The education market is keen to embrace wireless computing, but don’t expect it to happen overnight, says Julie Kaufman, senior analyst, skills development program, for IDC Canada in Toronto.

Kaufman says the chief objective of any vendor selling mobile computing to either post-secondary or K-12

(kindergarten to Grade 12) institutions should be demonstrating how the technology could improve the overall quality of education.

“”It depends on who you talk to, of course, but school boards and teachers tend to put their students and learning first, as they should,”” she says. “”Their focus is on content, and right now there’s a (technology) shift away from hardware towards software.””

Perhaps that explains why Palm Canada Inc. has partnered with Ottawa-based Media-X Systems Inc. to offer Media X’s eTeacher Mobile 3 software on Palm handhelds to school boards, educators and students. Michael Moskowitz, president and general manager for Palm Canada, says his company’s strategy for the education sector is to continue to offer a cost-effective device that’s based on an open-standards platform. In doing so, Palm hopes it will attract other software developers to offer their applications on Palm’s handhelds.

“”Our strategy is to partner with developers that offer specific applications to a specific vertical,”” he says. “”Does Palm know anything about the education market? No, we’re not teachers, but take a developer such as Media-X Systems, it was founded by teachers and it’s run by teachers.””

“”It’s also a natural transition, particularly for younger teachers, to use a Palm in the classroom as many of them are already using them.””

But Moskowitz knows Palm’s quest to see more units in the education market will be a challenge.

“”It won’t happen overnight,”” he says. “”But education, to some degree, is about personal time and schedule management, which is exactly what a Palm does. It can help students, teachers or administrators better manage their time.””

Moskowitz says he expects students will embrace handheld computing en masse as long as the learning curve is short and the cost of ownership is low.

“”We’ve sold more than one million Palm (handhelds) in Canada and many teachers and students are already using our technology,”” he says. “”A lot of it (adoption) has to do with the simplicity and the price of the product. For instance, we’ve just introduced our latest handheld, the Zire, which is designed for students because it’s less expensive and less executive-like.””

Lauren MacNeil, a Masters student in biology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., uses a Palm m130 to help manage his dual role of student/instructor. MacNeil initially received the Palm m125 as part a promotion by the company to introduce Palm handhelds to graduate students. He says he traded that unit in for a free upgrade to the m130 a little more than six months ago.

“”Not only is it great to receive the Palm as a gift, but it’s also great to maintain a connection with the company,”” he says. “”I’ll definitely continue to use the Palm after I graduate . . . a large portion of my work will be computer-based and the Palm will allow me the freedom to take my work with me as I go.””

IDC’s Kaufman says schools primarily use technology for Internet research, e-mail, and office productivity tools. Newer applications require a change to an institution’s curriculum as well as a teacher’s/professor’s instruction style, she adds.

“”Mobile technology on the whole hasn’t penetrated the education market just yet,”” she says. “”It’s an unfamiliar technology for teachers and they’re uncertain as to how it will improve learning in the classroom,”” she says. “”There’s also a case to be made about the cost barrier for any technology adoption within schools.””

Kaufman says Palm and other handheld manufacturers will be successful in the education market when educators enjoy a higher level of comfort with the technology.

“”Teachers and professors need to know how these technologies will improve the quality of learning without putting any extra time or work pressures on them,”” she says. “”Palm has to get over that hump . . . this solution (Palm/Media-X) will help. Wireless mobile technology in general will grow in the education space. But it’s an evolution process that hasn’t fully matured yet.””

For its part, Media-X Systems has spent a decade carving out a niche in the education market. The company offers workshops for teachers and administrators, including seminars that focus exclusively on handheld usage in the classroom.

“”We’ve been working with handheld manufacturers for about 10 years . . . our solutions are primarily for administrators and for teacher assessments,”” says Steve Moretti, president of Media-X Systems. “”Mobile computing is creating a subtle change in schools, not a dramatic one, but it will save schools money and once the applications are there, more teachers will accept it.””

Moretti says he thinks it’s inevitable that mobile computing will ultimately change the face of education.

“”All the signs are there, and the kids are certainly comfortable with it . . . but it’s not as far ahead as we’d like it to be. Some teachers are reluctant to let go of certain things and giving a handheld to a student in the classroom changes the very nature of that class.””

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