Read All About It!

Newspaper  BoxThis weekend the Associated Press released the article Gradeschoolers Learning on Handhelds. The article was reprinted in dozens and dozens of newspapers around the globe, including USA Today, Winnipeg Sun, and BusinessWeek Online. The article mentions handheld use in Olathe, Kansas, Yankton, South Dakota, and Eugene, Oregon. It focuses on Regan Veach's sixth grade classroom in a Kansas district where handhelds are being used with 4,000 students.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article:

Worded well: "As school districts scout ways to engage students already accustomed to instant messaging and interactive video games, they're buying up the kind of tech tools once reserved for jet-setting corporate executives."

Extremely interesting statistic: "Last year, a survey by Quality Education Data Inc. found that 28 percent of U.S. school districts offered handhelds for student and teacher use."

It's not all about tests: "Studies show that when used regularly, such media-rich instructional tools can work well to assess student performance."

Positive principal: "The overall achievement is rising and the Palms have been a piece in keeping our kids engaged."

According to the article, Robin Raskin, from FamilyPC magazine, worries that "students need to have some opportunity to digest material serially, like reading a book from end to end. A tiny screen might stop you from being an analytic thinker 'cause you just can't see enough of a thing at once." We know that as part of a continuum of classroom tools, ranging from pencils, to books, to desktops and laptops, handhelds are not always the best tool for the job. But, I do read plenty of eBooks and web sites on my own handheld and the smaller screen doesn't affect my comprehension of the material...

Since this article has been widely published, there are many blog posts written about it. I typed in the article title into Technorati, which searches blogs and displays the most recent entries first. Putting in "Gradeschoolers Learning on Handhelds" yields some results. For instance, one blog gives the article a humorous subtitle: "Gradeschoolers Learning on Handhelds: PDAs like handholding still forbidden."

Handhelds were also in the news in Australia. Handhelds On Trial in Australian Schools appeared in December 8th's Sydney Morning Herald. Students in hundreds of Tasmanian and Victorian schools will be using Palm handhelds as part of a three-year study by the University of Tasmania. Andrew Fluck from the university is quoted, "I think there have been a lot of schools that have toyed with using laptops, but the idea of schoolkids carrying laptops around doesn't really work. These handhelds are pocket size and more appropriate to learning needs."

A teacher at one of the participating schools says that one of the key challenges will be preventing the students from using all the storage for music downloads. Well, unless the students are also provided with an SD card, the Zire 31s used in the study won't be storing any MP3s. From Palm's website: "MP3 playback requires an expansion card (sold separately) on all models except the Palm TX handheld, the Tungsten T5 handheld and the LifeDrive mobile manager." I personally think the key challenge is providing ongoing professional development for teachers.

It seems that handheld computing in schools is only becoming more popular. It's great that newspapers are educating the public about why schools want handheld computers!