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March 31, 2003

School of Education faculty, students introduced
to benefits of handheld computers

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. Imagine a computer lab for 30 people fitting in a shoe box or putting your PowerPoint presentation in your coat pocket. Such things are happening at ISU’s School of Education where faculty are pushing the envelope with tiny handheld computers.

The school is paying for the handheld computers, also called PDAs or personal digital assistants, through a small portion of a $1.1 million federal grant called the PT3 Grant (an acronym for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to use Technology).

Robert Williams, associate dean of education, used his handheld to run software during a presentation at a major national convention last January.

"I had more questions and interest from those in attendance about the handheld computer storing and displaying a PowerPoint presentation than I did about the content of the presentation," Williams said.

About $30,000 of the PT3 Grant has been spent so far for the diminutive devices, said Kenneth Janz, director of instructional and information technology.

In a document about the Handheld Computing Initiative, Janz says "What started as a small pilot program a year ago has grown into a project that is challenging the way faculty are thinking about technology and its application in the teaching and learning process. "

Janz said that of the 148 handhelds purchased, 88 with keyboards were distributed to faculty and 60 were reserved f or classroom use.

Susan Powers, associate professor of instructional technology, has already integrated handhelds into her classroom. Powers explained that handhelds can run nearly any software one would find on a desktop computer that includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, concept mapping, Internet access, and shared discussion boards.

Sometimes the handhelds simply make things easier.

"[Students] do peer evaluations, they are word processed, downloaded and sent to the presenter … [there is] no dealing with handwritten evaluations that are hard to read," Powers said.

The cost of a handheld computer and keyboard are substantially less than a laptop. A top-of-the-line PC runs $1,500 where as a top-of-the-line handheld computer runs $400.

"We are avidly exploring the impact handheld technologies can have on collecting performance assessment data and making real-time data-driven instructional decisions," Powers explained.

Powers said there are a few students who see little value in handheld technology, but it has excited others. "After doing a demo of the handheld … and with the use of the [handheld] for peer evaluation last fall, we had four student who purchased their own."

Julia Hanger, a junior English education major from Sullivan, is one student who sees the value of using handhelds in the classroom.

"We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks on a regular basis for assessing teachers in our class," Hanger said about Assistant Professor Susan Kiger’s class. "We’re using them like we would a normal computer, typing on them and sending everything we’ve assessed or typed to Dr. Kiger so she can collect all the information together on one form."

Hanger has been thinking about different ways she could use a handheld computer in her own teaching career.

"I can definitely see future possibilities," she said. "I can see it as something being used quite often and implemented in the classroom."

Janz said that 37 percent of faculty in the School of Education are using their handhelds constantly. "The biggest key for faculty is not the just the calendar feature, but that the handheld could do core Microsoft applications."

"Imagine as a teacher the ease of having your students accessing the World Wide Web, sharing documents with you and among classmates, assessing work almost instantly, and providing corrective feedback as quickly," Williams said.

Janz, Williams and Powers agreed there is endless potential to what handheld computers can do for education.

"The economy of cost and size coupled with the ease of use makes future applications endless, especially in schools and in college classrooms," Williams said.

Glossary of terms:

Beam — send and receiving data using infrared light.

Conduit — a type of program installed on your desktop computer that acts as a translator for information between the handheld and a desktop or laptop computer.

Graffiti — method of entering text on a handheld where single strokes can write letters, numbers and symbols.

Handheld Computer — a computer you can literally hold in your hand that can run programs surf the Internet and more.

HotSync, sync, synced, syncing — process through which the handheld and computer communicate.

PDA — Personal Digital Assistant, also known as personal information manager and a handheld computer.

Stylus — small plastic or metal pointer used to enter text or navigate the handheld.

Source: Bard, W., Curtis M., Norris C., et al (2003). Palm Handheld Computers: A Complete Resource for Classroom Teachers.


Adriane Shaw, public affairs intern,
(812) 237-3773 or

ISU Public Affairs:
(812) 237-3773 or