Magazine article District Administration

Fast Lane: Online Tutorials Help Users Get Up to Speed: Five-Minute Lessons Boast Narration, Step-by-Step Instructions and Examples Taken from a Teacher's Typical Needs

Magazine article District Administration

Fast Lane: Online Tutorials Help Users Get Up to Speed: Five-Minute Lessons Boast Narration, Step-by-Step Instructions and Examples Taken from a Teacher's Typical Needs

Article excerpt

PEOPLE PURCHASE HANDHELDS to improve their lives. The built-in applications--Note Pad, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks (To Do List), and Memo--prove instantly productive. One can choose from thousands of Palm OS applications to help with personal and professional needs. Multimedia and high-capacity storage are increasingly affordable. And better connectivity to computers and networks makes them even more valuable as day-to-day tools.

People embrace handhelds, however, when they are easy to use. This is about personal productivity, after all. Since their debut, Palm OS handhelds are widely recognized as setting the highest standard for ease of use.

K-12 teachers, staff and students, for example, have adopted palmOne devices in large numbers, most recently extending into the younger grades. Ease of use is paramount in education. A Zire or Tungsten model automates organizing and scheduling, plus handles communication, analysis and document-creation needs and will fit in a pocket. But, perhaps most crucial of all, it's extremely easy to learn how to use these handhelds.

New Web-based tutorials shorten the learning curve even more. Each just a few minutes in length, these QuickTime animations cover basic operations and skills, and are designed to bring a new handheld user quickly up to speed. Visit

Nearly 25 individual tutorials on how to use a Palm OS handheld are available (see sidebar for titles). Developed by Atomic Learning for palmOne, these short movies walk an educator or student step by step through basic navigation and operations. Topics focus on accomplishing common tasks, such as inputting text, navigating and editing contacts, or finding information. Some lessons take just a minute or two, others are longer, but none lasts more than eight minutes. Moreover, one can stop, rewind and replay parts of the narrated QuickTime movies.

Each tutorial simulates the screen of a handheld. A virtual stylus navigates menus, enters text and selects onscreen buttons. A red dot indicates where the stylus would be touching the screen. Menu choices are shaded when highlighted; text appears in the proper fields. A narrator describes each operation, often with a bit of contextual background or discussion of other choices. It's look-listen-and-learn simplicity.

Being able to replay a segment, or jump ahead to a specific spot in a clip, adds to the utility of these targeted lessons. So does very narrowly defined topics. Suited for a quick refresher or to impart basic skills, this is bite-sized "just-in-time" learning, served up 24/7 over the Web.

Of special import to K-12 users, all of the tutorials feature typical school-related tasks. This means the examples used in these Web-based simulations include references to homework and testing, bus or sports schedules, and categories like reading and math. In "Creating a new event," for instance, the exact steps to schedule a spelling test are presented in sequence, with an alternate method described by the audio narration as well.

A closer look at some tutorials

Some of the tutorials' topics are broadly applicable, such as "Using categories." The narration first explains that handhelds organize information by categories, which work similarly in the Memo, Calendar and Contacts applications. The animation then proceeds to show how to create a new category for memos, and how to assign existing memos to a category.

The tutorial dedicated to "Using menus" begins by noting that the menus on a Palm OS handheld are initially hidden. One can access them two ways, it explains. Tap the menu bar at the top-left corner (where the time normally displays) to reveal available functions and their drop-down choices. Or use the Menu button, denoted by an icon of a solid bar with three shorter empty rectangles below it. Regardless of which method is used, the tutorial also shows how menu choices change to match the options available for that place within an application. …

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