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4 Steps to TPRI Handheld Implementation: Keeping Success in Hand
Copyright 2003 Miguel Guhlin
Acknowledgements: Wireless Generation's Gary Johnson, Scott & Sue Bohner SAISD's Instructional Services' Team (http://itls.saisd.net)
When I arrived at work that wet April morning, I was surprised to see the invitation waiting for me in Outlook. The calendar notice reminded me that there was a meeting that afternoon regarding TPRI. Not being familiar with TPRI, I wondered at what someone in Instructional Technology would have to do with what had typically been a reading initiative for K-2 teachers. From that first meeting in April until mid-May, 2003 I have learned much about planning the implementation of TPRI and the use of Handheld computers in my district, which ranks as one of the top ten largest districts in Texas.
What I have learned over the last few months are important lessons, lessons that should be shared with other technology directors who may be given the responsibility of planning and implementing a TPRI Handheld Initiative in their district. With this in mind, here are 4 steps you can take to ensure that you are ready to plan and implement TPRI in your district BEFORE the superintendent calls you in the month prior to implementation.
The lessons are based on the feedback from two other school districts, discussions with the vendor of the TPRI Handheld software--known as mClass: TPRI--and in brainstorming sessions with my staff. My particular district decided to fund the initiative, but my team and I took it upon themselves to do the research as to how to best implement. Based on what we learned, my team and I constructed a TPRI Handheld Implementation Plan that is now in its second draft.
Before we begin, however, you must know that other services--such as Triand's Performance Information through Public Education (PIPE), ED-SOFT, and others--offer TPRI administration via the web. This article refers only to the Wireless Generation implementation of TPRI administration via handhelds.
At the time my district wrote it's Request for Proposals, the specifications that we used were based, not on Wireless Generation's minimum specifications for running mClass: TPRI software, but the idea that we would use handhelds for more than just TPRI administration. While the Palm Tungsten and Zire had just come out, the mClass: TPRI software had not been certified for use on Palm OS 5. While we could count on future compatibility, this incompatibility would have derailed the initiative. As such, I decided to use the m515 specifications available on the Palm web site. Should a higher end Palm become available, for example a higher RAM Zire, those could be used to replace the m515. The minimum specifications for the handheld required for Wireless Generation's mClass: TPRI include:
a) Screen of 160x160 pixels, 3.3� diagonal
b) Operating system: Palm OS 3.5 or 4.x
c) RAM of 8mb
d) Devices supported: Palm m500, m505, m515, i705, m130, Visor Neo, Platinum, Pro, Edge, Prism
SyncStation Miinimum Specifications:
Intel Hardware:
a) Processor is Pentium or greater
b) RAM is 64 MB
c) Free hard Disk: 100 MB
d) Operation System: Windows 98SE, Windows 2000/XP, Win NT 4.0P6 (Serial cradle only)
e) Ports: USB, Serial (USB Strongly recommended)
f) Application software: Palm Desktop 4.0.1 for Windows, Palm HotSync Manager 4.0 or greater
Apple Hardware Minimum Requirements:
a) System: PowerMac 7300/180 or greater
b) RAM 32 MB or greater
c) Operating System: Mac OS 9.2.x, Mac OS 10.x
d) Ports: USB, Serial (USB Strongly recommended)
e) Application software: Palm Desktop v4.x for Macintosh, Mac Hotsync v3.x
My district has taken the first step in obtaining the necessary equipment to implement a handheld administered TPRI. This initiative will impact 800 teachers in grades K-2. A company--Wireless Generation--has partnered with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and regional Education Service Centers around the state to facilitate the administration, scoring and reporting process for the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI).
The TPRI is an observational assessment and provides valuable feedback for teachers and learning specialists in grades K-2. Unfortunately, it can take days to work through the paperwork, especially since tabulation and number crunching are involved. The resulting data, specialists say, cannot be easily aggregated or reported. The company, Wireless Generation, product for administering the TPRI addresses the following:
  • Teachers will take observational assessments on a handheld device instead of a paper clipboard. The computer instantly tabulates results, and once the teacher "synchs" the handheld to a web-connected computer, assessment data is viewed, analyzed and reported with Wireless Generation's Web-based tools (Source: Wireless Generation web site at http://www.wirelessgeneration.com).
