University to require handhelds

The University of South Dakota has become the first public institution of

higher education in the nation to require handheld devices for students.

Beginning with the 2001-2002 academic year, the Vermillion campus of

the state's university system will provide freshmen, as well as first-year

law and medical students, with handheld computers. About 1,300 students

will get the devices.

Roger Kozak, vice president of university relations, said that the program

is something of an experiment.

"We're confident that it will enhance students' educational experience

here, but also we believe using these devices will come to show us other

ways to improve education that we aren't aware of yet," Kozak said.

Kozak said that personal digital assistants, or PDAs, are a logical

tool to provide to students because they are portable and can be made to

interact with existing university computer systems or students' personal

computers.

The university is working with Palm Inc. to provide the devices and

software for applications, such as financial calculators, reference books,

literature books, coursework organizers and word processors.

Such applications will enable students to access course materials, do

homework, communicate with professors and conduct research from virtually

anywhere.

Besides the mobility, the university likes that PDAs cost less than

laptop computers. PDAs usually cost from $200 to $300 while laptops often

cost more than $1,000.

Students will pay about $30 a year for the devices, with the rest of

the funding coming from the University of South Dakota Foundation, a separate

entity that raises money for the university.

Mary Fallon, director of higher education for Palm, credits the relationship

between Palm and USD to the university's president, James Abbott. "He went

from business to academia and was an avid user of his Palm and thought it

would be a great tool to benefit students," Fallon said. "He's a pretty

forward-thinking guy."

Palm is talking with several other universities about similar partnerships.

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