News

Quick! Tell me how to buy . . .

eSchool News staff report
October 21st, 2002

More than 20,000 software programs claim to provide educational value. Some titles soar. Unfortunately, more of them stink. You need a way to find out which is which? But you certainly can’t rely solely on the description on the package or in the catalog.

When you’re ready to buy classroom and curriculum planning software, you need a thoughtful purchasing strategy. You want to know accepted criteria for evaluating software. You should find out how your colleagues rate the companies selling software (see eSchool News Buyer’s Guide Five Star Rating System: http://www.eschoolnews.org/buyersguide) and what they have to say about specific products.

In this article, you’ll review basic strategies for evaluating software and then find links to some of the nation’s leading sources of educational software reviews.

To establish a responsible software selection process, it’s recommended you follow a step-by-step approach, something along the lines of this systematic strategy, based on “Seven Steps to Responsible Software Selection” a public-domain document available at AskERIC and written by Kenneth P. Komoski, of the Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE), and Eric Plotnick, of the Information Institute of Syracuse:

Step 1. Analyze Needs

First determine whether or not the computer is the appropriate medium to use to satisfy your specific instructional goals and objectives. The possibility always exists that a careful needs analysis will result in a decision to use some other learning strategy. Decide on the most appropriate medium by weighing your needs, goals, and objectives.

Needs & Goals. A need is the difference between “where we are now” (e.g. 60% of the students in the ninth grade score above minimum competence on the state science test) and “where we would like to be” (e.g. 90% of the students in ninth grade score above minimum competence on the state science test). “Where we would like to be” is another way of defining a goal.

Objectives. An objective describes “where we would like to be” in more specific terms (e.g. 90% of all ninth grade students will exceed the minimum level of competence on the state competency test administered in the second semester of ninth grade). Objectives must include conditions under which the desired behavior will be demonstrated and the criteria for measuring that behavior.

Educational objectives help us respond to needs by breaking them down into attainable steps, making it easier to get from “where we are now” to “where we would like to be.” The educational objective stated above is a “terminal” objective which must be broken down into a series of “enabling” objectives (e.g. By October 31, 2003, all ninth grade students will be able to correctly identify at least five out of seven minerals when shown them by the teacher.) Enabling objectives identify specifically what behavior we would like the student to demonstrate. For each enabling objective, you should brainstorm alternative learning methods for achieving that objective, such as direct student teacher interaction, self-instruction workbook, videotape, computer-assisted instruction, and so on.

After considering the benefits and constraints of each learning method, you should be able to make an informed decision about which medium or combination of media will satisfy the identified needs, goals, and objectives.

Step 2. Specify Requirements

If a careful needs analysis determines that computer assisted instruction is one of the methods that will be used to meet identified instructional objectives, you should then specify the requirements for the computer software. Factors to consider in specifying requirements for software include: compatibility with available hardware; cost (Will the school need multiple copies of the software? Will a site license be necessary? ); user friendliness; level of interaction desired; adequacy of documentation; access to technical support via toll-free number; and of course, direct correlation with the instructional objectives and curriculum requirements identified in the needs analysis.

Researchers have suggested you should apply the following criteria within the context of your objectives and the students’ needs: content, instructional presentation, demands placed on the learner, technical features, documentation, and management features.

Step 3. Identify Promising Software

If software requirements are specified in detail, you will have a good head start when it comes to identifying promising products. There are many ways to identify promising software, and you should use as many of them as possible. Catalogs still remain an important source for descriptions of software. Most district-level educational communications/media centers are on catalog mailing lists from virtually all software producers and wholesalers. Software is advertised, described, and often reviewed in the magazines, newspapers, and journals found in school, university, and public libraries. The Educational Products Information Exchange produces The Educational Software Selector (TESS; http://www.epie.org/epie_tess.htm), a for-fee database containing descriptions and reviews of thousands of currently published educational software programs.

