Handhelds in Education


According to the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education (Hi-CE) at the University of Michigan: "Computers can be great learning tools when used effectively, but high costs have long hindered educators from providing each student with a laptop or desktop unit of his or her own. Today, handheld devices such as Palms are making technology accessible, affordable and fun for teachers and students alike."

Handhelds - also called handheld computers or personal digital assistants (PDAs) - offer users convenience by being small enough to hold in one hand and lightweight enough to carry in a pocket, backpack or briefcase. They can store data, share files with computers, display graphs and images, and rapidly exchange information. Familiar companies that produce handhelds for educational use include Palm (www.palm.com/education), Sony (www.sonystyle.com), Casio (www.casio.com/education) and Texas Instruments (http://education.ti.com).


A Glenc'e/McGraw-Hill article titled "Handheld Devices Make Inroads in the Classroom" (online at www.glenc'e.com/sec/teachingtoday/educationupclose.phtml/14) details several uses and considerations for handhelds regarding students, teachers and parents:

  • PDAs and student achievement. Students can take notes in class, keep a schedule of homework assignments, write reports, share information between their PDAs and keep track of their grades. For example, when students are absent they can simply download missed notes from another student without problems such as illegible writing. Handhelds also allow students to easily share information during team projects, alleviating the reliance on one team member to be the sole record keeper.
  • PDAs and the teacher. Using handheld computers in the classroom can be a boon to grading, student assessment and classroom management. The electronic transmission of assignments between teachers and students can drastically reduce the amount of paperwork inherent in the life of the traditional classroom. But as with most technology, teachers must have the professional development opportunities and administrative support to create a learning environment where PDAs become tools for learning instead of just high-tech toys.
  • PDAs and parents. Some schools are benefiting from the fact that PDAs provide a reliable communication tool between parents and teachers. Teachers can download grades, notes on behavior and upcoming assignments onto student PDAs. When students take their handhelds home each evening, parents are then able to view the information and stay abreast of their students' performance.

Admittedly, PDAs do have the clear disadvantage of potentially being lost, damaged or stolen. Thus, any classroom or school initiative to provide handhelds to students should consider this reality and formulate a plan to handle such losses.

Handheld Resources:

  • Handheld Learning
    This site is dedicated to helping everyone in schools utilize handheld technologies to improve leading, teaching and learning.
  • pdaED.com
    Dedicated to the use of PDAs in the classroom, this site offers product reviews, feature articles, feedback from teachers and students, discussions and news.
  • Hi-CE's Palm Pages
    Hi-CE's site offers a collection of free downloadable Palm applications for the classroom. The site also offers discussions, videos and articles about handhelds.
  • Paperless Classroom
    This site is dedicated to a Kentucky middle school that uses a paperless classroom in which all homework and reading assignments are done on PDAs.

Judith B. Rajala, M.A., president and founder of EduHound.com (www.EduHound.com), is an independent educational technology instructor and former K-12 educator. She is also a consultant to several Connecticut-based state technology organizations. Contact her at EduHoundExtra@thejournal.com.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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