Handheld Computers in the Elementary Classroom: Students and Parents Share Their Thoughts

Jennifer Alexiou-Ray & Vivian H. Wright

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Handheld computers and other mobile devices are interesting and inspiring for students and may help to impact learning in significant ways. This study assessed student attitudes and perceptions toward the use of handheld technology before and after using the instruments for 9 weeks as part of a regular educational routine. Participants in this mixed-method study were 5th-grade students (n = 23). Parents were also surveyed regarding their perceptions of the impact that handheld devices had on student learning. This study has implications related to learning with handheld computers and offers recommendations for future research.

Keywords: handheld computers, mobile devices, K-12, survey research, mixed-methods


Handheld Computers in the Elementary Classroom: Students and Parents Share Their Thoughts

Since the first computer was booted up in a classroom, there have been questions and commentary on the possibilities that one computer for every student would offer to the field of education. Today, schools are looking for new and different ways to achieve this goal. Research suggests that ubiquitous access to computer technology (e.g., mobile devices) creates a classroom climate conducive to engaged and excited learning for students and teachers (Bergen, 2002; Briggs, 2006; Clyde, 2004a, 2004b; Grams, 2003; Koch & Sackman, 2004; Malinowski, 2005; Millar, 2005; Norris & Soloway, 2008; Salpeter, 2004; Schachter, 2009; Shuler, 2009; Solomon, 2005; Soloway et al., 1999; Young, Mullen, & Stuve, 2005; Yuen & Yuen, 2003). Furthermore, technology integration occurring in schools today should help students and teachers focus on real-world applications of technical literacy and critical thinking skills (Charp, 1999; Clyde, 2004a; Millar, 2005; Shuler, 2009; Soloway et al., 1999, Waits & Demana, 1996), which are necessary for the development of students’ 21st century skills. Incorporating uses of ever-changing technologies (e.g., mobile devices) in teaching and learning can foster the 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem solving that are essential for today’s changing workplace (Partnership for 21st Century Schools, 2009).

Today’s classrooms are full of students who want more from their education than traditional instruction can deliver. Current K-12 students are born into a mobile age (Shuler, 2009). Fast-paced changes in technological equipment and applications are a regular part of an increasingly media-rich life (Squire, 2009). This is pushing educators to realize the importance of a differentiated educational system and a different approach to teaching and learning (Shuler, 2009; Solomon, 2005). With the correct blend of teaching methodology and technology, students can be stimulated to learn in new and exciting ways (Bennett, 2003; Chaika, 1999; Malinowski, 2005; Mann, Shakshaft, Becker, & Kottkamp, 1999; May, 2003; McCade, 2001; Norris & Soloway, 2008; Shuler, 2009; Wenglinsky, 2005).

Educators are looking for viable technological solutions to provide students with up-to-date information about real-world applications for learning (Clyde, 2004b). Models of school technology that include a lab of desktop computers or two to four computers in each classroom are instructional relics of the past (Waits & Demana, 1996; Yuen & Yuen, 2003). Students have different types of learning needs for an increasingly interconnected world that previous models cannot support (Millar, 2005; Soloway et al., 1999, Norris & Soloway, 2008; Shuler, 2009; Squire, 2009). For example, one type of learning encouraged by technology integration is inquiry-based learning, which addresses the need of today’s student to seek answers and acquire problem-solving skills. Moreover, students “in technology-rich classrooms…tend to be considered as thinkers rather than vessels to be filled with ‘knowledge’” (Soloway et al., 1999, p. 36). Therefore, newer integration models that facilitate interactive and investigative learning, including in-classroom access to handheld computers, smart phones, and other portable technologies, are gaining ground and responding to the changing educational need for students to acquire 21st century skills.

The purpose of this study was to assess student attitudes and perceptions toward the use of mobile, handheld computer technology (see Figure 1) before and after using the instruments for 9 weeks as part of a regular educational routine. In addition, parents were asked to provide their perceptions of student feelings toward handheld computers and the degree to which handheld computers had an impact on learning at the end of the study. Specific questions we explored were:

1. Does daily access to handheld computers affect students’ attitudes toward technology?
2. Does daily access to handheld computers affect students’ views on the learning process?
3. How do parents perceive the impact of one-to-one computing on their child’s learning?


handheld device

Figure 1. Image of the handheld device provided for the students.


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Meridian: A K-12 School Computer Technologies Journal
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Volume 14, Issue 1, 2011
ISSN 1097-9778
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