Such information is also available in free databases, several of which are listed at the end of this article. Another way to find out about software from other educators by joining a listserv or discussion forum.

Posting a question such as, “I am an eighth grade science teacher, and I am looking for interactive software for a PC environment that will teach my students how to . . . ” is likely to bring dozens of responses.

eSchool News provides the eSchool News Forums, where several discussion topics lend themselves to seeking peer counseling on specific software needs. Many listservs are archived at AskERIC
(http://ericir.syr.edu/Virtual/Listserv_Archives/index.shtml)

Regardless of how you gather your information, the more precisely the requirements are specified in Step 2, the easier it will be to screen out those products that are least likely to meet your specifications and the easier it will be to focus on more promising products.

Step 4. Read Relevant Reviews

After you identify a list of promising software titles, you may be able to narrow or expand the list by reading relevant software reviews. But this is important: Reading reviews should not take the place of previewing the software, as described in Step 5. Software reviews may be found in educational journals, some of which may be identified by searching the ERIC database using appropriate descriptors (e.g. software, selection, evaluation, elementary, secondary).

Evaluation services such as EPIE, subscribed to by many school and public libraries, provide databases of selected software evaluations and reviews. A visit to the library is an important part of responsible software selection.

Keep Step 1 (Analyze Needs) and Step 2 (Specify Requirements) in mind as you read the reviews. Be sure to note the audience to whom any given review is addressed. A software program might get a poor review because it was tested with a different audience than the one you have in mind. When used as one part of the entire selection process, reviews are important screening tools.

Step 5. Preview Software

The most effective way to judge whether software is appropriate or not is to observe students as they interact with the program. Are the educational objectives achieved when the student uses the program? You shouldn’t purchase software without previewing it with actual students. Preview as many programs as you can find that appear to meet your selection criteria. Some software vendors will allow free preview of an entire program. Some vendors will provide a free demonstration disk containing a subset of a larger program. Some vendors will not allow you to preview their products without a purchase order, but will allow you to return the program within a specified time limit with no financial obligation. In some situations, you might be able to borrow a program from another educator for preview purposes.

As a general rule, if there is no way to preview software under actual conditions-avoid that software.

Step 6. Make Recommendations, complete purchase

After you’ve previewed potential software, it’s time to recommend or complete the purchase. At this time, you should be able to:

•select the most desirable software after a systematic evaluation of all alternatives in terms of educational objectives and constraints;

•establish a quantitative method for rating each alternative against the selection criteria established in Step 2;

•evaluate the relative importance of each selection criterion, (ie. previewing should probably be rated relatively high in importance); and

•create a written record outlining the reasons a specific piece of software should or should not be purchased.

For software selected for purchase, you should include suggestions for optimal use that might have become apparent during the preview period. The written record, including the quantitative rating scale and the selection criteria, should be kept on file for future reference.

Step 7. Get Post-Use Feedback

After software is purchased and used with students, it is important to determine the conformance or discrepancy between all of the enabling objectives specified in Step 1 and the student performance actually obtained using the chosen computer software. Those deploying the software should keep records on the relative extent to which each objective is met or not met. Objectives not met might be addressed by some other software program or by another teaching/learning method. Post-use feedback can be a significant help to a school’s systematic process of software selection, purchase, and use.

The accumulation of user feedback, including anecdotal experience on the part of both teachers and students, will naturally serve to improve future needs analyses (Step 1) and all succeeding steps in a constantly improving software selection process.


Eight Characteristics of Top-Quality Educational Software
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=2501

(Abstracted from “The Good, The Bad, and the Useless” by Patricia Brogan Electronic School, March 2001)

Educational software is proliferating, and its producers work hard to entice both teachers and parents. Most software packages are drills that help students memorize information or learn a skill. Other software attempts to adapt to a student’s interests and performance, though this type of software is still in the early stages of its evolution.

