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The Next Small Thing-Handheld Computing for Educational Leaders

ISTE, June 2000
David Pownell and Gerald D. Bailey

The Pownell-Bailey Model of Handheld Computing Literacy can help you move from using your PDA as an organizer to using it to empower yourself and those around you.

The latest revolution in computing is coming from the decrease in the physical size of computing devices combined with increased processing power. Small computers that fit in shirt pockets are being used for many information-handling tasks. These small computers are also known as PDAs (personal digital assistants), palmtop computers, or handheld computers. 3Com's Palm and PalmPilot, introduced in 1996, are the most popular of the tiny computers. The Visor, just released by Handspring, also features the Palm operating system but uses a unique expansion module for adding options. Other handheld computers include those made by Psion and models based on the WindowsCE operating system.

Palmtop computers are changing the way people use and interact with information. The devices' small size allows users to take their most important information with them instead of being tethered to stationary computers. Until the past few years, we have gone to the technology, but with the new smaller and better machines, the technology is now going with us. The need for critical information at our fingertips is becoming even more important. Information is not useful unless we have timely access to it. Palmtop computers were first introduced as a kind of "electronic day planner" with schedule, address, and task list software. Now, Frauenfelder (1999) states that they are being seen as universal-access devices, able to ferret out essential information wherever it happens to be stored-on the desktop PC, the home-office server, or the Internet.

Indeed, many companies are looking at how these palmtop computers can be used with the Internet and are "repackaging" information to maximize the smaller screens and memory. Other developers are concentrating on making synchronizers to make the exchange of information between desktop computers, servers, and palmtops easier. Telecommunication companies are also working on wireless digital networks and integration with cell phones, which will lead to greater mobility and increased communications between users (Frauenfelder).

Handheld Computing and Information Literacy
In the coming century, the ability to identify, access, apply, and create information will be the equivalent of literacy (Bailey & Lumley, 1999). Information literacy is an information-age problem-solving process resulting in productive use of information. Users are able not only to use the desktop computer to access information and practice information literacy but also to apply handheld computers for interacting with information that resides on desktop computers and the Internet.

Four Characteristics of Handheld Computers
Four main factors set the handheld computer apart from the desktop computer: portability, accessibility, mobility, and adaptability.
  1. Portability refers to the physical device. Palmtops are small enough to be taken anywhere. They fit nicely into jacket pockets and purses or clip onto belts.

  2. Accessibility refers to the ability for users to get the information they need instantly. They no longer have to wait to get back to the office to check schedules or verify information.

  3. Mobility refers to the user who has the ability for greater movement and is not tethered to one place.

  4. Adaptability refers to the ability of the user to change his or her behavior because of this highly mobile technology. The Internet has transformed the way leaders receive information, and now the handheld computer will change the way they use and access it. Handheld computers are not only an extension of the Internet and the desktop computer but also an extension of the person and his or her information environment.

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