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ECU'S "HANDSPRINGS TO LEARNING" PUTS STUDENTS ON CUTTING EDGE
(Sept. 7, 2000)
— College professors might be wary of students bringing gift, but what about when it's the other way around?
The students in an "Introduction to Information Processing Technology" class at East Carolina University each received a box packed with a brand new, handheld computer and variety of components when they arrived at class on Thursday (Sept. 7).
Their professor, Dr. Shelia Tucker, did the honors, handing out the boxes as the starting point for ECU's "Handsprings to Learning" initiative.
The project is designed to enhance the teaching and learning process with handheld computers that let faculty and students communicate and share academic information at anytime and at anyplace.
Dr. David Watkins, a special assistant for information resources in the ECU Division of Academic Affairs, said, "the students will use the computers as part of their course experience." He said the students would be on the cutting edge with the use of technology.
"They can do the same kinds of things on the handheld computers that they could do on a notebook computer. Each of the 17 students in the class received a Handspring Visor, a small pocket or palm size instrument. The students will use the computers throughout the semester to check the content for their course, read e-mails, browse the Internet, read electronic books and journals, and maintain calendars and schedules. The goal is to learn just how well these small devices serve as an academic tool. Periodic checks will be made during the semester.
Afterwards, the participating faculty will develop a list of "best practices" for use of the handheld computers in future courses. Tucker's class is taught through the School of Education in the Department of Business, Vocational and Technology Education.
Two other courses in the School of Industry and Technology are distributing computers to their classes. About 70 student in all will receive the handheld computers this fall. Included in the package was modem, a backup module, extra memory, software and cradles that will allow the handheld computers to be connected to larger desktop systems.
The class on Thursday is composed of students who are enrolled as Teaching Fellows. The students are studying to become classroom teachers. They each receive $5,000 from the state each year to pay for their college education. Watkins describes the project that gives computers to students as unique.
"I don't know of any other campuses doing this in the way that we are doing it here," said Watkins. He said the project began when a small group of faculty and administrators decided that handheld computers were among the next generation of tools that need to be explored in education.
To support the system, he said ECU plans to build a wireless network that would permit the handheld units to go online by simply pointing the machine's infrared beam at a signal source. The Handsprings to Learning project is funded by ECU. Each computer is valued from $150 to $250 depending on the number of modules that are installed. The Handspring Co. that makes the Visor provides technical support for the project.
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