Here are eight qualities to look for in educational software:

1. Plain and simple interface. Are the key screens well-designed, and can students move from one activity to another? Navigation of the program should be intuitive for learners at the grade level the software is designed for, and icons should be intuitive.

2. Meaningful, but not fancy, graphics. Graphics are only valuable if they support the educational intent. Otherwise, they’re a distraction.

3. Easy exits. Most software contains far more information than a student can process. Make sure it’s easy for the student to exit a specific task-or even the entire program-before frustration sets in.

4. Intelligent interactivity. Drag-and-drop ability and other things that require students to do something can enhance interaction and retention of information greatly.

5. Speed. Students have short attention spans and enjoy fast-paced video games and television shows. Slow educational software will lose them, especially for schools that do not have superfast internet connections.

6. Feedback loops. Good educational software provides some type of feedback to students and teachers that indicates a student’s progress. This information should be in an easy-to-understand format, such as bar graphs. Some software packages also may return the student to information on the topic with which he is struggling.

7. Personalization. Students should be able to log into a system under their own name and retrieve their previous scores. Software also should perform some type of pre-screening of a student’s achievement level, so that subsequent work will be at an appropriate level.

8. Information vs. instruction. Multimedia dictionaries and other reference materials are useful, but they are not educational by themselves. They must be used within a planned curriculum to achieve specific goals. Teachers will need to supply the interactivity to draw out the best use of these types of resources.

http://www.electronicschool.com/2001/03/0301f3.html


Here are several sources of information regarding specific software programs:

2001 Educational Software Preview Guide by Educational Software Preview Guide Consortium & Judi Mathis Johnson, Editor
http://www.iste.org/bookstore/index.html Price $18 for ISTE members; $20 for non-members


EvaluTech
http://www.evalutech.sreb.org EvaluTech is a free, searchable database of more than 7,000 reviews of instructional materials, including software, presented through a partnership between the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Southern Regional Education Board. The reviews are written by media specialists, teachers, and other education professionals who reportedly have been trained to use criteria developed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Here is an outline of the criteria EvaluTech reviewers use in sizing up instructional software:

CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING COMPUTER COURSEWARE

Content

Accuracy:
• Error-free information
• Current information
• Objective, balanced presentation of information
• Bias-free viewpoints and images
• Balanced representations of cultural, ethnic, and racial groups
• Correct use of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure

Appropriateness:
• Concepts and vocabulary relevant to students’ abilities
• Information relevant to the North Carolina K-12 curriculum
• Interaction compatible with the physical and intellectual maturity of intended audience

Scope:
• Information of sufficient scope to adequately cover the topic for the intended audience
• Logical progression of topics
• Variety of activities, with options for increasing complexity

Technical Aspects Navigation:
• Rapid retrieval of information and screen transitions
• Intuitive icons, menus, and directional symbols that foster independent use
• Controllable pace, including options for stop/pause/exit
• Controllable sound Save/Record-Keeping Features:
• Options for printing/downloading text
• Save option for games or activities in progress
• Note-taking feature, when appropriate
• Record-keeping feature to monitor student progress Presentation:
• Information presented in a manner to stimulate imagination and curiosity
• Activities that provide opportunities for creative problem solving
• Use of appropriate and supportive feedback
• Options for help, tutorial segments
• Uncluttered screen displays
• Captions, labels, or legends for visuals
• Legible text and print size that is appropriate for the intended audience Quality:
• Visuals relevant to the content
• Sound that is clearly understandable and consistent in quality and volume
• Sound and music that is relevant to screen displays

Documentation Technical Information:
• Descriptions of specific hardware requirements for operating the application
• Instructions for installation and operation
• Toll free technical support telephone number Teacher’s Guide:
• Description of target audience
• Summary of the contents of the application
• Instructional and/or behavioral objectives
• Suggestions for classroom use, lesson plans, related activities
• Ancillary materials for student use, such as camera-ready worksheets and activity pages

Reasonable price in comparison to similar programs.


