"Computers can be great learning tools when used effectively, but high costs have long hindered educators from providing each student with a laptop or desktop unit of his or her own. Today, handheld devices such as Palms are making technology accessible, affordable and fun for teachers and students alike." [source: Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education (Hi-CE) at the University of Michigan]
Photo treo700

What is a Handheld?Edit

A handheld (also known as a Personal Digital Assistant or PDA) is a small, low-cost, highly versatile, mobile computer. A device that can store data, share files with computers, display graphs and images, and rapidly exchange information.

Handheld TerminologyEdit

  • Beam - To send a program, document, or file from one PDA to another, using infrared transmission. Beaming can also be used to send data to a printer.
  • Cradle or Dock - Device used to hold and sync your PDA to your personal computer. Also can be used for recharging the devices.
  • Palm OS - The Palm operating system, which is the software that runs devices made by a number of manufacturers, such as Handera, Handspring, Palm, and Sony.
  • Pocket PC - The devices which utilize the Windows operating system, such as Casio, Compaq, and Hewlett Packard.
  • Stylus - Pen-like device used to tap the screen of your PDA and "write" in the screen area of the PDA.
  • Sync or Hotsync - Way to transmit data from your PDA to your personal computer, and vice versa. Any new data recently added or altered in either source will be updated in the other.

Educational AdvantagesEdit

  • Cost - Handhelds usually range in price from as low as $100 to as high as $1,000 depending upon the capabilities. A basic handheld for the typical student can be found in the $100–$300 range, with educational discounts available for large quantities.
  • Mobility - This is possibly one of the biggest advantages, since handhelds can be taken practically anywhere instead of being confined to the lab or classroom. Because there is no need for electrical connections while it's being used, it can be used outside or while traveling.
  • Wireless - The ability to transfer or share data and programs wirelessly overcomes the need for a more hardwired infrastructure and adds to the mobility.
  • Size - This really provides a number of benefits:
    • Physical storage of devices. Because of their small size, it's not necessary to have a separate lab for a classroom set.
    • Media storage. Devices can be loaded with electronic versions of large reference materials in a portable format.
    • Ubiquitous access. Users can carry them in pockets, backpacks, purses, and briefcases and always have access to information and programs.
  • Ownership - Because of the feeling of ownership, along with the "cool factor," students take care of the devices so they don't lose the privilege of using them.
  • Access - Because of the relatively low cost, entire classroom sets of handheld devices can be purchased for the price of three or four desktop computers and can provide access to many more students for much longer time spans.
  • Collaboration and sharing - Beaming has been found to be an extremely effective technique for encouraging students to work together and share information.
  • Simplicity/ease of use - Particularly with the more basic educational applications, teachers do not have to spend a lot of time teaching students how to use them.

Rationale for HandheldsEdit

  • Real World Tool
  • Effective Learning Tool
  • Versatile Tool
  • Collaboration Tool
  • Standards Required Tool

Uses of Handhelds in EducationEdit

Examples of PDAs in K-12 ClassroomsEdit

  • "At Consolidated High School District 230 located in Orland Park, IL, high school students are using PDAs and attachable sensors to monitor pH levels, temperature, dissolved oxygen, heat, and other qualities of a nearby pond. Immediately, the information collected by the sensors is recorded on student PDAs and data can be graphed immediately. Such prompt manipulation of data promotes visualization and understanding of the underlying math and ecological correlations. (read more about it here)
  • Fifth grade science students from the Lampere Schools in Madison Heights, Michigan are using PDAs to create nature journals and field guides of their schoolyard and communities. GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) students are using hand-held computers in the field to document precise measurements and GPS (Global Positioning System) readings. Others are using these devices to create programs for robots, and physics students are using their hand-held computers to visualize Newton's Laws as experienced at an amusement park.
  • Serving as stopwatches, data collectors, and calculators, PDAs are being used in Health and Physical Education classes to teach elementary, middle, and high school students how to monitor their own fitness. Students document their daily nutritional intake and exercise regiments. Additionally, students are tracking their heart rate after exercise and graphing their cardiovascular improvement over time.
  • In some math classes, PDAs have essentially replaced graphing calculators by providing the same capacity to visualize relationships between data and graphs. Actual stock and news data can be downloaded from the Internet and analyzed in class. For example, students at Virgil I. Grissom Junior High School in Tinley Park, Illinois are loading math and stock market games onto their PDAs, offering a playful learning alternative.
  • Language arts students use PDAs as a means for collecting ideas used in creative writing assignments and for journal writing. At the Eminence Middle School in Kentucky, a language arts teacher downloads most of the literature she needs from free library sites on the Internet. Standing within 3 feet of her students, she then transfers these electronic books (called eBooks), along with daily assignments, to students' handheld computers via an infrared beam. Some handheld software allows the user to underline text and write notes in the body of their eBooks. Students can even create their own eBooks and post them on the web.
  • Handheld computers have been extremely helpful to English as a Second Language (ESL) students. At Miller Wall Elementary School in Marrero, Louisiana, ESL students enter new and unfamiliar vocabulary into their PDAs to assist in word recognition. In middle schools and high schools, ESL students are shelving the traditional, bulky dictionaries and utilizing electronic versions that they can take to their mainstream classes.
  • Aspiring journalists in Klickitat, WA and Berkeley, CA are using PDAs to conduct interviews for the school newspaper, and then promptly downloading their stories onto a desktop computer for editing.
  • In social studies classes, students are using PDAs to assist in research and reports. Students can download real time headlines from newspapers around the world. With mapping software loaded on the PDAs and endless information about global cultures on the Internet, students are utilizing their handheld as research tools in unprecedented ways.
  • Special Education students in Marysville, Kansas and Larchmont, NY are benefiting from the organizational capacities of handheld computers. Students are able to increase their confidence and abilities as they manage homework assignments and deadlines with help of their PDA calendars."


Companies That Produce Handhelds for Educational UsesEdit


  • Pocket PC Microsoft's site includes resources and software.


  • Veo makes the Photo Traveler, a camera that plugs into the SD slot of a Palm handheld.

Articles to ReadEdit

General ResourcesEdit

  • K12 Handhelds is a company that "provides schools with integrated solutions for handheld use in education." Looks interesting!
  • ProbeSight! The Concord Consortium provides information on using Palms and probes.


See FAQ - K12 Handhelds


Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, (2001, September). Handheld devices make inroads in the classroom. Retrieved March 4, 2006, from

Learn NC, (2002). Using handheld technologies in schools. Retrieved March 4, 2006, from

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