6 Wishes for Palm Handheld-Wielding Campus Administrators
Copyright 2003 Miguel Guhlin.
"I wish I could...." Those first 4 words have marked my experience with the over 988 Palm Handheld computer implementation in my school district. Each time, those words have brought me closer and closer to finding solutions to district challenges that will fit on the Palm in their hands. As such, I share with you the hand-sized tools that have made working with a collection of m515s, Tungsten Cs more of a joy, and the realization of handheld computing dream possible. As a director of Instructional Technology, the most important action I can take is to anticipate the path ahead when bringing new technology into the district. This series of tips for administrators who use Palms is based on actual experiences and the ever-present "I wish I could..."
Wish #1: Access Student Information Quickly.
"I wish," said one vice-principal, "that I could carry student demographics, schedules, and photos of students in my hand." It was this comment that sparked creation of The Data-Driven Administrator Seminar (http://itls.saisd.net/admin/ddas). The Seminar is a two-day staff development targeted for campus administrators. The value of the DDAS is that it combines handheld computer software now available with data-analysis training for administrators. While the DDAS is one school district's response to addressing No Child Left Behind through the use of handheld technology, you can create your own using the right software.
For Palm Handheld Computers, you, too, can help meet the need of your campus administrators. Help your campus administrators realize how handheld computers can give them quick access to student data at the point of need. At present, student information is accessible to select few individuals on campuses and usually involves working with student 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 is the concept behind Palm applications such as Media-X's ePrincipal product (http://www.media-x.com) and TruSmart Technologies' ScheduleFinder (http://www.trusmart.com). Data is fed directly from your school district's student information system to the product. All of your students’ emergency contact information, class schedules, and photo ids (which can be entered from your yearbook photo information) are made available on the Palm. Campus administrators can quickly locate student schedules, locker combinations, license plates, and photo IDs--especially useful in identifying students based on a tip, "I don't know who it was, except that his name was John." You can quickly search the Palm database of student information to locate John, and then go through the pictures.
Another key piece of information is being able to access each student's emergency contact information, at any time or anywhere. This quick access to portable information can be critical in emergency situations, not to mention minimize the time it takes to travel from where an emergency occurs to the school office to find the materials.
Developers:
  1. Media-X - http://www.media-x.com; Phone: 888-722-9990
  2. Tru-Smart Technologies - http://www.trusmart.com; Phone: 877-532-8217
Wish #2: Have an Easy-To-Use Tool to Appraise Professional Staff
"When I do a staff appraisal," shares Suzanne, a district level appraiser for a large Texas school district, "I walk into the classroom, pick out a spot, take my legal notepad, draw a line down the middle, and start writing. It's not until I get back to the office that I start pulling the notes together, doing the reflection needed, to do my appraisal." What if there were a better way to organize those notes prior to beginning the appraisal process? Fortunately, there is something you can do to broaden the use of the Palm handheld to conduct appraisals.
A program by Media-X, a company from Ontario, Canada, whose product is in use in several states in the U.S, is available for purchase. Their product was so popular with New York administrators that it is being for over a 1000 administrators. Their product is called mVal. The product includes a built-in PalmOS handheld component to allow you to appraise staff in the field. With it, you can record performance levels, establish "look 4s"--or observational checklists--that you can check off. Instead of taking copious notes, the mVal product allows you to quickly record the range of observational behaviors and performance tasks needed. These behaviors can come from your state's appraisal guidelines. The handheld component of mVal--on syncing or transfer of information to the desktop computer--actually has a web-based component. The web-based component makes it easy to print out the form you need to have teachers review and sign. More importantly, mVal completes any calculations you may need to have made from your selections. If you have a wireless Palm handheld--the Tungsten series--you can skip putting your Palm in its HotSync cradle. Changes to an appraisal record are made as you walk into range of a wireless access point.
Developer: Media-X - http://www.media-x.com; Phone: 888-722-9990
Wish #3: Share Data with Other Administrators Using Handheld Computers.
If you like to save time and hate to do things over and over again, then you definitely will want to take advantage of the Palm handheld computer's built-in beaming component. The advantage of beaming a document from your handheld to another administrator's handheld is that you don't have to wait until you get back to the office to email them a copy. They can have have the copy in their Palm immediately. While each Palm has an easy way to beam documents, the limitation is that you can only send one document at a time. This can make the process interminably long and requires constant attention--you have to interrupt your conversation each moment to "accept" or to "beam" a document. The alternative is to use an $8 program called BeamPro. This program also allows you to beam to non-Palm devices like your phone. Not only can you send multiple file but BeamPro allows you greater control of what you can send. For example, administrators may need to quickly share scheduled appointments, memos with others.
Developer: eCamm - http://www.ecamm.com

Wish #4: Project Presentations Using My Handheld and not have to carry a laptop anymore.
Two days ago, I found myself in a meeting with central office administrators. While I had the information they needed to see on my Palm, they did not have a handheld computer. As we huddled around the small screen, I wished for a quick way to project information from my Palm powerpoint presentation via the digital projector. A short time later, I heard of the $200 Margi: Presenter to Go. Margi is a presentation solution that can provide a simple, fast and flexible tool for the delivery of high-quality color presentations using your handheld computer. Margi provides specific support for the Palm handheld, as well as MS Office software. Not only can you project from your handheld computer--and who would go back to carrying a laptop for presentations--but also view your presenter's notes simultaneously.

Developer: Margi - http://store.yahoo.com/margistore/pressdcar.html

Wish #5: Print Documents from My Handheld
An alternative to sharing Palm documents using Margi is available, but it involves printing instead of projecting. While Palm Tungsten owners have access to an application called PrintBoy, which facilitates printing wirelessly, another possibility for older Palm owners is to use an application called PalmPrint. This $40 Palm application can print information from the built-in Palm databases - memos, schedules, address book information, todo lists, expenses, emails, and clipboard contents. No extra peripherals are needed since PalmPrint uses the infrared port on your Palm.
Developer: Stevens Creek - http://www.stevenscreek.com/pilot/palmprint.shtml
Wish #6: Create My Own Clickable Documents for My Handheld
Although you can certainly put MS Office documents on your Palm in their original format, or, if you have Acrobat, in Portable Document Format (PDF), you may have a need for creating linked, clickable documents. One use of this is using MS Word to create web pages that can be shared on a Palm. This would include documents such as district acceptable use policies, both district and campus policy documents.You can quickly convert web-based documents as well using a program entitled iSiloX. You can find this free program (available for both Mac and Windows) online at http://www.isilox.com/. The program also comes with online tutorials that are easy to follow.
Conclusion
Wishing can be a dangerous experience for handheld computer implementation in your district. As administrators, we seldom have the time to seek out what we need. If the Palm Handheld Computer will not work for us the way we need it to, we may choose to go back to the old way of doing things. Yet, the power of "I wish" can also transform how we do our work, if only we can realize the benefits we wish for.