California Learning Resource Network
http://www.clrn.org/home/

CLRN provides educators with a “one-stop” resource for critical information needed for the selection of supplemental electronic learning resources aligned to California’s State Board of Education academic content standards and linked to model lesson plans utilizing technology.

California Educators with specific content experience are selected through an application process to act as reviewers once they have completed a rigorous training program. The review process utilizes the State Board of Education approved review criteria which covers three areas: Legal Compliance, Standards alignment, and Minimum Requirements.


2002-2003 Florida Educational Software Catalog
http://www.doe.firn.edu/edtech/it/edSWCat/html/it_edSWCatIndex2001.shtml

Each year Florida’s Bureau of Educational Technology surveys every school and district office in the state for nominations of up to 10 educational software titles. These nominations are reviewed by a statewide committee to ensure that the software products will meet the needs of schools throughout the state. This committee then produces the final recommendations that are passed on to the Department for contract negotiations.

At the completion of this process, the Bureau provides access for all Florida public schools to an online catalog containing ordering and contact information for software titles listed in the catalog. These contracts last for one year.

The goal of this project is to allow public schools to acquire instructional software products at a discounted rate. Specific benefits include lower prices for individual schools and districts with limited purchasing volume, and the elimination of internal bid costs for larger school districts. It also provides a benchmark for the pricing of other bids, and provides teachers with information on quality instructional software used by Florida public schools.


eSchool News Readers’ Choice Awards

Quick! Tell me how to buy . . .

eSchool News staff report
October 21st, 2002

Handheld computers–also called palmtops or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)–are a small but rapidly growing factor in the drive to integrate technology into the curriculum. School leaders as well as teachers are also embracing them as convenient, portable tools to streamline management duties.

According to the results of an independent study of 86 pilot projects involving handheld computers, teachers readily accept the devices.

Ninety-six percent of the teachers surveyed reported that they believe the devices are an effective instructional tool, and 93 percent agreed that “having a classroom set of handheld devices will have a positive effect on my teaching practice.” Seventy-three percent agreed that handhelds “are more easily used in the flow of classroom activity than desktop computers.”

Handhelds are not likely to displace more powerful laptop and desktop computers anytime soon, but the quantity of education software now being written for handhelds coupled with the relatively low price of such devices make it likely you’ll soon be called on to purchase handhelds for faculty and administrators, if you haven’t been already.

So here’s a quick overview of some of the key points to consider:

These devices got their start in the business sector as electronic replacements for the personal organizers. Most still come equipped with contact directories, calendars, notepads, calculators, and meeting-reminder functions, although the functionalities of these devices have expanded far beyond those basic office applications.

Handhelds are usually designed to work with your desktop or laptop computer. First, you connect the two devices with a serial or USB (universal serial bus) cable. Then you use the handheld’s included software to manage tasks on your desktop machine or laptop and to synchronize tasks with the handheld.

As with all purchasing preparation, the process of selecting a handheld begins by identifying the needs of the users. Are they seeking merely a basic electronic pocket organizer with personal information management (PIM) functions? Will they need to coordinate information with others connected through a network? Will they need to download eMail and other information via the internet? Will they use their handhelds to jot down notes during meetings? Will they use the devices to watch video or read electronic texts or present those materials to students?

Knowing what tasks the handhelds will be used for will help you decide what chassis style, display type, memory, operating system, handwriting software, power source, and other features you’re likely to need.

One thing to decide early is what body type is best suited for the devices you’ll buy. Handheld dimensions range from the size of a credit card to that of a small notebook computer. The number of features and the computing power tend to increase with the size.

Operating systems

Handhelds are sold with a wide variety of operating systems (OS), but four operating systems predominate. Here’s a rundown presented in alphabetical order: • Blackberry – This text-based system is used mainly for wireless messaging devices. It offers basic functions including a calendar and address book.

• EPOC – This graphics-based system hosts an array of applications, including calendaring, contact management, and spreadsheets.