  • Administrators can access the tabulated results via the World Wide Web, either through the Wireless Generation web site, or in time, through your district's approach to accessing student data through the web (e.g. Performance Information through Public Education (PIPE)). However, Wireless Generation's web site provides valuable information on it's own without the use of another system.
  • The cost of the Wireless Generation mClass: TPRI software and service is an annual recurring cost of $6.50 per student in grades K-2.
One of the challenges in implementing the TPRI Handheld Initiative is the speed in which IT directors/coordinators may be called on to implement. The two districts I spoke with both mentioned that their superintendents recognized the need to do this and in a short time, the following issues had to be resolved:
a) Which handheld computer should be purchased? Should it be the Palm or the Sony Clié?
In the case of my school district, we opted for the Palm because of a dual platform environment and other issues. The Sony Clie, which will work is Windows compatible only. Of course, there are other options such as the AlphaSmart Dana product. While a bit more expensive, lacking color of the m515 my district selected, the Dana comes with a keyboard and is compatible with Palm OS 4.x. This meant that our district could have chosen the Dana. Whichever the choice, make sure that you consider the other possible uses of handheld computers in your district. Launching so many handheld computers into your district offers you, as instructional technology director, a wonderful opportunity to address PDAs and their use in the classroom. Also, newer Palms come with OS 5, for which the TPRI Handheld software is not yet available, although Wireless Generation states it should be available in Fall, 2003.
b) Once you decide on what the specifications should be for the handheld computer your district will invest in, you should begin working on the Request for Proposals. Due to the short timeline, little less than 2 weeks, our department had to craft an RFP that met our guidelines. Given a little more time, we might have added a few other benefits such as Office software and portable keyboards. While the Documents to Go software that comes standard on Palms is functional, some might prefer the inexpensive QuickOffice that offers a bit more functionality--allowing the insertion of bullets, charting and graphs in documents on your Palm. This is information that I would have been unaware of if I was not a Palm user myself.
Have a few extra Palms from your Palm Education purchase? Why not put them in the hands of vice-principals?
Need: Provide campus administrators with quick access to student data at the point of need. Campus administrators need to have easy access to student information that allows display of demographic information, including attendance data and class schedules.
Proposal: Since access to student information is a key requirement for campus administrators, especially in San Antonio ISD schools, this proposal outlines the benefits of implementing a handheld (e.g. Palm handheld computer) solution. It suggests a pilot project with timeline to full implementation, details the cost for the proposal, and shares information gathered at meetings with the vendor of ePrincipal, a desktop-handheld solution that allows easy loading of vital student information and timetables onto a Palm handheld computer, as well as facilitates analysis of student information including attendance and student achievement.
Rationale: At present, student information is accessible to select few individuals on campuses and usually involves working with personal record forms in an office, whether they be electronic or in computer printouts. A handheld solution would facilitate administrators' access to these records. This can facilitate administrators' review of student information for a variety of purposes and situations. For example:
  • Scenario #1: Administrator walks down the hall and encounters a wayward student. On reviewing information in the handheld, the administrator has a photograph of the student, his/her demographic information, attendance record, class schedule, discipline data, and grades. Instead of walking that student back to the office, the administrator has other choices available.
  • Scenario #2: Administrator encounters parents of a particular student. Instead of having to refer the parent to the office, have the parent schedule an appointment, or deferring the meeting to another, more convenient time, the administrator can make an informed decision that may lead to swift resolution.
  • Scenario #3: Administrator is at a district meeting. S/he has immediate access to campus demographics--such as TAAS/TAKS--and can even share that information with others in the meeting (maintaining confidentiality of student records) such as their Area Superintendent.
In reality, there are many more scenarios that administrators--especially vice- and assistant principals--need to have easy access to data. Furthermore, such an effort to provide handhelds to administrators would build hardware and human capital. Additional tools for administrators for teacher appraisal and observation are already available (e.g. media-x.com's mVAL).
A key implementation issue is how to deliver up to date information to the administrators' desktop. On chatting with the vendor, the ePrincipal solution offers a desktop File Transfer Protocol (FTP) solution that will get the information from a central server. This solution would work transparently for the administrator and minimize the number of steps and maintenance.
And, if you are focusing on Palms, make sure that the vendor you choose be a member of Palm's Education program. Ordering 940 Palms in my district result in approximately 120 "free" Palms. These Palms can be used to launch a data-driven decision-making initiative for vice-principals. Refer to sidebar for a quick overview of the ePrincipal Initiative.
c) What type of technical support will your district be able to provide? What's the best approach? If you have a HelpDesk, are they involved?
d) What about staff development?
