If you've been lugging around your notebook, address book, diary, timetable and class lists for years it's about time you switched to a PDA (personal digital assistant). And they could be transforming a classroom near you soon, too.
PDAs, also known as palmtops or handheld PCs, are fully functional computers you can hold in one hand. Developed as electronic organisers, they have since evolved to be able to handle basic word-processing and spreadsheet functions, as well as email and web browsing using either cable-connected or wireless networks.
Most PDAs also offer infrared and Bluetooth wireless communication, which means data can be transferred between devices across short distances without the need for formal networks. The latest machines include cameras, MP3 players and sound recorders.
Operation is via touchscreen; simply touch the item you want with the stylus provided and you're away. There are normally three ways to enter data: a miniature integrated keyboard; a virtual keyboard (this appears at the bottom of the screen and you tap the letters with your stylus); or writing directly onto the screen with the stylus (PDAs are provided with handwriting recognition software which is extremely good on some systems).
PDAs come in two distinct varieties: Palms, made by PalmOne and running the company's own Palm operating system, or PocketPCs, which run a slimmed-down version of the Windows operating system. The important thing is that both operating systems run cut-down versions of popular office software, and third-party companies are developing a host of different education software for both, too.
Although designed for business use, PDAs are a powerful tool for the classroom. John Davies, of Dudley Grid for Learning (DGfL), which is piloting a scheme to introduce PDAs into schools, says: "Pupils can take notes either through the sound recorder or by jotting them down on-screen, they can take photographs and video to record their work and then add voice commentary. Networking means results can be shared."
The software DGfL is using includes: animation software (Sketchy) to help pupils solve problems in science, literacy and maths; mind-mapping (Pico-Map) across the curriculum; and standard office functions such as word processing (Free Write). Costing about pound;150, PDAs can offer individual ICT in schools.