Handheld Technology

What is Handheld Technology?

"Portability is the key advantage of handhelds, and the device should be light and small enough so that you will take it with you." (www.serve.org)

Handheld devices range from handheld computers (shown to the right and also known as Palm Pilots)external image 2002853140.jpg, to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to jornada_hyperchem01.jpgHewlett Packard’s Jornadas (shown to the left and also known as pocket computers or palmtop computers) to the graphing calculators that Many middle and high school students already own and use.

These handheld devices frequently have a touch screen and can be used for anything from accessing the Internet to calculation, from using as a calendar to word processing or for spreadsheets. They can also be used in keeping used for simulations and playing games, as an address book, as a radio or stereo, and as a Global Positioning System (GPS). Some of these devces, such as a PDA can even be used as mobile phones (smartphones).

Learning Theories that Guide the Use of Handheld Technology

One of the primary uses and benefits to Handheld Technology is the ease it offers in looking up and discovering information on the go. Much of today’s Handheld Technology incorporates the use of mobile internet, either via Wi-Fi hotspots or mobile broadband (which uses cellular phone signals. With such easy access to a world of information via the internet, the Handheld Technology user is able to web search for any type of information, be it U.S. history, sports scores, current events, or any other info imaginable. This process of broadly searching for a particular piece of knowledge (e.g., the fact that your favorite sports team might have played today) and learning additional, more specified information in addition to that original knowledge (e.g., the fact that your favorite team won its game by five points) is an inherently Constructivist type of learning.
The King of Handheld Technology- the iPhone
The King of Handheld Technology- the iPhone

Constructivist learning involves the learning through the addition of new knowledge to previously existing constructs or frameworks, typically enhancing or even modifying that original construct. This is precisely what Handheld Technology allows one to do in a very convenient manor. Web searching, using GPS, and checking e-mail are all common functions of today’s Handheld Technology as well as Constructivist methods of learning. All three tasks involve the user examining previously acquired knowledge and enhancing or modifying that knowledge through reading the body of an e-mail regarding the topics of an upcoming staff meeting, or through finding the quickest point from where you are to where you want to be.

The Benefits of Using Handheld Technology

There are many advantages to this tool from cost to size to ease of use:


One of the biggest downfalls of using technology for education is not that it is not an effective tool, it is that computers and laptops are expensive and not readily available for all students to use as often as would be beneficial. But, Handheld Technology is considerably less expensive than a desktop or laptop computer. This could be the key to connecting students with the technology needed to allow access to even the most effective technology based teaching and learning tools available today.

In addition, discounts may be given if items are purchased in large quantities making this medium even more affordable.


external image handheld1.jpgHandheld technology will need to be charged but doesn't need to be confined to one location and doesn't need to be be plugged in to be used. Because the Handheld Technology can travel with a person and kept on hand at almost all times, it makes it easily accessable and will help to keep students organized. In addition to the devise being moble, the data and the programs can transmit wirelessly even further reducing the need for the device to be connected to any central location or lab. Many handheld technologies can be used to manipulate data so that it can be analyzed and looked at in different ways and this will help the student make connections between the material and their understanding/perception; this should lead to a more meaningful understanding of the material.

Teachers and schools will look favorably on their convenient size as well. The small devices will not require a lab or a large devoted area for their use. Students can use them at their desk as needed and can easily place them aside when not in use. As with computers, large sources of information from periodicals and texts can be loaded onto these devices further eliminating the need to find space for the reference materials that can be loaded electronically.

Ease of Use

external image PalmE2.jpgStudents these days have a big push and focus on technology and are exposed to technologies at a very early age. By using handheld technolgoy, a students attitude and interest in the material is increased as they find the interactive medium to be much more enticing. These tools can also increase the ease with which students share information and knowledge both with peers in class and spreading as far as to connect them with others around the world. They run on relatively simple or familiar programs and teachers will not need to spend a lot of time teaching students how to use the devise.

The handheld technology can teach other more general lessons as well. Students will find the technology a source of pride (as part of the trend towards technology) and be more likely to feel inclined to take care of the handheld devise with a sense of ownership.

The Challenges Using Handheld Technology


Because a classroom can have more of the devises available for students to use, and because they are used in a much more "personal" set up with less visibility to others, this could lead to the opportunity for students to become distracted and get off track doing things outside of the assignment when they should not be.

