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					Doug Peterson’s “Using Personal Digital Assistants in Teaching"

“Using Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) in Teaching: How useful are PDAs? Will they be
adopted in all learning institutions? ”

Presenter: Doug Peterson, Educator, University of South Dakota
Date: May 13, 2004
Location: University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba

“The wrong approach: Science finds, industry applies, man conforms,” says Doug Peterson. “The
right one perhaps: People propose, science studies, technology conforms.”

Originally, Doug Peterson wanted to work on advanced technological systems for automotives,
aviation, and computers, but never had any aspirations to teach. Then he happened to teach one
class at the University of Dakota because that’s how they were going to pay him. He then started
teaching full-time and it seemed natural for him to teach. Mr. Peterson then decided to attempt
using technology to do that, so he adopted the (PDA) for himself about a year before the University
opted for its initiative.

How useful are PDAs?

The University of South Dakota announced a two-year initiative for the PDA to all freshman and
first year medical and law students. They were offered for courses like English and Speech class
101. There were 1100 units distributed during the first year to incoming students. Even though the
students were getting a PDA for a reduced price of $125.00 while the retail price was actually $300,
they didn’t really need to be spending the money on something like that, or so they thought...

There was a mandate for PDAs being used in English, Speech, and Biology, but now other faculties
wanted to implement PDAs in their classes. A PDA will help students manage time, it will give
them ready access to course material and it will be used to prepare coursework. They can use the
calendar for organization, alarms for reminders, web-browsing, and e-mail, as well as music
downloading. Most teachers are putting practice exams and reviews on them so students can prepare
for their exams and if they need anymore information, the teacher can send it via the PDA. It is
basically a paperless organizer type of technology. The limitations however, are that PDAs have
limited processing and capabilities, they are unfamiliar and have a non-standard interface. They also
have a small display and limited data input.

One man, during the session, asked if the PDAs worked well and if students adapted well with
them. Mr. Peterson told him that there is a program called QuizApp on the PDAs and it is meant to
help students prepare for tests and exams. For 51 students who didn’t use QuizApp on the PDA, on
the first exam they took, the average was 73.6% and by the third exam, it was 72.6%. Then, there
were 37 students who used QuizzApp on the first exam, the average was 76.2% and by exam three,
the average was 83.9%. That’s not all, without PDAs, the overall averages of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and
F’s on tests and exams were 21%, 17%, 15%, 19% and 25%. Now for the use of PDAs: A’s were
41%, B’s were 22%, C’s were 24% and D’s were 14% and there were no F’s.
So, it was making quite a difference in the scores.

Session_15_final_lcombiadakis                                                               Page # 1
Doug Peterson’s “Using Personal Digital Assistants in Teaching"

Will they be adopted in all learning institutions?

Mr. Peterson believes that every technology has its place, failure will occur, technology is
sometimes asked to do what it is not meant to do and technology may be used when it is not
warranted. To avoid these problems, he says to use a “centered approach: person-task-machine” and
when they meet, they need to find the task that needs to be accomplished. Teachers should evaluate
student tasks, define their needs, study technology’s capabilities and identify the overlap between
needs and technology.

Not all institutions will necessarily incorporate PDAs into their course equipment, because they are
still a bit expensive for most schools’ budgets. Mr. Peterson said that they are worthwhile
investments. In all reality they are not much more expensive than a cell phone and they are just as


Mr. Peterson had two samples of different PDAs to show. One was the PDA Zire 71 and the
PalmOne Zire 31. One was black and the other was metallic in colour and they are very small
devices. He also said they are adding on mini keyboards to the newer PDAs.

The truth is that Technology is constantly changing and doing so very rapidly. It seems that every
time we turn around, there is some new piece of technology that is making life easier. Of course
they aren’t so great when they break down or something isn’t working and it delays whatever you
have to do, like all technology, it has flaws. Regardless, the way these PDAs are going and if they
keep adding things on that make them more and more similar computers, they just might replace
computers. Who knows?

Session_15_final_lcombiadakis                                                               Page # 2

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