A Mobile Cause

T.H.E. JournalTechnological Horizons in Education Journal is available in print (free subscription) and online. T.H.E. Journal's March 2006 issue features a cover story about the uses of iPods for learning with the article In iPod We Trust by Mikael Blaisdell. A Mobile Cause is another story in March's T.H.E. Journal by Linda L. Briggs and it addresses key challenges of incorporating handhelds into the curriculum:

  1. Training Teachers.
  2. Staying Focused on the Purpose.
  3. Finding Cost-Effective, Useful Software.
  4. Managing the Classroom.
  5. Handling Bandwidth and Battery Issues.
A Mobile Cause quotes handheld computing advocates Christine Tomasino and Kellie Doubek, who worked on the successful three year NCLB project called Bridging the Disconnects. Part of the success was that each teacher received more than 100 hours of training. One-hundred hours seems like a lot, but Christine cites research that says to change teaching practices, educators need over 80 hours of professional development. With proper training, Kellie says that handhelds promote more interaction among students than laptops.

Besides Christine and Kellie, A Mobile Cause also quotes little old me. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to fact check the article before it went to print. Allow me to clarify a few things from the article:

Tony Vincent, a fifth-grade teacher at Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, NE, “whether you’re using Palms or Pocket PCs, there’s just a multitude of great programs out there.”
I did teach fifth grade for six years. Three of those years my students each had a handheld. However, for the last two years I have been Willowdale's technology specialist, working with students in grades K-5 and their teachers.
Vincent, who also serves as a technology specialist at Willowdale, has worked out a system for managing the 30 or so non-wireless handhelds that rotate among Willowdale’s three fifth-grade classes of 25 students each. He simply passes them out when projects call for them, then collects them back again, charging the batteries in the off hours.
Each and every fifth grader at Willowdale has a Palm handheld. They don't share and each student is responsible for charging their own device. In addition to fifth grade handhelds, we have a class set of handhelds that are shared among the other grade levels. Those are checked out by teachers when their lessons lend themselves to an activity that can be done on a handheld. That rotating set is the one I take responsibility for charging. As for the "non-wireless" label, the author is referring to the lack of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth network capabilities, which is the case at Willowdale. However, non-wireless makes it sounds like the handhelds are tethered to a network or power source in some way, and that is not the case.
The handhelds periodically are synchronized with Vincent’s own handheld, using infrared beams that travel to and from the devices. They can also be connected with a standard computer via a USB port.
Handhelds cannot be synchronized with each other. However, handhelds can beam data to each other. Synchronizing a handheld involves a desktop computer and is typically done through a USB connection. Some handhelds can also sync using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Whether you go wireless or choose to communicate via the infrared capabilities of most handhelds, you may run into bandwidth problems if the students are all using the devices at once to share data. Vincent suggests careful planning to avoid traffic jams. “If [students] all try printing at once, it will take half an hour. Split it in half. It just takes some experience.”
I don't know if "bandwidth" is the right word for what I was trying to communicate. It's not a technical limitation as much as it is a management issue. For example, don't expect the whole class to get their assignments printed off in the morning before the bell rings. That's just not possible. Instead, figure out a way to schedule or stagger printing so that students aren't wasting their time waiting in line to sync or print.

Yes, there may be some minor points of clarification, but A Mobile Cause is a great way to absorb some of the lessons that handheld-using educators have already learned.