Since the TPRI Handheld Initiative is being done across the State of Texas, you may find yourself having training delivered by ESC specialists from other regions. In fact, the initial training has to be done by ESC staff unless you avail yourself of a trainer of trainers model. After collaborating on the completion of the Request for Proposals, I sought out other school districts in my region implementing TPRI Handhelds through Wireless Generation. It was critical to obtain information on what was actually involved in preparing the staff development component, as well as delivering the staff development.
As a result of this search, my team and I were graciously hosted by two districts who were collaborating and conducting their own district training. Even though there were about 40 teachers trained in two sessions, the ESC staff could not meet their training need due to prior commitments. Other regional ESC specialists were sent in to meet the need. The ESC staff we chatted with provided explanations that clarified our understanding of training. Based on those critical and supportive discussions, my team and I developed a professional development plan that matches our district's need. Some of the training issues that arose as a result of our research included:
The ESC, even if it drew upon additional ESCs, would be unable to match our implementation of TPRI Handhelds. The large number of teachers who are required to receive training--800 with an additional 40 campus instructional coordinators--exceeded the capacity of the ESC's two trainers. In chatting with ESC's Education Specialists, the concept of Trainer of Trainers (ToT) arose.
To train all 800 teachers using ESC trainers, the cost would be $48,000 (or $60 per teacher). As such, it was better and less expensive to pay $250 per district-certified trainer or $4250 for 17 trainers from our district. These rates are consistent across the State of Texas. By sending district staff through the ToT for TPRI, we will also have all the necessary materials--a binder with software and reproducible materials--necessary to redeliver TPRI training as needed in the future for new or transferred staff.
The training itself was divided into two significant areas--the first being familiarizing teachers with the handheld computer and the second, the use of the mClass software from TPRI, as well as the web site reporting features. My team and I had the opportunity to observe teachers who attended the first part of the training but were not allowed to keep the handheld computers, as well as teachers who kept the handheld computers AFTER the training that familiarized them with the handheld computer.
Teachers who were allowed to keep the Handheld computer were easily more proficient and had begun exploring the handheld computer on their own. It is strongly recommended that teachers, once issued the handheld computer, be entrusted with them from that point on until the handhelds are collected at the end of the year. In my district, my office will track the equipment initially so as to ensure appropriate asset tagging. Also, not being familiar with administering the TPRI, it is important that district reading specialists be present. TPRI-trained workshop facilitators are needed to respond to questions teachers ask, as well as emphasize the utility of the mClass software as it is used for TPRI administration. Simply put, this should not be solely an Instructional Technology or Reading initiative, but a partnership.
Technical support is obviously critical to this implementation, and large groups of teachers going through training simultaneously would not work. Handheld computers to be used for TPRI need to be received, setup and ready to go as soon as possible, as do the desktop computers they will be "synced" with. Network Services will need to be a key player.
There are 3 main issues that Wireless Generation shared with us so that we might be able to plan ahead; they include the following:
1) Setup of the Palm: Since a Palm battery only holds a charge for 1 month (30 days), it is important that Palms not be charged until needed. This delays the initial delivery plan for the Palms that had been specified in the RFP. It delays it because it was expected that the vendor would deliver charged Palms in June, but the training does not take place until August. Also, although the mClass: TPRI v1 software is now available, an updated version will be available in July or August. You might choose to initiate the purchase now, however, to ensure that the Palms arrive in time for your initiative.
It is recommended that the your district have a necessary hardware/software called "WGSync" to facilitate loading Palms. While I recommend you get the Palm vendor to load the software, you should have the capability in your district to load the software should it become necessary.
2) SyncStation Setup: In my district's original implementation plan, we had counted on each teacher using their own classroom computer to "synchronize" (or "sync") their TPRI student data. This meant a mass review of the equipment we had in 800 classrooms. Yet, in chatting with Wireless Generation, we were disabused of that notion. Rather than allow every teacher to synchronize TPRI Student data on their own computer, it was recommended that 3 "SyncStations" be set up at each campus in the Library Media Center. The SyncStations will sync TPRI data, sending this student data to the Wireless Generation web site through an Internet connection. This requires SyncStations be newer machines and have Internet connections. No student data will reside on the SyncStation, it will only pass-through. Multiple teachers can access a SyncStation.
