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Use of Wireless Handhelds and Laptops in High Schools and Universities

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Use of Wireless Handhelds and Laptops in High Schools and Universities

I. Context

In 1999, students and teachers started to deploy Wireless Portable Computers at an increasing number of schools and colleges, many times in partnership with the private sector. In November 2000, Massachusetts State announced a plan requiring all public-college students to own laptop computers by 2003. Several school districts have announced similar initiatives, either with laptops or handhelds.

This apparent success is the result of the evolution and convergence among several trends:

1) Wireless LANs have become attractive substitutes/ complements to wired LANs

2) Handhelds, widespread in the business world, are entering the education market

3) Current research-backed learning theories stress construction and collaboration

4) It is too early to see hard research, but many initiatives are working on it. The report includes a special section on ongoing research.

At the same time, technologies keep evolving with new hardware and software appearing every year.

II. Uses

Wireless Handhelds and laptops are only part of the technology tools available in schools and colleges.

The main uses of Wireless Portable Computers are being:

At Schools

• “Formal” uses, related to curriculum: a) Word processing and note-taking, b) Infrared beaming for distributing content, c) Probing Outside, d) Assessment and instructional planning (using “Discourse” engine)

• “Informal” uses: a) Recording voice or music, b) Visiting Web sites, c) Personal organization

At Colleges

They are usually not used for Instruction. Common uses are: a) Web access, b) Download class content, c) Word processing, d) e-mail and instant messaging

III. Evaluation

Obstacles/ difficulties

The main reasons why Wireless Portable Computers are not more prevalent today are: a) they are not in administrators and institutions’ priority list while competing for very scarce dollars; b) there is no “killer application”, c) technical issues of access, reliability, utility and cost effectiveness are yet not 100% resolved

Still, it might be the case than in 3-5 years wireless Handhelds will be as prevalent in education as calculators are today (see benefits section). In order to be so, a number of obstacles will need to be addressed:

• Organization: wireless handhelds and laptops will have to prove their value in priority areas such as Assessments. The "killer application” may be something that helps education do what it does now but easier, faster and at less cost. Still, the challenge of raising money remains open.

• Classroom dynamics. Apart from a good number of anecdotes, it is not a big issue. There have always been distractions and challenges and teachers know how to cope with them

• Teacher’s concerns: teachers must have access to fast and reliable

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