Magazine article Teach

Embracing Handheld Devices as Educational Tools

Magazine article Teach

Embracing Handheld Devices as Educational Tools

Article excerpt

Handheld devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) or iPhones equipped with additional features like digital photography and video capabilities, GPS MP3 players along with various probeware can assist in promoting an educational experience that is individualized and customized within the framework of provincially mandated curriculum and personal learning goals. Already recognized by the video game industry as edutainment, handheld devices have enormous, untapped, educational potential.

Instead of banning these interactive, portable and inexpensive devices, some educators have embraced these technological tools. This mobile learning (m-learning) is possible because the majority of students have access to it. Moreover, these powerful mini-computers have advantages over traditional lap and desktop systems and, according to an ever-growing body of research, can positively impact student achievement.

According to a recent survey by CTIA and Harris Interactive, approximately 80% of teens carry a cell phone while nearly half of kids aged 8-12 do the same. Due to the ability to text message, easily browse the web and access social networking tools like MySp ace and Facebook, handheld devices appeal to youth. Cited by almost 50% of youth as being the key to their social lives, these devices are also useful computers. Most have the computing power of a mid-1990s personal computer while consuming less than 1/100 of the energy.

Widely available and ranging in price from 100 to 600 dollars, these technologies allow for adaptive digital content with rapid, inexpensive updates in place of costly, hard copy textbooks and static curriculum. Like the Nintendo DS?, these inexpensive, portable devices are the ideal platform for learning on-the-go.

Handheld devices have several distinct advantages over traditional desktop or laptop configurations. Due to their size, they are highly mobile and can be taken virtually anywhere. This is especially important for field trips and off-site excursions. Cheaper and lighter than both lap and desktops, they have a longer battery life and usually can be turned on and off immediately. The various connections - WiFi, infrared or blue-tooth-easily allow for sharing of data and project collaboration be it student-student or student-teacher. These devices, it seems, give students access to tools and data anytime, anywhere.

According to Technological Horizons in Education (March 2006), handheld devices increase motivation, encourage networking and cost-effectively improve test scores while other research found that the use of handhelds made learners feel more in control, raised their confidence and self-esteem (Atte well, 2005). Other benefits included, improved independent working, enhanced motivation, improved focus, engagement and interest in tasks, while increasing skills in device operation. Using these devices also gave learners more freedom to express themselves without the need for constant supervision.

It is this ability to impact student learning and achievement that is most significant for educators and the students they teach. Useful in and out of the classroom, handheld devices can dramatically decrease teacher workload by eliminating the need for transference of paper and pen data to a digital recording environment. Whether it's tracking attendance, homework completion rates or grading, these technological tools can improve efficiency and are an excellent tool for communicating up-to-date information about a student's progress in a confidential and paperless way.

Handheld devices also hold promise in tracking and assessing each learner's progress. For example, the Keller Instructional Handheld Data (KIHD) System is being used by teachers to observe the improvements made in academic behaviour and performance. "The ability to capture performance data allows teachers to make instructional decisions faster," according to Catherine Fer raro from George Mason University. …

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