Digital Assistants Newest Gadget to Hit High Schools Palm Pilots Facilitate Daily Class Projects

The Florida Times Union, February 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

Digital Assistants Newest Gadget to Hit High Schools Palm Pilots Facilitate Daily Class Projects


TINLEY PARK, Ill. -- Katie Hadac and Nicole Sorensen squint through goggles at the instructions for their latest chemistry experiment.

Beaker with distilled water? Check.

Probe? Check.

Palm Pilot? Check.

Palm Pilot?!?!

The handheld digital organizers are as common as notebooks at Andrew High School, which started providing students with the devices this year.

Once primarily tools of business executives, personal digital assistants are fast moving into the classroom. And that is forcing principals to weigh the devices' great educational potential against a serious potential for abuse.

"It's a great tool for science," said Jack O'Donnell, a chemistry teacher at the suburban Chicago school. O'Donnell has students attach special probes to their handhelds, allowing them to transfer the probes' readings directly into the computers.

Personal digital assistants [PDAs] don't just help people organize themselves. They now obtain from the Internet everything from news to games to stock quotes. They also use infrared light to beam information among themselves, and can be coupled with wireless modems to be instant communicators.

HELP OR HINDRANCE

It's those last functions that make them both intriguing and scary for educators.

Sure, teachers can save time and paper by beaming assignments to students. But those same students could use the devices to zap answers to each other or distract classmates with gossip.

"The beeper and phone thing -- basically kids were getting calls and beepers were going off in classrooms. This is a little different because communication can take place between kids without any noise except maybe some giggles of the users," said Michael Carr, spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Although many districts have banned cell phones and pagers, handheld computers are so new -- and relatively rare outside wealthy districts -- that principals are scratching their heads over the devices, Carr said.

Palm Inc. doesn't track how many of its handhelds show up in schools, but a company spokeswoman said use among schoolchildren is growing.

GAINING IN POPULARITY

Jim Forbes, executive editor of the technology industry newsletter DEMOletter, said he expects more and more teenagers will get handhelds over the next few years. …

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