Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Have PDAs in schools missed the boat?

I remember, as many of us do, when laptops were too heavy to truck around all of the time and phones were amazing when they had a 100 slot phone book. It was in this environment that PDAs seemed to emerge. They could do the basic note taking that many people wanted laptops for and they also stored your calendar and contacts. This was the perfect device to fit the gap left by the laptop and the phone. As time went on, laptops got smaller and phones smarter and now we have a situation where the PDA is really an "odd device out". I picture it being caught between the rock and the hard place like Scrat. Complete with eyes bulging and voice squealing. Now, after cleaning out the papers that got handed out at the various presentations at SITE, I found a few papers on PDAs in the classroom and it seems that there are people now getting on the PDA wagon, just as the wheels are falling off. Granted, these papers were mostly studies that had been devised 2-3 years ago, carried out over a year and then published recently. So it's not like they just woke up to the devices. But to me it seems to be a testament to how fast technology moves, even in education where things move ever so slowly. eLearn had some presentations on mLearning (phone based), but nothing about how it could really be used in schools. Prensky has commented that it would be cool to have SMS based classes and there are stories of university courses offered in Africa over SMS as well. So with all this is the PDA really doomed to be an "also ran"? Maybe, it certainly seems that way in business as the Blackberry has unseated the Palm and PocketPC as the geek toy of choice. But what about education - a place where you are not going to see schools want to drop anything more than $1000/year or two for technology - and certainly not $100/student/month for a cell/Blackberry contract. I'm sure parents won't be overly thrilled about it either, nor will a great number of teachers in the field that are going to see it as another fad. But I'm thinking that the PDA may be kept alive by educational technology companies as training devices for smart phones and ultra mobile PCs as they are able to do much of what the later devices can do already, except they have rather limited connectivity options (I'm not talking about things like the Treo, I'm talking Zires and Tungstens that don't cost more than $200). So it may be that economics save the day for the PDA, as it fills the same role in education that it did in business as a gap filler. PDAs are cheaper than UMPCs and have many of the functions of your now typical cell phone. Technorati Tags: , , ,