More Bang for Your Buck

When there's talk of technology in schools, the amout of use of that technology is often mentioned. As this use is examined, many, many schools find that the hardware, with which they spend millions of dollars on, in the end, spends more time collecting dust than acting as a tool for students. Unnecessary to say, this is frustrating, no, aggrevating.

In my second, albeit delayed, post related to my experience with Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris last month, I want to paint a picture of the potential of a "handheld-centric" classroom. Here goes…

My last post read of the ratio of student to computer so I need not address it here. However, I must address the attempts of 1:1 via laptop computers. While this sounds all well and good, I don't think that is the answer for all schools. In terms of learning, handheld computers are more task appropriate. They are instantly available, whether in a student's desk, backpack or their pocket. There is no waiting for the operating system to boot up and ask the student to log in to a specific domain so their every move can be tracked. Handhelds turn on and turn off immediately. When mobility is important, handhelds can't be beat. They fit in a pocket, backpack or in the palm of the hand extremely well. As mobile as it is, it is also invisible. What I mean by invisible is not that you can not see it, but after some regular use, it becomes ubiquitous. I love that word. Every where learning occurs, if necessary or desired, handhelds can be there. It is invisible, because you become accustomed to using it and therefore don't notice it. Until it's missing.

An obvious concern about technology is cost:

"There are 55 million K-12 kids in America. Fifty-five million times $1,000—the cost of a laptop—isn’t going to happen. But 55 million times $100—the cost of a handheld—that could happen tomorrow," (Dr. Elliot Soloway, eSchool News, 2003)

My last point is that, compared to desktops, handheld computer users use 90% of it's functionality. Show me a desktop machine that has 90% of it's functionality being used and I'll show you a stripped down machine with nothing worth a darn using or an Uber Geek that has nothing to do. To reach such a high percentage of usability and still be inexpensive just seems unlikely. But it isn't.

Bottom line: Handhelds are inexpensive, reliable, and highly functional. What tax payer wouldn't want a district to spend their tax money this way?

What are we waiting for?

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at Erie #1 BOCES where we looked at the Handheld-Centric Classroom. The presenters were none other than Dr. Elliot Soloway and Dr. Cathie Norris of GoKnow, Inc. I got so much out of this workshop, I couldn't possibly put it into one post. I decided to post what I learned in chunks related to what the good doctors spoke about.

I can't say enough about the down-to-earth discussions I had with Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris. Dr. Soloway was real, understanding and very curious as to what the group thought were some reasons why handheld computers were not more prevalent in our schools. Despite Dr. Soloway's correct statement, "they are not handheld computers, they are computers!", I choose to continue to refer to them as handhelds or handheld computers because they are not prevalent in schools at this time. Unfortunately, many teachers see them as just personal organizers or only good for games. We simply must to a better job on getting the word out to administrators, teachers and students.
Dr. Soloway suggested that there has been "precious little" impact of technology on K-12 education. I have to agree. Every where you look districts are throwing wads of money into hardware for classrooms. Has this method really changed anything? Even with the major money being thrown around they can't throw enough to reach the holy grail of technology integration, 1 computer per student . The typical ratio of students to computers is 5:1 (9:1 in urban areas) and is far from 1:1. Dr. Soloway and Dr. Norris believe as do I that handheld computers are the solution. (Remember they are computers)

A great idea is how some teachers are getting sets of handhelds, at very low costs, by looking for older used units. What's so great about this idea is that for just getting started with handhelds you don't need a high end unit. Many of the older (+/- 2-3 years) are capable of running most applications that are used in a classroom. Many of these applications can be found at Tony Vincent's web site

I want to publicly thank Michelle Okal and Jeff Dolce of Erie1 BOCES for inviting me to attend this workshop. Check back for more in the next few days as I run through the rest of what I learned from this great experience.

Primary Handhelds

While attending a Technology Summit for district TechnoCoaches I attended a session by Debbie Feasel, a 2nd Grade teacher at Plank South Elementary School in Webster, NY. Debbie spoke about moving from a one Palm classroom to a classroom set of Palm handhelds. She reviewed applications she has students use: GoKnow applications such as FreeWrite, Cells, iKWL, Sketchy, PiCoMap.

FreeWrite was used to write compositions. Debbie opted not to use Palm's Graffiti writing software, but the on-screen keyboard. She felt it was very important for her students to focus on her writing and not trying to learn another writing technique (they were learning cursive writing at the same time). Probably a good idea. Students would input responses to questions
about stories a partner read and beamed them to their partner in order
to provide feedback.

She found that students would follow directions on what applications to open and work with very quickly. This was encouraging as she need not go step by step each time they used the handhelds.

Cells is a spreadsheet application she uses with students to create lists, practice math facts, and for data collection. Students created lists of
different types of ants that they encountered while reading a book about ants. She would also beam a file with a list of adjectives in one column and
another column named "Examples" that was blank. Students would need to input examples they thought of related to the adjectives given.

She spoke about a struggling student who shined while using his Palm handheld. He was on task and produced the quality work expected of his
teacher. NCLB? Isn't this what's all about?

iKWL is a program that helps students organize their learning process. In addition to the iKnow, iWonder, and iLearned, students added words that they didn't recognize or know.

Sketchy was by far the most popular application for Debbie's 2nd graders.
Sketchy allows students to illustrate ideas and concepts that they are
trying to understand and learn. Students used Sketchy for learning about planets and weather. Their illustrations can be animated to display a series of pictures the students created. One student was so
creative and thoughtful he animated drawings of a recent haircut complete with opening and closing scissors and falling locks! Way cool.
I wonder if it would have won the Sketchy Contest! Other great examples of Sketchy was how Debbie had students create animations about how they
add and subtract using place values and demonstrating the water cycle.

