Benefits of handheld computers Jerry Garfunkel
Some of the benefits of Handheld
computer (HH) activity in the classroom include the following:
Projects are wonderful
learning activities. The HHs facilitate project oriented constructivist learning
because it gives each student his/her own mobile computer as a personal
The features of HHs as far as educational tools go, are not that unique
from small PCs (i.e. Sony Vaio). Both are "small"
computers; both are communication
devices, both are portable
(to different degrees). Applications such as streaming audio/video, data
gathering/processing/reporting, can be done in both
processing takes on a new dimension in the HH community not
(usually) associated with PCs. Transaction processing between HHs
is more like "process control" applications where computers control
machine behavior, based on real-time input factors. Only in this
case the "machine" in question is another HH. These transactions
are the "HI" (highly interactive) in Dr. Elliott Soloway's
HI-CE. Certainly a unique feature of the HHs is their cost.
This important factor will make the experiments now underway to produce
high valued educational products (HI-CE, Concord,
etc.) successfully integrate with our current curricula, naturally. The
educational value ("bang-for-the-buck") will be demonstrably too great
to resist. I don't know precisely how one would measure the size
of this "bang."
That is why I described it as "demonstrably too great to resist."
This "bang" is another illustration of the "threshold"
theory, described elsewhere. We will know when we are there. We just
may not know exactly when we arrived.
So what are the significant differences that suggest how one might
exploit the HHs? First (and formost?) is the different degrees to
which these computers (laptops and HHs) are portable. Clearly HHs
can be used in places and in ways we might never have considered.
It is not just portable; it is "extremely
portable." This in itself however is not enough of an
argument to intergrate HHs into all curricula. It is the combination of its "extreme portability" with each of
the other features that gives the HH its uniqueness. For a long
time we've been able to gather and process data, but now we can do it at the source of the data much more
easily because of the HH's "expreme
portability." We have been communicating via voice and
video (and text, IM) for some time; but now, because of its extreme
portability, we can do it at the place and at the moment of the
activity. We've been able to communicate in a classroom network
(school-wide, district-wide, world-wide) with other members of
our network, but now we can create networks and exploit their collaborative potential, in places
we would not (could not?) have considered before, because of the HH's
extreme portability. This extreme portability includes unique
capabilities not available on a small PC. Even a small PC
(usually) requires "set up." This set up may be nothing more than setting it down and turning it on,
but it is not meant to be ubiquitous in the students other
activities. HHs on the other hand power on/off, beam
to each other, stream video in/out and collect data - all while
students are on the move. "Finger buttons" enable these features. The
HHs in this scenario are truly ubiquitous. They are more than computers
at this point they become "smart tools."
Just like a generic remote control unit one can buy at a Radio Shack
(or one of the new ultra-programmable units), a smart tool
can be programmed to BE whatever
the student wants it to BE in
any given activity.
These benefits of HHs allow us to build, more easily, collaborative
projects and multi-discipline projects. These projects can
(should) be outside of the classroom. Like all learning tools,
these tools should be tailored to the specific intelligences of each
student. That is, each student may exploit a different benefit of
the HHs. All of this takes careful up-front planning.
The greatest barrier to the intergration of HHs into our schools is the
resistance to technology exhibited by many schools' faculties.
Although this is changing as a new generation of teachers and
supervisors takes control of the schools, there always is tension
between an older administration and a younger one. Technology is
always advancing. Other barriers are money. While HHs are much
cheaper than PCs they still represent a line item in the budget and
often they are in addition to PCs not instead of PC. Faculty needs to
be trained. Clever in-service staff development programs
must be implemented. The more technology-oriented faculty should
be used more in a mentoring role to speed up the integration of HHs in
to the curricula of all subjects and in all grades.