8 Tips for Administrators Using Handheld Computers
Copyright 2004 Miguel Guhlin.
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“I can’t wait for my mobile phone to ring. And, if they don’t call me," shares one beleaguered principal trapped in a principals' meeting, "I call them as I walk out pretending that I’ve received an all-important 'Please deliver us!' call from my campus.” Like a child playing an online action game at CartoonNetwork.com, principals roll from problem to problem, guns blazing, from meeting to problem to meeting.
Sadly, they often come to see the meeting time as an obstacle to doing their jobs. Another middle school principal shares, "When I get back to my office, I have a stack of issues to deal with, hundreds of emails to read, and students outside my door waiting to come in." This plethora of activities can create a major challenge for administrators who try to use every second of their time effectively. How can handheld computers maximize my time as an administrator? If that is the question you're asking, then this article is for you.
Tip #1: Access Student Information Quickly.
"I'm an assistant principal and I spend my time" Donna stated in a loud clear voicel, "walking the halls. I have a walkie-talkie strapped on one hip, my mobile phone, my pager attached to the other. What I can't carry around are all the student demographics, schedules, and photos of students in my hand. If I could, that would make my life easier. " 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.
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TruSmart Technologies
While there are several products that are beginning to address this need, two of them include 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. As a campus administrator, 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 handheld. You can quickly find student schedules, locker combinations, license plates, as well as photo IDs.
This last one is considered useful for assistant principals such as Donna responsible for identifying students based on a tip, "I don't know who it was, except that his name was Juan." You can quickly search the Palm database of student information to locate Juan, and then go through the pictures.
Finally, we have all heard of that situation when emergency situations require access to each student's emergency contact information, no matter the time or location on the campus. 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 locate the information on a personal record card.
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
Tip #2: Appraising Staff and Doing Walkthroughs
"When I do a staff appraisal," shares Deborah, "I walk into the classroom, find an inconspicuous spot, whip out my Steno pad, and start writing. When I get back to the Office, I pull the notes together, do the reflection needed, and then work on the appraisal form." 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, as well as walkthroughs.
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 is in use with over 1000 New York administrators. The product--mVal--includes a built-in PalmOS handheld component to allow you to appraise staff in the field. Not only can you record performance levels, establish "look 4s"--or observational checklists--that you can check off, this information is formatted later into the appropriate PDAS form. 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.
"Is there a product that could let me do walkthroughs not necessarily related to the PDAS?" was a question an executive director asked. Essentially, "can I do a walkthrough a classroom to assess curriculum in classrooms?" The answer is YES. Another product from Media-X--eWalk--allows one to create forms that appear on the Palm Handheld. The information is then moved to the web where it is easier to work with, and accessible by appropriate staff. In addition to its use in the classroom, it is also usable in other settings for principal walkthroughs, cafeteria manager walkthroughs, and much more such as the example below.

Interested in assessing how technology is used in school districts? How about using the mVal:LOTI? The Levels of Technology Implementation (LOTI) measures 3 domains, including classroom instructional practice, teachers' comfort level with technology, and how technology is used in the classroom with students. While a clear correlation has been made between the level of technology implementation's domain of classroom instructional practice with academic achievement, you can use the LOTI on your Palm Handheld Computer when doing walkthroughs your campus. Find out more about the LOTI online at http://www.lotilounge.com/LoTi-TCEA-Partnership/
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ScreenShot of what the mVal: LOTI Looks Like at Level 2- View Video Clip Example Student projects--like designing web pages, research via the Web, creating multimedia presentations, creating graphs and charts--focus on lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (e.g., creating a web page to learn more about a whale species). Greater emphasis on technology rather than critical content. Computer use serves as a reward or digital babysitter
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Developer: Media-X - http://www.media-x.com; Phone: 888-722-9990
Tip #3: Share Data with Other Administrators.
"Can I beam my notes to you right now?" asked an energetic superintendent at the end of a meeting. Rather than wait until later, meeting attendees were able to share each others' notes on the meeting. This is a time-saver. The Beaming component of handhelds makes it easy to communicate with other handhelds on the fly. The primary benefit of beaming a document from your handheld to another's handheld is time--you don't have to wait until you get back to the office to email them their own copy. Using the $44 Ultra-Thin keyboard that attaches to your Palm Handheld Computer, you can capture every word verbatim rather than try to decipher notes later.
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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. Take advantage of an $8 program called BeamPro. This easy to setup and use tool allows you to beam to non-Palm devices like your phone. In addition to sending multiple files--"Here's a copy of my notes, my powerpoint presentation, and my business card"--BeamPro allows you greater control of what you can send. For example, administrators may need to quickly share scheduled appointments, memos with others. A slightly more expensive version of BeamPro--BeamPro Expo--allows you to set up a "beaming station." When administrators walk into the meeting, they point their handhelds at the beaming station and pick up a copy of all the materials needed for that meeting. The beaming station does not require attention and keeps sending until it is turned off, allowing unattended transfer of documents to all handhelds pointed at it.
Developer: eCamm - http://www.ecamm.com/palm/beampro/

Tip #4: Take Presentations on the Road
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"Do I have to carry my laptop to this meeting," Doug asked, "or can I just carry my handheld and Margi?" If you have ever had to deliver a Powerpoint presentation, you understand the issues involved. Whether you're travelling to district office or across the State, carrying a laptop can be a hassle. Yet, if you're presenting, you can put your Powerpoint on your Handheld and present from there, even after tinkering with it on the plane! The $200 Margi: Presenter to Go can make this possible. 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