In addition, the portability of the devise makes it a much easier target for theft and because there will be more of them moving portably around the classroom monitoring the devise itself will require a bit more diligence.


external image istockphoto_3171193_dollar_close_up.jpgAs was established earlier, the cost of handheld technology is smaller than desktops and laptops, but who should pay for the devise: the school or the student? Many on both sides may still not be able to afford even this lowered cost. And when it comes time to look at supplemental peices such as keyboards, cameras, cases, styli, and hardware modules, who should be responsible for making these purchases and how is it decided when any of these are needed? Questions like this can pose quite a quandry for schools, teachers and students and there are bound to be some disconnects in that decision making process.

While the cost of the handheld technolgoy can be considered to be much smaller than the standard full size computers, do not forget about the costs for related purchases including software, expansion modules, accessories and upkeep will still be needed.


When looking at the handheld devises one can easily tell that the screensize is smaller. This can pose problems with readability depending on the use, the duration of time and even the age of the user in some cases as eye sight deteriorates with age. In addition, even if the user doesn't experience and adverse reactions to viewing the screen, some images do not translate well onto this size screen.

Special Guidance for Using Handheld Technology

The first and most important advice regarding the use of Handheld Technology is that before purchasing a particular Handheld, do your homework. There are a wide variety of different offerings in the Handheld Technology market, each with their own special features and advantages and setbacks. One common thread among Handheld technology however is the price, although most Handhelds are less expensive than most notebook computers, the technology is still fairly expensive, typically ranging anywhere from $200 to $1000. As mentioned earlier, some handhelds are designed specifically for business use, allowing you to easily access Microsoft Office documents, shared calendars, and even office networks. Other handhelds however, may specialize in communication or entertainment, allowing special functionality for managing e-mail, accessing the internet, or talking over the telephone. It is recommended that prior to purchasing Handheld Technology; consult an independent electronics review website such as CNET to learn the pluses and minuses of a particular device.

Once you begin to use your handheld technology, be careful with it! Again, the technology is not necessarily cheap, and because of its small size it is very easy to drop, damage, or lose your device. There are a variety of ways that you can protect yourself against these mishaps. First, many devices now come equipped with a product called Lo-Jack which is tracking technology (similar to what might be found in your new car or new notebook computer,) that will help you to recover your device if it is lost or stolen. Second, almost any handheld device offers accompanying accessories to help you to protect it, such as carrying cases, screen shields, strap-on arm bands, belt clips, or soft sleeves. Although many of these products might not look as shiny and attractive as your new device itself, all will do a good job of helping to keep your handheld safe and protected.

Research on Handheld Technology

I found www.serve.org to be right on in their statement, "At present, we don’t really know how the use of these devices affects student achievement. They haven’t been around long enough for many extensive studies."

Additionally, because of it is relavitely new and little research has been done, we can't be sure about any side effects or long term problems that may be caused as a result of extended use such as eye strain or carpal tunnel.

Handheld Technology Lesson Ideas

Handheld technologies can be used for very traditional assignments and teacher tasks, and many have found that they can complete assignments in much less time because they are able to work on them at any time, anywhere. This includes:
  • writing papers external image casestudy_averycoonley2.jpg
  • calculating and graphing data
  • have students take notes during a field trip
  • access maps
  • listen and watch historic videos and reinactments
  • do research or exchange information on the internet
  • use as a dictionary, thesaurus, or guide to grammar
  • have studnets keep a journal
  • provide students with step-by-step guidance through a site
  • aid in learning foreign languages
  • access news
  • take quizes
  • creating simulations
  • sharing presentations and notes
  • create records for training/fitness

Teachers can use Handheld technology for:
  • taking attendance
  • as a gradebook
  • accessing schedules, tracking/accessing curriculum, and setting reminders
  • accessing students' records for emergency/parent contact info
  • keeping notes of observations/ideas
  • interactive Q&A and problem solving

Handheld Technology Links

The amoung of software out there can be overwhelming and difficult to sort through. Here is a site that sorts out the software by its uses (teaching and learning verus administration, etc.):
Purchasing software can be expensive but here is a link to free software for handheld computers.

Resources Cited