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Dont take the 'P' out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jon Trinder on Monday, 14 November 2005
/scratchhead.jpg “What’s the best PDA to buy?” This is a question I have been asked a lot. If you also work with computers or PDAs you have probably heard the same question. What was your answer?  Let's remember that the ‘P’ in PDA, stands for PERSONAL, not portable and personal things can be devilishly difficult to choose for someone else.

Let’s forget about PDAs for a moment and pick another "Best", let’s imagine PDAs are breakfasts (okay some of them have been a dogs breakfast, but I digress). Anyway you have heard all about breakfasts and you think it's time you found out what all the fuss is about. So you ask your workmates which they prefer and you discover there’s a hardcore of people who go with cereals, others a fry up and some say they don’t bother as they have a big lunch.

Sigh! This is not going to be an easy choice.  Let’s try another analogy, right then which is the best car?  Well, again, that rather depends what you are using it for and where you are using it. For a grand prix an F1 car is a better choice than a Mini. To carry a lot of luggage an estate car is better, but for parking in and around town a Mini may be better. For fuel consumption a smaller car may be better and will still get you from a to b and for some people a bicycle is better...Meantime others walk or use public transport.

All these choices are tricky because they are a very personal choice. Let’s try another…What is the best sort of house, semi, bungalow, flat, high rise, tent, boat or there’s those dwellings that combine most of the features of a car with the features of a house. Why not get a Winnebago, after all that does what your car and your house does and more! But there is a problem with that, as I like to update my car more often than my house so perhaps I am better with a car and a house, or a car and a caravan. In fact perhaps I’d prefer a house and a car and for some occasions a push-bike. Or indeed a desktop machine, a laptop and a PDA!

Okay so lets get back to PDAs, surely its going to be much easier to identify which of them is ‘best’, no I hate to break this news but there is no ‘best’ PDA! Asking which is the best PDA is like asking, “which is the best breakfast?”1 and we’ve seen how difficult that question was. A PDA is a PERSONAL device and what suits one person may not suit another.

The best device also depends on what you want to use it WITH. Many first time users have NO IDEA what a PDA can actually do.

Do you need to sync to your outlook/exchange diary? Or just pick up email occasionally, or keep notes on it, or edit Word documents for the majority of these applications the platform (e.g. Palm or Pocket PC) is unimportant, but if you want your entire class to use a specific application or your employer insists you all use a particular application then you may have to all use the same device...

Uh-oh, where did the personal aspect just go? Well once you have any device the personal qualities of the device can be reinforced by a combination of the customization of the device by the installation of applications and the content of the data stored on it.

When used in an education environment the powers that be (administrators, accounts, support people), like consistency, conformity and want us all to use the same device, for many reasons this makes sense but depending on where you are standing it is at odds with the nature of a PDA.

For many the best use of a mobile device in the classroom may be to provide materials that are useable on any device, though not always practical, leaving aside versions and types of operating system and hardware some content just wont work for some screen sizes.

Also what fits in the school scenario may not be usual in HE and FE. Maybe we should enlighten students HOW they can make the best of personal and mobile technologies but leave it up to them as to which device they use and what they use it for, give them the information and let them make their own Personal choice.


1This quote is attributed to guitarist Jeff Beck when asked, “who is the best guitarist in the world?”

JON TRINDER

Jon Trinder is a Ph.D. student in the Robert Clark Centre for Technological Education at the University of Glasgow, where he is investigating the potential of PDAs in higher education.
He has been an enthusiastic PDA user and developer for many years and also authors PDA shareware and bespoke applications for www.ninelocks.com.

He works for the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering at Glasgow University in the computing support team providing network and system support and authoring specialised software. Jon founded the pda-edu@jiscmail.ac.uk to provide a meeting place for anyone interested in using PDAs in education to exchange information and advice.