• Palm – This graphics-based system is capable of running one program at a time. It is compatible with many different types of software, which include not only the standard suite of business applications but also a growing selection of educational programs. It is developed by Palm Inc.

• Pocket PC – This graphical-based system is capable of multi-tasking and is compatible with a wide variety of business and education software. It is developed by Microsoft.

The last two operating systems dominate the market. The Palm system traditionally is the leader. But the debut of Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system in 2000 marked the retirement of Windows CE and the advent of more powerful, more versatile Windows-type handhelds.

Palm’s operating system not only appears on Palm handhelds but also has been licensed to third-party handheld manufacturers such as Handspring. Which platform-Palm or Pocket PC or another operating system-is better for you depends, as always, on your specific needs.

Devices operating on the Palm system tend to be smaller, significantly lighter, and less expensive than their Pocket PC counterparts. Palm prides itself on a minimalist approach. It wants to do just a few tasks, but do them exceedingly well. To its proponents, the Palm OS seems lighter on its feet-starting up faster after you turn on the device, running applications and finding data faster, and so on. Palms have a reputation for being easy to set up, learn, and use, and because they have narrower functionality, they tend to have a longer battery life than devices using the Pocket PC OS.

In general, handhelds using Microsoft’s Pocket PC OS have more memory and a wider array of functions than do Palms and Palm-derivatives. Pocket PC units are sleeker than were their Windows CE predecessors, and the software, including the handwriting recognition, is more advanced. Pocket PCs still tend to be a bit larger, heavier, and more expensive than Palms, but they have narrowed the gap on these fronts while maintaining a lead in power. The latest Pocket PCs have also added whole new functions, including the ability to work as MP3 players, eBook readers, and digital voice recorders. A wide variety of third-party software, from MPEG movie players to cursive handwriting recognition, is currently available. Like Palms, Pocket PCs can synchronize with your personal computer, usually via a docking cradle.

Battery Type

Handhelds can come either with rechargeable batteries you can use repeatedly or with single-use batteries. Which is better is a personal preference, but the choice does affect the daily upkeep of the machine. If you have a rechargeable PDA, for example, you must recharge it after only a few hours of use (for most people that is about twice a week), whereas if you have single-use batteries, you generally have to change them every month or two.

Data Entry

Handhelds are available with a wide variety of data-entry methods, including microphones and probes, but three methods are most widely used:

• Handwriting Recognition – Used in conjunction with a stylus, some devices come with special handwriting recognition software. This lets you convert handwritten script into computer-style text.

• Keyboard – Larger units often have a keyboard, which will range in size depending on the model. Most units also accommodate plug-in, portable keyboards.

• Stylus Pen/Touch-sensitive screen – In many popular models, a stylus may be used along with a touch-sensitive screen. The combination allows you to select icons on screen in a manner similar to a standard computer cursor and to input script and other data.

Synchronization

You have various choices in selecting the way a handheld will exchange information with a desktop or laptop computer. This data exchange also is known as syncing (pronounced “sinking”). Specific devices come with standard syncing technologies, but you also may obtain optional solutions. Syncing is important, because it’s what enables you to back up files, transfer notes, reconcile calendars, and coordinate schedule information, eMail messages, and even documents.

Here are the six most common syncing options you’re most likely to encounter:

• Serial Cable – This is the standard type of serial cable identified as a “RS-232” interconnector. It’s relatively slow in comparison to a USB cable connection.

• Serial Docking Station – This special device connects to a computer’s serial port. It consists of a cradle you plug your PDA directly into.

• USB Docking Station – This is a module you hook up to your desktop’s or laptop’s USB port. Your handheld then may be placed in the cradle, without having to worry about plugging and unplugging cables every time you want to sync up your data. If you have a rechargeable PDA, you will often use your docking station to recharge the battery. If you travel, however, you will probably need to carry this rather cumbersome connection arrangement along with you.