An important consideration is that each day, it is expected that K-2 teachers on a campus visit the Library Media Center to visit their SyncStations. There is no objection, however, to them "HotSyncing" their Palm to their home/classroom computer. The "hotsync" process allows Palm's desktop calendar, as well as other software useful for using PDA's in the Classroom, to be updated by the teacher.
This means that each Palm comes with a hotsync cradle, required for recharging and hotsyncing information in the classroom. It also means that 3 additional cradles will be needed for placement in the Library Media Center. While these can be about $20 each, it is important that your district budget for these in large implementations (e.g. consider 68 campuses x $60 is $4,080 of additional expense).
It will also be important to provide staff development to the librarian so that s/he can understand what role they will play in monitoring the use of the SyncStations placed under their care. An alternative solution to placing the SyncStations is to place one per grade level, a time saver for teachers who may not want to make their requisite journey to the Library to sync, or send, their TPRI data to the Wireless Generation web site.
3) Teachers will need to visit SyncStations twice when first setting up their data (done during the training).
In regards to student data, some school districts have their own data warehouse. The data warehouse allows districts to maintain a copy of the data that is eventually submitted to PEIMS Edit Plus. Depending on the level of control, the number of students involved, some smaller districts may allow teachers to update their own class rosters via the Palm. Yet, this is not a good solution for larger districts who want to control their data and avoid corruption. It is also important to keep data--involving teachers and students, PEIMS information--clean by ensuring there is only ONE version of the data from which all copies are made.
To achieve this, the individual responsible for managing data in your district could make the PEIMS data available to Wireless Generation so that they have accurate data. This means that teachers would not be able to manually update their class rosters, but that the corrected versions would be sent down on a daily basis. For my district, the classroom roster modification in mClass:TPRI will be disabled and teachers will not be allowed to manually update their class rosters. All updates, changes, new staff must be made through the data files created and that will be transferred via file transfer protocol (FTP) from district servers.
PDAs in the Classroom
A variety of resources abound on the web for using Palms, or personal digital assistants (PDAs), in the classroom. Here are only a few:
  1. Innovative Teaching: Spotlights 12 web sites describing how to use PDAs in the classroom. > http://surfaquarium.com/newsletter/pda.htm
  2. Syllabus' Article on PDAs in the Classroom > http://www.syllabus.com/article.asp?id=6705
  3. Organization Issues: An outline of issues related to PDAs in the Classroom > http://www.aea11.k12.ia.us/tech/staff_dev/PDA/management.pdf
  4. Ashland ISD's Palm Initiative: List of Resources > http://www.ashland.k12.ky.us/trt/pdas.htm
  5. Handheld Devices in the Classroom > http://www.glencoe.com/sec/teachingtoday/educationupclose.phtml/14 ||
Early on, I realized that my role was that of a facilitator.
While the Reading Office was expert on TPRI administration, and central office wanted to quickly launch into the use of data-driven, technology-enhanced collection of that information could present unanticipated problems. As such, it was necessary that I involve the technology department's network services staff and Helpdesk staff, as well as project management. Not only should I become involved in the professional development, but ensure that we were all on the same page on the TPRI Handheld Initiative. Failure to do so would certainly translate into failure of the entire initiative. My team and I worked to facilitate technical implementation meetings between the Palm vendor, Wireless Generation, Network Services and HelpDesk staff, and professional development. These conversations have yielded important insights into what we should be saying and doing DURING training with the K-2 teachers.
Since clear communication was a concern, it was also important to establish a web site that listed support issues. To this end, a web site was created--http://itls.saisd.net/tpri--that serves as the ONE place to go in the district should teachers have questions regarding TPRI Handheld Initiative in the district. Once the web site--with web-enabled database supporting the Frequently Asked questions and tracking professional development--was in place, this information was shared with campus technology representatives so that they could get the information out to their campus' K-2 teachers.
While no plan can anticipate with 100% accuracy the problems that will be encountered, it is certain that a communicative team of individuals representing stakeholders in a district-wide implementation can handle those problems. Problem-solving together, knowing that when you extend your hand to another for support, that the others will be there is comforting. . .and will help you keep success in hand.
Miguel Guhlin currently serves as the Director for Instructional Technology and Library Services (http://itls.saisd.net) for San Antonio ISD. He can be reached at mguhlin@yahoo.com or via his web site at http://www.mguhlin.net