Handhelds Motivate Teachers and Students in Oklahoma Schools: Two Districts Take Different Paths to Similar Outcomes as Handhelds Fulfill the Promise of One-to-One Computing

By Crane, Elizabeth | District Administration, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Handhelds Motivate Teachers and Students in Oklahoma Schools: Two Districts Take Different Paths to Similar Outcomes as Handhelds Fulfill the Promise of One-to-One Computing


Crane, Elizabeth, District Administration


HANDHELDS vs. LAPTOPS present an interesting choice for some Oklahoma K-12 educators, often with unanticipated results.

One example is the Shawnee Public School District's (Shawnee, OK) decision last year to go with the handheld option. "I [assumed] we were going to hop on the laptop bandwagon," recalls Lynda Nichol, Director of Technology, but when the district compared the cost of a laptop implementation for its freshman class to the cost for distributing palmOne handheld computers, palmOne easily bested the competition. "For the amount of money available to us, handhelds were the better choice."

Freshmen take handhelds to class

Still, the money issue was only a piece of the decision puzzle. With a federal grant for $211,000, Shawnee High School trained its ninth-grade teachers in handheld usage and classroom integration. It then purchased enough palmOne handhelds, printers, and software licenses for its 400-plus freshman class in fall 2003. "Our teachers bought into it," says Nichol, adding that it was their enthusiasm that was key to the program's success.

Just ask the students. They take their "ownership" of the handhelds seriously and are even more motivated to come to school and tackle assignments more efficiently, according to Nichol. She reports better attendance, a higher rate of assignments turned in, and a general improvement in the quality of the work since integrating the handhelds. There is an overall improved attitude among many ninth-grade students, she notes, that she largely attributes to the distribution of the palmOne handhelds.

And, not surprisingly, this improved and renewed enthusiasm for class work is driving many students to places where their teachers have yet to go--at least in terms of technology. One enterprising student programmed his unit to serve as his personal Debate Team Manager, for example. He buys philosophy eBooks, uses conceptmapping in PicoMap to create connections between the ideas in the books, uses FlingIt to link to Web sites that can further support and illuminate his ideas, and then he can type things out on Documents To Go and have it all right there so when he's preparing for a debate, he doesn't have to dig through his notebook. "The students figure out things to do on their handhelds that we hadn't thought of," says Nichol. Handhelds thus serve to reverse the roles a bit, as students show their teachers how to accomplish things with the tool.

Though the units come with a large amount of built-in memory, many students purchase extra storage for their units in order to load in more books and utilities and increase their ability to save class work and graphics. They use inexpensive and compatible SD and MMC cards to save all of their school work to a portable format that they can use with any palmOne handheld.

Surprising many parents--and, perhaps, some administrators--students rarely lose the handhelds. When the parents were informed of the school's decision to pursue handheld-based education, some voiced concerned about potential loss of damage and that the attendant cost of replacement would be too high. For example, one parent complained that his child had already lost two cellphones. "The kids did a good job," says Nichol. "And these are freshman. We are real proud of them." The reason: The handhelds stayed put--of the 400 units handed out, only seven were lost the first year.

Central to the success of the project, says Nichol, is the Palm Artifact and Assessment Manager (PAAM), an application from software manufacturer GoKnow (www.goknow.com), designed to help K-12 teachers disseminate, receive, and manage students' assignments and class work done on handhelds. At Shawnee High, whenever a student performs a HotSync operation with their handheld to a school computer, its information is downloaded onto the PAAM server and becomes available online. Parents can log in through a password-protected Web page and review their child's class work. …

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