• USB Cable – This transports data to and from the handheld via a relatively fast serial connection. Remember this, though: A USB cable connection can be used only newer computers. It won’t work with machines with old, slow central processing units.

• PC Card Slot – Some PDAs can be inserted directly into a laptop’s Card Slot. This also provides another mode of synchronization so you can swap data between handheld and desktop or laptop.

• Infrared – An infrared port allows you to “beam” information from the unit to a desktop or laptop computer or to another handheld device without the use of wires. Data transfers via this method are much slower than those effected over a cable connection.

Chassis Style

Credit-card-size units typically offer only basic organizer functions and have a limited amount of memory. Because these devices are so small, it might be hard to read the screen. The keyboards often have tiny buttons and keys, so data-entry can be tedious, or you might have to connect to a desktop computer and use its keyboard. Still, such handhelds can be handy in sounding an alert before an appointment and in keeping track of your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers.

Palm-size computers are the best known and most popular handheld style. In fact, this style has become so ubiquitous that many people now think of such devices as synonymous with PDAs or palmtops. Some of the most popular brands include Palm, iPaq, and Sony.

Smaller than a paperback book, but larger than a deck of cards, these handheld devices fit easily in the palm of your hand. They’re too small to include a built-in keyboard, so users typically enter commands and data by pressing surface-mounted buttons or by tapping the screen with a stylus. Most handhelds also let you “write” text and include some sort of handwriting recognition software. A few such machines even recognize spoken commands.

Paperback-size devices can range from as big as a thick checkbook to the size of a small notebook computer. These units have room for more memory and expansion slots, a half-height or even full-size VGA display, and a keyboard with touch-type capabilities. With increased size, you get increased computing power and versatility, but you lose the advantages of pocket portability. These larger units also usually cost more than smaller ones.

Weight

Most handhelds are designed to be carried around with you, either in your pocket or your bag. The weight varies on these devices. Some can weigh under a pound while others can weigh over three. Weight can range from 1.4 ounces to 41.6 ounces.

Display Type

Screens for handhelds render displays either in color or black and white (actually four shades of gray). Color screens offer more detail and are easier to read, but they also tend to drain the batteries faster than do monochrome displays. Some models also offer a choice between backlit and ambient light for screen illumination. Backlit displays are easier to read and tend to be visible regardless of the light available in your surroundings. The tradeoff again is the drain backlit screens place on battery life. A typical palm-size handheld has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels with four shades of gray; more expensive color models can offer more than 65,000 colors. Nearly all handhelds have a liquid crystal display (LCD), backlit touch-screen with a stylus for tapping commands, selecting items, and writing text. Monochrome LCD is the least expensive and most energy-efficient choice, providing grayscale images and text. Passive-matrix is a type of LCD color display on mid-level units that provides good color images when viewed straight on. Three types of passive-matrix displays are available: double-layer supertwist nematic (DSTN), color super-twist nematic (CSTN), and High-Performance Addressing (HPA). Recent improvements in CSTN make it a viable lower-cost alternative to active-matrix. Active-matrix, also called “thin film transistor” (TFT), is the brightest, sharpest, clearest, and most expensive type of LCD flat panel display that is practical for handhelds.

Memory and Expansion Capability The operating system and original software applications are stored in ROM. For upgrading purposes, some manufacturers place the operating system in a socketed ROM module-i.e., a module that may be removed and replaced with a new one. Other manufacturers use flash memory cards-a type of memory that can be erased and reprogrammed but that doesn’t erase when the power is disconnected. •CompactFlash cards – Some handhelds include slots for these 50-pin cards. They are similar in function to, but much smaller than, the 68-pin PCMCIA PC cards that are so popular in laptop and notebook computers. CompactFlash cards provide up to 96 MB (and growing) of data storage, but their small, light, energy-efficient design make them ideal for handhelds. (With an appropriate 50-to-68 pin adapter, a CompactFlash card can be used in a PCMCIA Type II slot.) CompactFlash cards come in two flavors: Type I cards are 3.3mm thick, and Type II cards (also called CompactFlash Plus or CF+) are 5mm thick. Type II slots accept both Type I and Type II cards.

