Here are 12 issues to consider when deciding if and how to bring handheld computers into your school:

  1. Leadership: Handhelds may change the way computers are used and who has access to them. Who will explain these changes to staff, teachers, and students? Who will decide all of the tough issues that arise (such as who gets handhelds and what will they be used for)? Does that person have the support of other leaders in the school district, community, and classroom?
  2. Methods of use: Who will use the handhelds? For which tasks? Will they replace desktop or laptop computers? Which handheld model will be purchased?
  3. Staff training: What level of training is necessary? Is it available, when, and at what cost? Can this training be integrated with other computer-training courses?
  4. Support: Who will provide support services? Are those support capabilities available in-house? Do handhelds present new support problems, such as security?
  5. Impact on technology planning: How does the use of handhelds rank in comparison to other technology priorities in the school or district? Who decides on the priority?
  6. Infrastructure: How costly is it to support handhelds with proper peripherals and software? How quickly is handheld technology changing? Do classrooms need to be reconfigured?
  7. Safety and comfort of use: Do handhelds result in more strain on students’ eyes, fingers, or wrists? If students use them more often than they use desktop computers, will that eventually have an impact on student health?
  8. Ethics: Cheating on exams may be facilitated by the use of handhelds, since many of them have the capability to communicate through wireless technology with other handhelds. Do a new set of rules need to developed for ethical use of handhelds?
  9. Program evaluation: How will the effectiveness of handhelds be judged? Will school leaders look at the number of users, hours of use, or replacement of desktops? Who will have input into judging the success or failure of handhelds?
  10. Equipment security: Because of their smaller size, handhelds are more easily lost or stolen than laptops. What is the school’s system for tracking handhelds? Will access to handhelds be limited to certain people as a result?
  11. Curriculum: How significant will their role be in the classroom? Does that role begin with simple tasks, such as keeping lists of homework assignments? Which courses are most appropriate as first models for developing a curriculum?
  12. Fairness: Though most schools have desktop computers and internet connections, the digital divide is arising again as laptops and wireless internet technology is introduced. Handhelds may ratchet up that issue to an even greater degree, especially if a district contemplates giving handhelds to some schools but not to others. What policy problems arise when schools encourage parents to purchase handhelds for their students?