Handheld computers are beginning to make their way into classrooms. This week eLearning Dynamics announced the launch of PocketClassroom, the first comprehensive two-way classroom communication and management application utilizing Pocket PCs and wireless networks. PocketClassroom, developed in conjunction with Wake Forest University, is the Pocket PC counterpart to eLearning Dynamics’ breakthrough Palm OS-based wireless classroom solution, LearnTrac.
PocketClassroom and LearnTrac connect educators to students using wireless handheld devices such as the HP iPAQ Pocket PC and the Palm Tungsten C handheld. They reduce teachers’ administrative burdens by automating many of their routine tasks, and they improve student and teacher performance by wirelessly administering tests, grading them and recording results. LearnTrac has also been shown to raise student participation in classroom activities by providing a way for students to “anonymously raise their hand” when they need clarification, eliminating a major stumbling block with shy and learning disabled students.
Last year, Brighthand founder Steve Bush visited a school using the LearnTrac system and wrote about it for Pen Computing magazine, which we’ve republished below.
LearnTrac: Automating classroom tasks is just the first step
First published in Pen Computing, October 2002
Remember the chorus of groans when your high school teacher would announce a pop quiz? Not in Jonathan Spears’ class. Spears teaches tenth grade chemistry at Berkmar High School in Lilburn, Georgia, a typical New South town on the outskirts of Atlanta. So what’s so unique about Spears’ class that his students actually become excited at testing their knowledge? Wireless PDAs, that’s what.
For the past year, Spears has been piloting a new system called LearnTrac, which combines wireless technology and Palm Powered handhelds. LearnTrac, a product of eLearning Dynamics, is an Instant Student Response Technology that automates the classroon environment. It consists of a 900MHz base station connected to the serial port of a teacher?s laptop or desktop computer running LearnTrac’s Windows-based software. Students are given Palm III handhelds equipped with a wireless adapter affixed to its base and leaded with LearnTrac software. From his desktop computer at the front of the classroom, Spears can perform a myriad of tasks, including sending quizzes to all of his students and monitoring their progress in real-time. That immediate feedback enables him to review any material that they seem to have difficulty understanding, while it’s fresh in their minds.
At the simplest level, LearnTrac gives more time back to the instructor, as manual tasks like grading paper tests, taking attendance, handing out notes, and much more, are automated. At its most advanced level, eLearning Dynamic’s developers have created an applications system that uses proprietary research algorithms to evaluate students at the group and individual level. Aggregate, and student specific, data supports teachers throughout the course, allowing users to better understand how their students learn, and how they can do better.
“I’m trying to branch out this semester,” said Spears. “Last semester I started by administering quizzes with LearnTrac. Now I’m taking more time to do analysis of the results, since LearnTrac measures against longitudinal and historical data.”
Sounds a bit like distance learning, doesn’t it? However, it is actually intended to enhance rather than replace standard teaching methods. In fact, it is designed to help improve how teachers teach as much as it is to help students learn.
“LearnTrac is not technology for technology’s sake,” says former Berkmar teacher and eLearning Dynamics’ Director of Training and Development, Stuart Egan. “It gives a teacher a more intimate account of how students are doing.”