized test scores.

Classroom Assessment

Over the last year, the use of PDAs in the classroom has become increasingly more prevalent, and we are generally making good use of its capabilities for tasks such as scheduling, note-taking, downloading assignments and accessing the Internet. However, I've noticed many voices from different sources questioning why no one has tapped the affordability and portability of handheld technology for ongoing classroom assessment. I soon found out that someone had, and we tested it at University High School. As foreign a concept as this may seem, our students enthusiastically look forward to taking quizzes.

Last summer, my students and I were part of a national pilot program for the first handheld device specifically designed for use in ongoing classroom testing - the Classroom Wizard from Scantron Corp. The results from the summer session were so great that we incorporated it as part of our ongoing curriculum. The pilot involved 96 students, 32 in each of three classes. We were given a combination of hardware and software, including PDAs for each student, a scanner and an Internet assessment gateway. We used our own PCs and printers. The part that made me breathe more easily was that all other applications, such as beaming answers to other students and Internet access, were disabled on the system. It is designed with the sole purpose of testing and communicating with the teacher.

This use of the technology allows teachers to administer pop quizzes at any time. The answers are scored instantaneously and posted on the student's desktop computer in real-time, while class is in session. In a glance, the instructor can immediately identify and follow the comprehension level of each individual in the entire class, make necessary adjustments to the lesson or assist individual students who need a little extra help.

The system we are using is very straightforward - easy to install, easy to use - and it took no time at all to sell the concept to the students. I immediately noticed that students were enthusiastic about using the PDAs to take quizzes. I also noted that they were studying harder for the quizzes. The students responded very well to the immediate feedback, and enjoyed competing with themselves as their scores improved each day. My students tell me that the instant feedback provides them with a feeling of control over their own success in a course.

How the System Works

The system we are using is based on a PDA developed by Scantron in cooperation with Palm. Each classroom gets a portable scanner, software and handheld devices for each student. The PDAs are kept in the classroom and are used only for quizzes. All other applications are inactive. This is how the system works:

- Step One. Using the PDA, students input their ID, quiz ID and the version of the quiz. They then beam this information to the computer.

- Step Two. Once the information is beamed, the computer generates a quiz form for students, who then input multiple-choice and true/false answers. Students also have the option of entering short answer, fill-in-the-blank or essay questions. Once they have double-checked their work, students beam their answers back to the computer.

- Step Three. The computer instantaneously tabulates the results back to the students and teacher, allowing for on-the-spot feedback and progress.

At the end of class, the students turn in their PDAs until the next time.

The time I normally spend on data entry and grading has been significantly reduced, allowing more time for analysis, adjustment and the ability to focus on students who need more help. I can also use the feedback to determine whether the lessons I'm delivering are at the optimal level for the most number of students. I can run instant reports indicating raw percentage scores that can be immediately analyzed through a number of methods, including mean, median and standard deviation; item analysis; point-by-serial; and most-missed question. Then, I can export results to my gradebook system or a text file. I can even copy quizzes from course to course, and tag those to be retaken by students.

As a teacher, it's gratifying to see my students desire to perform at a higher level. The bottom line is, nobody gets left behind, the kids really think it's fun, and when it's time for standardized tests, they're better equipped to score well.


Barbara Hudgins
University High School
Irvine, CA
[email protected]

Contact Information
Scantron Corp.
Tustin, CA
(800) 722-6876

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.