Comments from the forum:
Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
Jocelyn    February 1st, 2006 - 10:37 AM


I can second Jon's point abiut the importance of the PERSONAL in PDA - teacher training students who were successful with PDAs for teaching and learning were by and large those who used them personally - taking photo's of a newborn niece, online shopping, as an alarm clock, as a remote control etc
Re: Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
Mark van 't Hooft    February 2nd, 2006 - 4:58 AM
Here's another interesting thought related to the P in PDA. Having worked with literally hundreds of kids and handhelds it is always interesting to see how one of the first things that kids do is personalize their handhelds by changing backgrounds and color schemes, reprogramming the hard buttons, etc. I've also seen that in classes where students use handhelds for an entire year, they often decorate the outside of the handheld with stickers they like. This serves two purposes, personalizing the handheld as if to say "it's mine", and also to be able to distinguish it from the other ones in the same classroom.

I agree with Jon's idea that students should be able to bring in their own handheld devices and have choices in how they use them and what they use them for. The trick is to get all the different devices to work together somehow. I know this is easier said than done, esp. in the US where stuff seems to be more proprietary (e.g. cell phones).

Mark
Re: Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
jont    February 3rd, 2006 - 9:46 AM
Hello both,  phew, glad to find I am not alone :-)

I was interested that some students decorated the cases of their PDAs!

Also Jocelyns comment about those that used devices most being those who found a use for the PDA for themselves...
Some of the difficulty we expereinced with some of our students was giving them an initial reason to carry their PDAs.

We must also accept that for some people a PDA is just not for them (like some people hate fountain pens).....

Quite how we are going to get all these devices compatible is another matter....Though you have to wonder if we'll all be running some version of Windows Mobile (or whatever they are calling it today) before too long.

<slightly off topic thought...>

I do wonder if we'll end up with PDAs or some similar future mobile device being as disposable as a ball point pen where you end up not worrying where you left it, unless its your really good gold plated pen with the nice case....rather like digital watches where its the case  is more expensive than the mechanism inside :-), and the biggest buying decision is whether you like how the device looks....

<>

Jon
Re: Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
Graham    February 3rd, 2006 - 10:45 AM
<slightly off topic thought...>

I do wonder if we'll end up with PDAs or some similar future mobile device being as disposable as a ball point pen where you end up not worrying where you left it, unless its your really good gold plated pen with the nice case....rather like digital watches where its the case  is more expensive than the mechanism inside :-), and the biggest buying decision is whether you like how the device looks....

<>

Jon

I'm with you on this point Jon. Although the notion of thin-client technology has been muted for the past 20 years to the extent people gave up on it as a fantasy (like speech recognition or A.I.) I believe it's all about timing. We're rapidly facing a world of hyperfast long distance wireless connectivity and super-low-cost online storage. As these key technology enablers converge we won't really need too much in the way of any local storage, we'll just need input,  output and local processing facilities.

We already have the disposable mobile phone (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/2162075.stm) so disposable PDA type or other ubiquitous computing device being purchase perhaps via vending machines is not too much of a stretch in imagination.

Ultimately, it's the personal digital stuff or the data that's has the value and not the device. For example, when you loose a mobile phone it's the loss of the numbers that is the real problem. It would be nice to know that all my digital stuff is backed up somewhere safe and secure (assuming it's not being spied on Wink )
Re: Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
James Clay    February 3rd, 2006 - 11:45 AM
My maxim is always, if you only have one copy of a computer file then it doesn't exist.

This is fine usually for me with regards to typical computer files (word processing, presentations etc...).

With a PDA a 1GB storage card is more than sufficient to make a backup of the PDA.

Problems arise with storage especially with video files on my main computer, how many 1TB external drives can one have!
Re: Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
jont    February 3rd, 2006 - 7:39 PM

Problems arise with storage especially with video files on my main computer, how many 1TB external drives can one have!

Never enough ;-)

This is a handy bit of kit
http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=3P1M&CategorySelectedId=11003&PageMode=1
Re: Dont take the `P` out of PDAs, a story of cars, houses, breakfast and PDAs
James Clay    February 6th, 2006 - 11:37 AM
Hmmm

I wonder how noisy it is?

Alas it also doesn't work very well with Macs

http://www.dabs.com/ProductView.aspx?Quicklinx=3P1M&CategorySelectedId=11003&PageMode=1&v=3#infoarea

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