One last application she uses with students is PiCoMap. Debbie used this with students after reading a story to get main ideas and to organize their thoughts after a field trip to
the George Eastman House.

Using the GoKnow applications, student work is connected through a web. For example, links to Sketchy animations, PiCoMaps and Cells files created by a student are accessible through the applications themselves and through the Handheld Learning Environment (HLE)

Debbie also used the To Do List to list objectives for students to achieve. (I have suggested to teacher's that this is a very good way to begin using handhelds in their classrooms.)

Other applications used in her class were Big Clock, Math Card, Match Who, FlashBoom, DataViewer, & US State Trivia.

Games were used as prizes. Cards indicating that students had earned a new game were left on desks the following morning. Game apps she
found useful were Froggy, Sorting Hat, Connect4, Checkers, and Chess.  Debbie finished up by saying this was a great way to foster
collaboration among students. She also mentioned that "students were
their own TechnoCoaches".

Simply PocketCasting

Thanks to Ian Marsden for his post Pocketcasting??? which informed me of the AudioBay application and Tony Vincent's post on the Learning in Hand forums whom Ian read it from. Gotta love the breadcrumb trails! Ian calls this Pocketcasting I believe because you are not using an iPod to do record (let's face it how many are with the new iPod?). We are using our PocketPC handhelds!

Ian wrote:

I have decided to call this Pocketcasting – as opposed to the usual Podcasting which has connotations that “casting” can only be achieved through the use of an iPod. I guess you could also name it Palmcasting if this can be achieved using a Palm OS device. What about Mobcasting when doing it from a mobile phone or SmartPhone (we already have moblogs)?

AudioBay is a one stop shop for basic creation of podcasts (i.e. – Sorry, no bells and whistles or mixing in music). I believe this tool is in its infancy and is a great way to get students to practice reading, conducting interviews, capturing class time, and whatever else you can dream up. Students can just record & send their file automagically to the VoiceAtom feed that the teacher creates.

Seems AudioBay also acts as an podcatcher allowing users to listen to podcasts to which they subscribe . I like FeederReader, but haven't mastered FeederReader's podcatching features yet (lack of time and effort at this point). I'd like to try this one, because as much as I like FeederReader, it's not as too kid-friendly.

I've been looking for something like this, well, I'd say for some time now, but it isn't really. Handhelds just seem like a natural fit for some types of podcasting (i.e. – students conducting interviews). I often think of those microcassettes that reporters used to record interviews in the field. What's a microcassette?

I had to try this so… drum roll please… My first official podcast… err… PocketCast!


The Ultra Mobile PC

Learn Everywhere, Learn Everything
Okay, maybe you won't learn everything, and maybe not everywhere. Though, the Ultra Mobile Personal Computer (UMPC) looks very cool and may be something for schools to look into as a 1:1 computing solution. Think about the possible implications of learning on students with this puppy. That may be awhile, but I can't be the only one thinking this right now. In the meantime, teachers savvy with integrating technology quickly should take the UMPC through it's paces. It was unveilled at Cebit technology fair Thursday.

Samsung Q1

Are your students still lugging around huge, stuffed backpacks? The 40GB drive has enough storage for a library of texts, student work, and audio/video files. If and when textbook companies offer subscription services students could be able to access their texts anytime, anywhere. At school, students could synchronize within the school network access, share and backup data.

Gamer Mind-ed?

Students should take to it quite well, especially if they are the gaming type. Because the screen is a touch screen there is a unique DialKeys feature that requires a thumbing action similar to that of gamers. Here is how the Origami Project Team Blog describes DialKeys:

DialKeys basically takes a standard QWERTY keyboard layout and splits it in two halves. It’s a little hard to describe the layout but there are lots of screen shots of DialKeys to show what it looks like. The basic idea is that you hold the device in two hands and use your thumbs on the screen to type in text. It takes a little getting used to, but people are always amazed once they use it a day or two how good they get at typing with it.

While I love my handheld(s), I can see a future in devices like the UMPC. Some of the most common complaints of current handheld devices is the small screen. The UMPC's 7-inch screen provides a much better workplace for students than the 2 inch screens of some handhelds.

You can look at the UMPC two ways. 1) it is the merging of the storage of an iPod and versatility of "traditional" handhelds, albeit on a larger scale. 2) it is a scaled down TabletPC.

Moblogging Options

There has to be some simple blogging apps out there for my Dell Axim running WM 2003. I’m looking (or will continue to soon) for an easy option to the WordPress dashboard feature. I’m not knocking it afterall it is free and I like it. I just think I’d like to try something else a little easier for the kids, you know? I’d love to see a classroom full of kids moblogging to share ideas and thoughts. Think about that… kids moblogging from the bus stop, the cafeteria, school plays, field trips… anywhere, anytime, awesome! I want to do it.

“Fast & Furious”

TenGoRecently on his forum at Learning in Hand, Tony Vincent posted about a woman who describes herself as “fast and furious” because of the speed in which she types on a handheld using software called TenGo. TenGo ($$) is available for both the Windows Mobile and Palm operating systems. For the purposes of this moblog [see my About page] this might be quite handy.

I wonder if anyone has used this in a classroom yet? While being fast & the furious may not be desired, how do students take to this?