Why I use PDAs in the classroom

Why I use PDAs in the classroom

New term has begun and out come the PDAs for the students to work with (PDAs are small pocket size computers that run mobile applications like mobile Word, Excel and Internet Explorer). Always fascinating to hear their response the first time they start using them, such as “Do we get to keep them?”, “How much do they cost?”, “Surely with the fees we pay we should get to keep them?”, “I have no hope of using one of these as I don’t even know how to use a computer” “Awesome – this is so cool”.

Why I use PDAs with students

microI teach students how to identify fish diseases. This means they have to look under microscopes and be able to actually identify common parasites they see. Using a PDA means they can:

  • Look at color images of parasites
  • Watch movies of what the parasite looks like under a microscope and how it movies.

When they study the anatomy of fish they can look at lots of colored photographs on the PDA as they do their dissections.

Last time I checked you can not achieve this with handouts, and PDAs definitely engaged students.

We have also discovered that having short videos (max. 5 mins) that show how to do a task e.g. how to tie a knot means that the student can watch the video at their own pace, stopping and starting as required, as many times as they like, while they do the skill. This means the lecturer can then focus on assisting students that need more help without the whole class having to wait.

Why we chose PDAs

Choose with m-learning is:

  • Do you tap into mobile devices that students have
  • Do you supply the mobile devices

For my class students needed to have a device that they could use next to a microscope or while they were dissecting fish. It needed to be small, reasonably cheap (so if something happened I would not cry too much), able to show videos and contain notes. Unfortunately not all students have a device that would meet these requirements so wipaq-rx1950-pocket-pc_190x170e needed to supply them.

Choices could have been a PDA or video ipod. However the PDA has more functionality in this situation and, one day wireless will be switched on in the College, and we will be able to use them to access the Internet in class.

I use a class set of twenty HP IPAQ rx1950 (no longer sold in Australia).

Downside of using PDAs are:

  • Time spent charging the devices – however I have just purchased a unit that charges multiple PDAs at a time (can also use for ipods)
  • Creating the material for the PDA – initially you do spend time setting up the material that you want the class to use. But really that is no different for creating any resource for class – it all takes time.
  • I use cLaunch to put icons on the front screen of the PDA so students can easily access the required resource – this takes time on 20 devices

Here is a video that shows how I use PDAs with my students, the resources and their thoughts on the use of PDAs:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-1578838834534105289" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

9 thoughts on “Why I use PDAs in the classroom

  1. Sue, I am impressed with your usage of m-learning in the classroom.

    I’m a Data Support Specialist at an elementary school, and we are considering ways to make technology more accessible and effective in individual student learning. We’re making steps, but getting the technology efficiently into the hands of the students has been difficult, especially when considering the age of our students.

    Thanks for sharing some insights into your usage. I hope more people will consider the wide range of technology options available use in the classroom. Even more important, I hope more and more instructors will have the creative vision to use these technologies as you have done.

  2. Sue,

    Glad to see Joel made it over to your blog. He is up to some great stuff.

    You wrote, “. Using a PDA means they can:

    * Look at color images of parasites
    * Watch movies of what the parasite looks like under a microscope and how it movies.

    When they study the anatomy of fish they can look at lots of colored photographs on the PDA as they do their dissections.”

    I suspect that you have the ability to look more completely at pictures with the PDA over paper. For one the resolution is more advanced. Secondly, the ability to look at the object multidimensionally and multi-angles can improve the understanding of the student.

    This is a cool feature of ed tech.

  3. Hi Joel

    Thanks for your feedback. There are quite a few people in Australia using mobile devices with their students.

    Thanks Mike for letting Joel know about my blog and I am glad you both gained from seeing how I use PDAs with my students.


  4. Fantastic post! I would like to roll out PDAs / mobile devices (EEE PCs spring to mind) in my secondary school and this article has definitely whetted my appetite.

    Could I just ask what piece of kit do you use to simultaneously charge multiple devices? and how do you transfer resources to the devices? Is it ‘one by one’ or do you use a specific tool to load resources simultaneously?

    Once again, thanks for a great post!

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