•PCMCIA cards – Some larger handhelds accommodate PCMCIA cards. These come in three flavors: Type I, Type II, and Type III. Type I cards are 3.3 millimeters thick and are used mostly to add ROM or RAM. Type II cards are 5.5 millimeters thick and are used mostly as modems. Type III cards are 10.5 millimeters thick and are used mostly as virtual disk drives; although most handhelds are not large enough to accommodate Type III cards. Expansion capability determines to what extent you can increase the handheld’s memory and/or applications. You do this by using one or more of the various types of cards just described. Typically, you plug these cards either directly into the handheld or into a special adaptor that you attach to your device.

Important: Most handhelds are compatible with only one or two types of expansion cards. Make sure you know exactly which types of cards you need to purchase. If you want just the functionality and capacity that come standard on a given device, you don’t need to purchase any expansion cards at all. But because new features and applications are being introduced all the time, not adding expansion cards eventually could limit what you can do with your device. As a result, even if you don’t currently intend to expand, it’s usually advisable to think about expansion cards at the time you purchase a handheld.

Here are some additional options:

•Multi-Media Card – These postage-sized cards have the distinction of being the smallest available. They are used only for storage. Several of the main device manufacturers support them.

•Memory Stick – This memory card option was originally designed by Sony and is currently only supported on that company’s PDAs. The cards are extremely small and have no pin connectors. They are typically used for storage.

•Secure Digital – Used primarily for storage, these cards are supported by several manufacturers including Palm. They are used primarily for storage, though other functions-such as city and restaurant guides-also are available.

•SmartMedia – This card is the second smallest on the market. It is not widely supported and has no pin connectors. These cards are used only for storage.

Connectivity

Some handhelds are incapable of connecting to the internet. For those that do offer connectivity, different models connect with the internet in different ways to allow users to read eMail and browse web sites. Devices that have built-in capability are usually completely stand alone, whereas those that require an add-on will have some type of slot or connector for plugging in to a wireless or wired device such as a modem or cellular phone.

If internet connectivity is something you want your handheld to have, it’s important to consider how you will gain internet access. Each connectivity option requires you to interact with your PDA differently. Here are the four most common connectivity options:

•No Wireless Built In – The device has built-in, dial-up capability that requires you to connect to a phone line.

•No Wireless Add On – The device requires an expansion modem or network card to be plugged in before connecting to the internet.

• Wireless Built In – The device has a built-in wireless modem or some type of technology, such as Bluetooth, that allows for wireless connectivity within a certain radius of a wireless receiver.

•Wireless Add On – The device requires an expansion wireless modem or network card to be plugged before internet connectivity can be established.

Price Handhelds range in price from about $100 to $1,000. On the low end are pocket organizers with some PIM functions-these are little more than electronic address books. On the higher end are handhelds that look like notebook computers without disk drives and that include full-size keyboards and VGA screens. Most palm-size handhelds with standard functionality are in the middle, between $250 and $550, with memory and display type primarily determining the cost. Selection There are dozens of brands to choose from and hundreds of models. eSchool News recently conducted a survey of K-12 decision makers regarding their preferences among handheld devices and palmtop software. Click here for the results of that survey.

According to a survey by an independent market research firm, here are the top 10 best-selling brands of handhelds world-wide, as of the second quarter of 2002:

Top 10 Vendors Units Sold (000s)
1. Palm
2. Hewlett-Packard
3. Sony
4. Handspring
5. Hi-Tech Wealth
6. Sharp
7. Toshiba
8. RIM
9. Minren
10. Legend

Source – IDC

845.64
485.20
250.00
170.59
119.74
112.00
100.16
87.77
56.79
47.69

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