13th May 2005 at 01:00
Pete Roythorne explains PDAs

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.



www.tribeam.comeducator.html (US)

www.wired.comnewsschool0,1383,54183,00.html (US)

www.learningathand.comindex.php (US)

www.palmone.comuseducation (US)


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today