Alaskan educators pair with Palm

By next year, Alaskan school officials want every public and private school principal, superintendent, and administrator statewide to have a handheld device so they could spend more time with students, faculty and colleagues.

Through a partnership with Palm Inc., educators can purchase the company's m500 Handheld at a reduced price and get free training. So far, about 300 people have been trained in using the devices. In some places, all teachers and administrators, such as the 150 educators at Lower Kuskokwim School District, are using handheld devices.

"It's going like wildfire," said Roxy Kohler, program manager for the Alaska Staff Development Network (ASDN), a 20-year-old statewide, nonprofit partnership among the state's 53 school districts, its state education department, its universities and colleges and other education associations.

The handheld devices integrate documents, conference and meeting notes and minutes, student databases, medical data, and student and teacher assessments, she said.

"The search feature allows the user to look up a student or parent by name, date, miscellaneous notes they may have made, etc., to allow fast access to the information, without having to dig through piles of papers that may be six months or more old," she said. "It organizes information as well as makes information accessible instantly."

A year ago, ASDN (www.asdn.org) and University of Alaska Anchorage informally convened a 20-person "brainstorming team" to see what technologies worked and come up with new ideas. They said handheld devices might be a way for school administrators to maximize their time with students and colleagues without being bogged down in the office.

ASDN approached Palm about a collaboration and the company jumped at the chance, Kohler said. Palm donated a three-day intensive workshop to train "certified Palm trainers" — 20 Alaskan educators who travel throughout the state to train others. Users get two levels of training: one to get them started and another to show how they can integrate the device with their school systems.

"[Palm's] staff has given us numerous hours of assistance with setting up new deals, helping with ideas of other training, and solving problems with training educators in Alaska," she said. A separate Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant helps pay for some educators to get training, she added.

Technology plays a huge role in Alaska, she said adding that a majority of the state's 480 schools are located in rural areas, but most have computers.

"This alone has saved our leaders time and energy and allowed them more time in the classroom, halls, and other places to be with students and teacher, to be more effective," Kohler said.

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