Handheld computers earn high marks
- By Nicholas Morehead
- Jul 02, 2001
Industry matchmakers might want to take note: Handheld computers and education
have been getting to know each other, and it looks as if the two might get
along just fine.
This budding relationship is grounded in reciprocity, if not logic.
Educators, administrators and students are looking for a way to best harness
the educational, organizational, communicative and resource potential of
computers and the Internet. Handheld computer makers are looking for a way
to tap the market some 70 million strong of potential mobile users concentrated
in 110,000 K-12 schools and 3,500 colleges and universities nationwide.
The results of these two driving forces are beginning to surface in
the form of a growing number of educational institutions across the country
using handheld computing devices in a variety of ways.
Companies such as Palm Inc., Handspring Inc. and Mindsurf Networks are
learning how to develop products that meet the needs of teachers, administrators
and students. Those very same teachers, administrators and students, meanwhile,
are learning how to better coordinate, educate and communicate in an increasingly
"It seems to make sense that schools would be making the change [to
handhelds] in the classroom," said Don Blake, senior technologist at the
National Education Association (www.nea.org). "As these devices become more
streamlined and affordable, they become more attractive to students and
to administration. I don't think it can help but become a larger trend."
It's hard to quantify the number of handhelds used in schools nationwide,
simply because the technology is still new to schools, said Kathleen Brantley,
director of product development at Market Data Retrieval (www.schooldata.com),
a Connec.ticut-based education market research firm. But the company plans
to assess the market by next year.
Officials at Palm, the leading manufacturer of handheld computing devices,
said education is currently 8 percent of their business, but that they expect
that number to grow.
The company, in conjunction with SRI International's Center for Technology
in Learning (www.sri.com/policy/ctl), has developed the nationwide Palm
Education Pioneer Grant Program, (www.palm.com/education/programs/pepgrant)
through which Palm provides computers for teachers and their students and
evaluates innovative uses of Palm handheld computers in K-12 classrooms.
To qualify for the one-year award, educators must use Palm computers
in the classroom and work with SRI to evaluate the impact of Palm computers
on teaching and learning. In return for providing the hardware and training,
Palm gets insight into best practices for using the powerful, portable and
adaptable handheld computers.
Palm and SRI International awarded grants this year to 15 classes nationwide
and plan to give them to 60 to 80 more classes next year.
Students at Beaver High School in Utah use handhelds to conduct on-site
research and calculations for chemistry experiments. Middle-school students
in Detroit use the devices to learn about sexually transmitted diseases
through a program called "Cooties," which is placed on certain devices and
spread via computer interaction. Sixth-grade students at St. Vincent Ferrer
in Cincinnati are making the transition to junior high school easier by
using the devices to manage schedules and assignments.
Rick Robb, an English teacher at River Hill High School in Clarksville,
Md., (www.howard.k12.md.us/rhhs) also hoped handhelds could ease the transition
to high school for freshmen.
With increased course loads, more stringent academic requirements and
a greater set of responsibilities than those of grammar-school students,
the freshmen had a lot to handle. So last October, Robb, a former systems
analyst, negotiated to get units for his English class. The handhelds equipped with e-mail capabilities, Internet access and a host of educational
software proved a better way to communicate, conduct research, organize
class materials and complete assignments, he said.
The handhelds worked so well in Robb's class that soon all 450 freshmen
at the school were toting them.
Mindsurf gave the school the computers and all the trimmings for free,
as a way to test the equipment. The school is responsible for the foundations
of the local wireless networks, hardware in the form of Compaq Computer
Corp. iPaqs, educational software and training, and support.
"We were looking for a couple of development sites where we could test
and develop products before they went to the market," said Dean Kephart,
vice president of marketing for Mindsurf. "We're not charging River Hill
anything for our services, but we are heavily asking them to donate the
time and resources it takes to help develop a product."
Robb said he had no trouble persuading the administration to sign on.
"There was a lot of overall support," Robb said, adding that a few parents
were worried about how the devices would fit into the curriculum. But once
they saw them in action, their concerns faded. "Now I've got parents telling
me how great they are and asking where they can get their own," Robb said.
The freshmen at River Hill use the handhelds to check their assignments
anytime, e-mail classmates or teachers for help and access the Internet
For a recent class assignment, students used their handhelds to research
how to write a thesis. The class searched the Internet for appropriate tutorial
sites, downloaded information and drafted statements. In 10 minutes, Robb
said, the class reconvened and shared notes, experiences and completed examples.
"It wasn't a full-blown lesson, but it certainly is a prime example
of how our students were integrating this technology immediately into the
classroom," Robb said.
River Hill officials hope to expand the program to include more students,
but as of now, they plan to have the freshmen pass their handhelds on to
next year's class.
Kevin Chapman, technology coordinator for the Millard County School District
in Utah, is trying to get buy-in from his administration for the computers.
Chapman would like to get students the devices, but for now he's working
with Palm to get them for the administrators themselves. Principals are
using handhelds to check students' class schedules; officials and local
school boards are using them to coordinate calendars for meetings; and teachers
are using them to file student evaluations.
Despite their newness, one problem has already tainted the idea of handhelds
in the classroom cheating. Students with the devices are finding that
they can share answers to tests and do instant, spot research via the Internet.
Darrell Walery, director of technology for Consolidated High School
District 230 in Orland Park, Ill., (www.d230.org/handheld) said the issue
of cheating is ultimately one of classroom management, and a potential increase
in the ability to cheat is a small price to pay for the increased resources
the devices can offer.
Walery, who oversees the use of about 1,800 handheld devices by a cross
section of the district's three high schools, said handhelds, in the long
run, will redefine the para.meters of education to the extent that cheating
might cease to exist as we know it.
"As we move away from the traditional group-oriented education namely
one teacher lecturing to many students to a more individualized setting,
where students can work one-on-one with teachers, and where students are
encouraged...to find the information for themselves," Walery said, "the
whole notion [of cheating] drops off as we know it because we'll want students
to work together, share information and collaborate."