Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), such as Palm Pilots, have the
potential to revolutionize the middle school classroom. These small, inexpensive
devices make it possible for middle school teachers to grade students'
work in real time. Expectations for success on the part of teachers using
these devices can be important factors in the implementation process.
To a large extent, the effectiveness of PDAs as a teaching and learning
tool is dependent upon how willing teachers are to use them and to overcome
potential barriers such as time limitations. A qualitative collection
A Personal Digital Assistant
(PDA) is a small hand held computer with applications such as word processing,
spreadsheet, personal organizers, and calculators. Grade reporting and
other instructional programs expand the usefulness of these devices for
busy educators. With a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered
classroom environments, PDAs may play an important role in enhancing the
teaching and learning process. PDAs are much less expensive, faster to
boot and access than many networked computers, and highly portable. They
are truly personal devices that encourage customization. Teachers who
must often work on computers and networks with locked-down control panels
and software installation bans are able to customize their PDAs to suit
their personal and professional needs. They are able to access and edit
streamlined Word and Excel files at home and at work.
Research on the effectiveness of PDAs in educational settings is sparse, because relatively few K-12 schools have had PDAs in place long enough to generate longitudinal studies about their instructional impact. Some groups are actively researching PDAs' classroom effectiveness, however. Among these is the Multimedia Portables for Teacher's Pilot in the United Kingdom, which has put 1,138 high-specification portable computers in the hands of practicing teachers in a range of schools. The program has thus far reported high levels of motivation and self-reliance among teachers who consider PDAs to be flexible and adaptable in providing a context for teacher professionalism (Fisher, 1999).
Another group examining the
effectiveness of the PDA in an educational setting is the Concord Consortium.
Research conducted with second and fifth grades found that both groups
were comfortable with the technology, but older students used the devices
more effectively (Staudt, 1999). Both groups "easily moved between
note taking and data collection" (p. 1). The devices gave students
"opportunities to connect questions and investigations to the data
in a real time setting that enhances "systematic investigations,
critical thinking and cooperation" (Staudt, 1999, p. 1). Additional
research suggests that PDAs facilitate group work, the immediate analysis
of data particularly during laboratory exercises or when conducting scientific
investigations in the field rather than in the classroom (Belanger, 2000).
Image provided by the author.
|Pownell and Butler (2000) identify ways that PDAs can benefit educators. They argue that PDAs are only effective when they support how teachers work and use information in their classrooms. They identify four differences between PDA/handheld computers and desktop computers. One difference relates to portability and size. While laptops are smaller and more portable than stationary computers, PDAs are small enough to be carried in a pocket or a backpack. Like laptops, PDAs offer teachers and students portability (Bell, et al, no date; Byers, 1991; Concord Consortium, 2000; Staudt, 2000) and on-the-fly note taking. They are also useful as field journals or in traditional lab settings (Berlanger, 2000; Cooke, no date; Crippen & Brooks, 2000; Trotter, 1999). Soloway (2000, p. 1) argues that PDAs "support cycles of doing and reflecting" by encouraging teachers to more effectively revisit their written work and to revisit each child's accomplishments at the end of each day.|
A third category
of comparison is mobility. Teachers are not restricted to a stationary
computer and can access and retrieve information anywhere, anytime, including
in the field or on fieldtrips to museums or historic places (Hsi &
Manus, no date; Soloway, 2000). More than any other factor, mobility may
be the most appealing feature for classroom teachers. D'Orio (2000) agrees,
citing examples of their use as attendance records during fire drills
and in portables and other areas of campus that are not network accessible.
The fourth area of comparison
relates to the adaptability. PDAs give teachers greater flexibility in
managing classroom assignments and in creating student-specific instructional
plans (Soloway, 2000). Collaboration and sharing of information and software
is enhanced by PDAs as well. According to Soloway (2000), this sharing
and commenting on other's work leads to an increase in the quality of
finished products, such as lesson plans and artifacts. Laptops and desktop
computers currently do not support this type of immediate collaboration.
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Meridian: A Middle
School Computer Technologies Journal