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Handheld Learning 2006 - Review PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tony Vincent on Tuesday, 31 October 2006
/hlflag.jpgHandheld conferences in the U.S. are typically attended by 70 to 300 educators, most of them classroom teachers.

The conferences have one or two keynote presentations to set the stage for handheld computing in education. Afterwards, several breakout sessions are offered to help teachers make the most of handheld learning tools. The breakouts tend to focus on a certain grade level or subject area.

For instance, there are sessions on elementary math applications, high school writing strategies, and science probes. Sessions that are technical, like troubleshooting and repairing handhelds, are also offered. Vendors are set up, ready to show off their wares and answer questions. Of course, like so many conferences, turning in your evaluation at the end of the day enters you in a drawing to win fabulous prizes.

I have attended over a dozen conferences in the United States devoted to handheld computing in education. I have blogged from a few recent ones:

Mid-Atlantic Handheld Conference, July 2006, Delaware

SuccessLink Annual Handhelds Conference, July 2006, Missouri

Lexington Handheld Conference, June 2006, South Carolina

Michigan Handheld Computers in Education Conference, November 2005, Michigan

/dougbrown.jpgI had the opportunity to travel from my home in Nebraska to London to attend the Handheld Learning 2006 conference. Held October 12 and 13 at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Center, the gathering took place in beautiful and historical surroundings.  While the Handheld Learning conference had a similar format to those in America, there are some important differences that I think those in the States could learn from.

First, I like that conference attendees are called delegates. The word implies that those in attendance take back what they learn to others. Delegate is not a passive term; a delegate is an active participant. Although most sessions were lecture format, the real participation came at the three breaks each day. Morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea proved to be times when delegates reflected on what they learned, shared their visions, and networked with one another.

The focus of the conference was taking handheld learning from pilot projects to mainstream. Big ideas and lofty goals from the entire United Kingdom were shared.  A key difference from American handheld conferences is who actually attended this conference. Handheld Learning 2006 had nearly 600 delegates and very few of them were classroom teachers. Instead, there was a healthy mixture of university professors, government representatives, school district decision-makers, and technologists. Getting these people on board is important for taking handheld learning mainstream. American conferences are mostly about helping teachers who already have or are interested in handheld computers. The Handheld Learning conference was about expanding the use of handheld devices, not so much supporting those already using them. At first I was disappointed that the conference did not contain many concrete examples and activities for students. Now I see the bigger picture: giving a vision of how to retool classrooms for the 21st century.

/gerrygray.jpgI was of the mindset that if you do great things with students in a classroom, others will notice and try to replicate it. Handheld computing in schools has taken off slowly in the U.S. because leading by example just hasnít worked to bring handheld computing into the mainstream. Plenty of classrooms are leading by example and extraordinary learning is occurring. Despite being used by many schools for six years or more, handheld computing is far from commonplace in America. Those in the U.K. are arriving to the handheld learning party fashionably late. However, the approach where government officials, technology companies, and educational agencies subscribe to the vision and then bring it into U.K. classrooms might just work better. Handheld Learning 2006 brought these people together and professed a vision that the whole country can strive to achieve.

Another difference is the types of handheld devices that were addressed. U.S. conferences focus primarily on Palm handhelds and Pocket PCs. In the U.K. it seems the device of choice is the Pocket PC, with barely a mention of Palm handhelds. There was also plenty of discussion about using mobile phones and Sony PSPs in classrooms. Many presenters echoed the sentiment that the hardware and software does not matter. When it comes to actually using handhelds in schools, the devices and their capabilities do indeed matter. Pocket PCs are probably the best choice for U.K. schools because they are used by most all of the pilot projects.

Classroom teachers can easily share lessons, tips, and software because they are all using the same platform. In addition, Pocket PCs can easily run software written for the Palm OS using the StyleTap Platform (http://www.styletap.com). The biggest advantage of Palm handhelds is the amount of educational software available (and much of it is absolutely free). Most Palm programs run flawlessly using the StyleTap emulator.

/edapic.jpgAnother advantage to using Pocket PCs is that schools can use the newly announced EDA. The EDA is a Pocket PC that is specially designed for education. Produced by Fujitsu-Siemens, the EDA is rugged and comes with a suite of software, including Inspiration and an animation program. The EDA syncs using RedHalo, software that allows multiple types of devices to sync content. RedHalo uses a local school server through Wi-Fi and enables students and teachers to access synced content online. The EDA will ship in January and may even become available in the U.S. if it is successful in the U.K.

A theme that was repeated by many of the presenters is that handheld computing in schools is not about the technology, itís about the learning.  This thought was repeated often enough to become clichť. The educators in the attendance have always known that everything in the classroom is about learning. Educators know there isnít time in the school day to use technology for technologyís own sake. However, perhaps for the technologists and other non-educators in attendance, this was a new concept.

There were so many themes and ideas that you really needed to be at the conference to get the big picture of it all. If you werenít able to attend Handheld Learning 2006, not only can you read my notes in the blog posts below, but you can listen to podcasts many of the presentations:

http://learninginhand.com/blog/2006/10/handheld-learning-uk-day-one.html
http://learninginhand.com/blog/2006/10/handheld-learning-uk-day-two.html
http://dtn.ultralab.net/stage/projects/Handheld_Learning_Podcast/

Once learning with handheld computers is mainstream in U.K. schools, perhaps its handheld conferences will become more like those in the United States. They will become more teacher-centered to help all of those educators who will be using the new learning tools. But, until that happens, the presenters, delegates, and ideas from Handheld Learning 2006 are sparking the change in schools that will lead to every student using a handheld device for learning.

/tonyparkin.jpgSpeaker Tony Parkin had my favorite quote from Handheld Learning 2006. He said that with so many pilots, itís about time this plane gets off the ground. With the mixture of delegates and the excitement generated for handheld learning, I think the plane will be soaring very soon over the United Kingdom!



Podcasts, presentation notes, photo gallery
 
About the Author



/tonyvincent.jpgTony Vincent is a former classroom teacher and an independent technology and education consultant based in Omaha, Nebraska. He is co-author of Handhelds for Teachers & Administrators and maintains learninginhand.com, a website devoted to handheld computing in education.

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