New Report: Handheld Computers Play a Productive Role in K-12 Teaching and Learning: Teachers Are "Overwhelmingly Positive" about Using Handheld Computers in Their Classroom, According to an SRI International Report

By Tyre, Terian | District Administration, November 2002 | Go to article overview

New Report: Handheld Computers Play a Productive Role in K-12 Teaching and Learning: Teachers Are "Overwhelmingly Positive" about Using Handheld Computers in Their Classroom, According to an SRI International Report


Tyre, Terian, District Administration


With so many new programs being created in K-12 education these days, the hardest part may be trying to evaluate what is working and what isn't.

In early 2001, Palm initiated its Palm Education Pioneers grant program, the first large-scale, objective and systematic evaluation of handheld computers in K-12 education. Handheld computers had already proven to be effective tools for business users. Could they provide similar benefits for K-12 teachers and students? And if so, how and why? Palm and its research partner, the nonprofit SRI International, set out to discover some answers.

More than 100 educators (grades 2-12) participated in the classroom teacher awards of PEP. Each received a classroom set of Palm handhelds to use in projects wholly determined by the teachers themselves. While they varied widely in subjects taught, years of teaching experience, pedagogical style and more, most had no prior experience in using handheld computers for teaching.

With grants awarded in February and June 2001, these teachers have now used the Palm handhelds for at least a full school year. SRI's researchers, who conducted surveys and site visits at the end of each semester, issued their final evaluation report this fall. Their conclusion: "Handheld computers have a productive role across a wide spectrum of instructional topics and purposes, grades and student populations.

"There is something new and unique about handheld computers in education," states the report. "For the first time, students can have a truly portable and personal low-cost, anytime/anyplace general learning device that can be used in any number of private or collaborative learning activities."

The full report--available at www.palmgrants.sri.com--offers many details on the impact of handheld computers on K-12 teaching and learning. Some findings might be somewhat expected. For instance, nearly 92 percent of PEP teachers state that Palm's computers "contribute positively" to their students' learning.

Other outcomes, however, may surprise. For example, elementary school teachers proved to be the most enthusiastic about using handheld computers for instruction, followed by middle school and then high school teachers.

SRI's 100-plus page evaluation report analyses use by grade level, academic subject, teaching style and more. It details the impact on students' motivation and attitude about learning. The handhelds' effect on teaching practices, quality of learning activities, and even on the use of desktop computers are all described.

Key Findings

PEP teachers are "overwhelmingly positive" about the effectiveness of handheld computers as tools for teaching and learning, concludes SRI's researchers. Teachers report that handhelds are easier to integrate into the "flow of classroom activity" than desktop computers.

Fully 91 percent of teachers who had their students use the Palm handhelds for writing assignments feel it can improve the quality of the activity. Being able to supply every student in class with the tool, with its IR beaming and word-processing software, clearly makes a difference. Teachers also rate add-on keyboards as being the most valuable peripheral for handheld computers and DataViz' Documents To Go software as the second-most valuable software package.

Yet having the handhelds did not significantly alter how much time students spent using desktop or laptop computers. Just 15 percent of teachers say it changed "a lot" while 44 percent report no change at all.

Conversely, teachers responding that their experiences with handheld computers did (or will) change the kinds of instructional activities they plan for students "a lot" is 45 percent, with another 33 percent choosing" a little." As one teacher commented to researchers: "Palm [handhelds] have not replaced the time kids spend in the computer lab--they have added to their technology experiences. …

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