Tip #5: Print Documents Quickly
"When I stepped into my office this morning, I didn't have time to sync my Palm documents. Instead, I printed straight from my Palm and ran copies." If you've been working on your Palm Handheld Computer, then you can easily set it up for printing. Aside from quick printing possible with a Palm, you skip the connection to the desktop computer. As a Palm Tungsten C owner, I have access to an application called PrintBoy ($40) , which facilitates printing wirelessly via a printer's IP address. Those of you who may lack wireless Palms could 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.
PrintBoy Developer: Bachmann & Associates - http://www.bachmannsoftware.com/pbprem.htm
PalmPrint Developer: Stevens Creek - http://www.stevenscreek.com/pilot/palmprint.shtml
Tip #6: Create Your Own Navigable Documents for My Handheld
"I don't want to have the entire policy and procedures on my Palm," shares Lilith from Policy & Procedures Department, "only the ones that I absolutely have to have. And, I want to just look at a menu and tap on them to go straight to them. Do you know what I mean?" You may have a need for creating linked, clickable, or in Palm lingo, "tappable," documents. One easy way of accomplishing this is to use a word processor like MS Word to create web pages. Documents such as computer use policy, acceptable use policies, other district or campus policy documents.These documents can be quickly converted to web-based documents that fit on your Palm. You can do this with a free 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.
Tip #7: Use Word Processors, Spreadsheets, Databases
"How about you?" asked the Education Service Center specialist, "do you prefer Quickoffice or Documents to Go? And, what do you use for a good database program?" As a Handheld Computer user, I was astonished at the number of programs available. Here is a quick listing of recommended tools:
Type
Description
Cost
Office Suite without database
Documents to Go: This program provides you with access and compatibility to your MS Word, MS Excel, and MS Powerpoint software.
No extra charge for most Palms, except the less than high-end models
Office Suite without database
QuickOffice: This robust set of tools makes every effort to provide more functionality than the Documents to Go product. For the most part, it succeeds.
Web: http://www.mobl.com/software/quickoffice_premier/
$39.99
Database
HanDbase: A database program that allows information once collected using paper-based forms on the handheld. You can then "sync" to the primary database on the network.
Web: http://www.ddhsoftware.com/handbase_palm.html
Depending on the 3 levels of features available, prices range from $29.99 to $99.99. The $39.99 allows connectivity to MS Access and Filemaker Pro, while the $99.99 allows ODBC connections.
Database
Mobile Dbase: If you don't need the power of HanDbase, you can get this database tool to manage large phone lists, etc.It is flexible enough to create your own lists.
Web: http://www.handmark.com/
$19.99
While databases may seem a fanciful idea on Palm Handhelds, imagine being able to access district data through a DataPortal via your wireless Palm, or syncing up wirelessly through your Palm. This is now possible and being done in several school districts. This type of database access via the wireless connection is more up to date than what you may create with other applications.
Tip #8: Connect to the Internet, Check Email and More
Helpful Palm-Related Web Sites
How to Install Palm-related Software Tutorial
WiFi Tutorial - Quick tutorial to easily setup your wireless Palm Handheld.
How to Find WiFi HotSpots
"We don't have wireless here yet" shared the waiter at the Chinese restaurant where I'd stopped at to pick up dinner one friday evening. Slightly astonished that there might be ready wireless access in other places besides my school district building, I listened as he extolled the benefits of his PocketPC, only interrupting him to ask, "Where else is there wireless access around here?" Before he could respond, my order was served up and he went to wait on another table, tucking his handheld computer away. Yet, the question started me wondering. Was I doing everything I could to take advantage of wireless environments that might be around?
With a Palm Tungsten C in my hand, I've fallen into the habit of checking for wireless areas where-ever I go. It is the first thing I do when turning on my Palm. Not so surprisingly, I have stumbled on quite a few in neighborhoods, across from schools and in districts, as well as other places. Even though the range is limited to 50 to 75 feet indoors, I have experienced success. My tip to administrators on the go is that they take advantage of the WiFi search feature in their Palm Tungsten C. This software program searches out wireless access points, enabling you to connect. Some, of course, are encrypted or locked to prevent unauthorized access. However, if in a particular location for a meeting, you can usually ask for access to the wireless network. More progressive locations are even setting up wireless access areas for you to enjoy "free" access.
With WiFi working, you can access email using VersaMail (built-in with the Palm Tungsten C) or surf the web, accessing a variety of resources specifically formatted for the Palm screen (Visit Academic Resources online at http://www.academicresources.net/w/palmh.htm)
Conclusion
Next time you find yourself sitting in a meeting, and someone says, "Hey, when you get back to the office, find out what's been done about this," you won't be limited to a simple affirmative. Instead, email your secretary and find out what IS happening and report back to the group. Or, keep your inbox clear as you multi-task your way through a meeting. Even more so, you can share data with students and teachers. All the data is in the Palm of your hand, and data-driven administration is what it's all about these days.
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, we can also use it to transform how we do our work.The question is, are you prepared to spend time now so that you can maximize your time later? As my father quoted often, "Prior preparation prevents poor performance." Take the time now to become comfortable with how a Palm can allow you to maximize your time.
Other Palm-Related Articles Available: