Handhelds, huh?

I still just don't understand the push to get any kind of mobile device into the hands of every kid, whether they need it or not.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I still just don't understand the push to get any kind of mobile device into the hands of every kid, whether they need it or not.  My last post outlined why I believe that every teacher should have a dedicated computer; in most cases, a laptop on every teacher's desk actually makes a lot of sense.  I'll also be the first to advocate (or at least the second, after my fellow blogger, Marc Wagner) for widespread access to up-to-date computer labs.  However, a recent news item posted in Ed Tech shows the lengths to which districts will go to jump on the technology bandwagon.

The article described an effort by a Kansas school district to supply the majority of its older students with Palm TX handheld computers.  According to the Associated Press,

"the students mainly use Palms to write compositions, create spreadsheets for math, science or other subjects, and to present projects or assignments."

Although the district also invested in many keyboards for text input, I really need to question whether this actually provides any benefit to the students.  Have you ever used a Palm Pilot to create a spreadsheet?  How about to write anything longer than a quick email?  It's  not pretty.  Handhelds certainly have their place and recent advances have brought some very cool features to these little devices.  Email, contacts, to do lists, and even mobile presentations make them outstanding laptop alternatives for many professionals.  However, this strikes me as technology for technology's sake rather than as a useful tool for students.

The article did note that

"In language arts, all the school's literature books are in eBook format so students can read them, highlight text, bookmark pages, take notes and look up words in the dictionary."

While this is actually a nice use of the technology, it's nothing that can't be accomplished with paper, a pencil, a highlighter, a notepad, and (go figure) a dictionary.  

So what is gained through the investment in 2300 Palms?  While these particular models list for almost $300 a piece, we can assume that the district paid far less.  Yet even at $200 a piece with the keyboards (an educated guess here, and probably conservative), the district would have spent $460,000.  We also learn from the article that this represents a doubling of its current investment in handhelds.  So now we're looking at close to a million dollars spent on little bitty computers of dubious value to students from a district that eschewed laptops due to budget constraints.

How many labs could be lifecycle funded for a cool million?  I'm talking about real computers that could be widely used by a lot of students, easily integrated into classroom work, and on which students could actually type a real research paper in Word.  The answer is quite a few.  

Every student doesn't need a laptop, nor does every student need some bit of technology on their desks (or their pockets, or their palms).  What every student does need is reasonable access to the Internet and solid tools for creating documents and presentations.  If I can't buy into OLPC, I certainly can't find any way to justify OPPC (One Palm Per Child). 


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