Teaching and Learning with PDAs

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are small handheld devices initially designed for use as personal organizers.  They can store documents, spreadsheets, calendar entries, games, databases, and lots of other resources normally associated with a laptop or desktop computer. PDAs are relatively inexpensive and highly portable, and are designed to utilize small, low-bandwidth files and applications.  They are able to perform limited PC tasks such as word processing and spreadsheet analysis, and newer PDAs are capable of Web browsing and e-mail functions via wire or wireless connected to networks.  Also, they can synchronize with desktop computers and laptops to download Web sites via channels and work offline.  Furthermore, PDAs offer infrared communication, allowing data to be transferred across short distances between devices without the need for networks.  The latest developments offer wireless connection via mobile phone networks or Bluetooth, and many combine phone and PDA functions in one unit.

PDAs are changing the way people access and work with information. These devices are becoming smaller, cheaper, better, and more connected.  The intuitive interface, portability, and wealth of third-party software applications make the PDA a great educational tool to enhance teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.  The use of PDA can provide students with a very dynamic and interactive learning experience.  It helps students access and study the course materials at anytime, anywhere.  PDA gives the students more flexibility in where, when, and how they interact with the educational materials, and allow students with different learning styles and special needs to learn successfully.  The use of PDA technology enhances the classroom learning experience and allows students and instructors to participate and collaborate in ways that would not be possible in a traditional classroom.  I think teachers should take advantage of the emerging PDA technology to encourage exploration, stimulate learning, and enhance lifelong learning.


About Steve Yuen

I am a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States.
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5 Responses to Teaching and Learning with PDAs

  1. Leonard Low says:

    Dr. Yuen,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the use of PDAs for teaching and learning so concisely and eloquently. Are you aware of any examples of the use of PDAs or other mobile devices at your University?

    There are some terrific innovations I’ve already seen around the world, and I’d be interested to hear how you’re using them 🙂

    Kind regards,

  2. Steve Yuen says:


    Thanks for your comments. Four years ago, I worked on the PDA project funded by our university. The purpose of this project was to integrate the handheld computing technology to foster active and collaborative learning experiences in the classroom. I re-designed the curriculum and class learning activities so that the PDA could be integrated seamlessly into the course. Classroom activities supported by the use of the PDA included the distribution of class notes and homework assignments, collaborative projects, and classroom access to Web-based materials. In addition, I developed the class Web channel using the AvantGo mobile Internet service. The students could use their PDAs to retrieve vital class work data and course materials more effectively and efficiently. With AvantGo, the students downloaded the entire class Website and large chunks of information from other special Web channels for off-line viewing. Also, they can retrieve their e-mail using Microsoft Outlook 2000 or Multi-mail.

    In addition, the students accessed and interacted with the course on their PDA through synchronization with their desktop computer, or wirelessly through their device infrared port and 802.11b connections in the classroom. I installed an EthIR LAN switch and Infrared (IR) ports in my classroom. The EthIR LAN provided dedicated high-speed network access through IR via TCP/IP/PPP for PDA and laptop users. The IR ports installed in the classroom allowed my students to use infrared to access the Internet and sync their PDA with the class Web channel from AvantGo. The students could check class schedules, study instructor prepared materials, and download the weekly lecture notes, assignments, and other instructional materials to their PDAs while they were in class.

    Currently, I am working on a project in developing a cell phone learning support system. This project is attempted to deliver instructional content and learning materials in way that fits into students’ cell phones.


  3. Heather Whisenhant says:

    This is practically my fiance’s blackberry. It stores everything and keeps up with everything. Most PDAs are celularphones, at least the ones that I know of are. I don’t know if I would use something like this in my classroom instead of a computer. The batteries can die and the thought of having a phone in the classroom just seems to disturb me. I can’t see a way that it would be useful. I understand that it would “deliver instrucational content” and so on, but I do not feel it is the best way to promote educational material.

  4. Tawana Alexander says:

    When I began to read this article, jump drive came to my mind. It is stated that they
    are small handheld devices initially designed for use as personal organizers? So this could be like a calendar or something like an organizer. These sounds like people who work in offices would use this. They can store documents, spreadsheets, calendar entries, games, databases, and lots of other resources normally associated with a laptop or desktop computer. So, that is why the image of a jump drive came to mind. I have never heard of PDA. I think teachers should take advantage of the emerging PDA technology to encourage exploration, stimulate learning, and enhance lifelong learning as well

  5. James M. Thompson says:

    Many people in the business arena use Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) as a means of being in the office when they are actually many miles away from their office. As a former grant researcher, I spent many days out of the office attending conferences, workshops, or meetings. Even when I was out of the office, I was able to keep tabs with the daily operations. This gave me a peace of mind knowing that I would be able to return to the office with no unexpected disasters. There are many school administrators that are using PDAs as a way of keeping up with their students and keeping their halls safe from any intruders. Administrators can also use the PDAs when they are away from school for principals’ meetings. This will help them to stay in touch.
    Similar to being out of the office, there are many students in America that do not attend school for various reasons. But this should not keep them from receiving an invaluable education. In fact, these students should be taught how to utilize PDAs as an opportunity to continue their education despite of unfortunate circumstances. This would help to improve dropout rate that is rampant across so many communities. Usually, it is not that students do not want to learn, it is because many educators have given up on them. To combat this dilemma, students could be equipped with PDAs to get back on track with their learning. This may also help to motivate students to pursue their GEDs with the hopes of one day entering into a profession, such as technology, where they can experience participatory and interactive learning.

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