The Use of PDAs and Laptop Computers as an Effective Tool for Learning

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Nov 24, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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The Use of PDAs

and Laptop Computers

as an Effective Tool

for Learning



Provider

Bishop Burton College

Contact Name

John Whalley & Philip Percival

Tel:

01482 870013


E
-
mail

whalleyj@gmail.com








Contents.

SUMMARY

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1

INTRODUCTION

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2

Expected Benefits to Learning

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2

Mobile Computing

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2

MARKET RESEARCH

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3

Psion

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3

Palm

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3

Windows CE Pocket PC

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3

P
URCHASING

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4

PDAs

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4

Laptops

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4

THE PROJECT

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5

PDAs

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5

T
HE
B
OOKING
S
YSTEM

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7

THE MACHINES

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8

PDA
S

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8

Viewing area:

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8

P
ORTABLE
C
OMPUTERS

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9

The Comp
uter Trolley

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9

RESULTS OF SURVEYS A
ND EXERCISES

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10

PDA
S

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10

Screen:

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10

Pen

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11

Program Navigation

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11

Inputting

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11

Transferring Data

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12

Battery Life

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12

Annoying Features

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12

Other Uses

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12

P
ORTABLE
C
OMPUTERS

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13

Screen Visibility

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14

Keyboard

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14

Touch pad

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14

Data Transfer

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Battery Life

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14

Mobile Facility

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14

Software

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15

Comments on Annoying Features

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15

Other Uses

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15

The Computer Trolley

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15

General Observations from Staff

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16

CONCLUSIONS AND RECO
MMENDATIONS

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17

T
HE
N
EXT
S
TEP

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18





APPENDIX 1

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19

A SELECTION OF THE E
XERCISES PERFORME
D

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19

APPENDIX 2

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21

GENERAL INSTRUCTION
HANDOUT

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21

THE HP JORNADA 560

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21

USING EXCEL ON THE J
ORNADA

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22

HP JORNAD
A

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23

F
ERTILISER AND
S
PRAYER
S
PREADSHEETS

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23

Getting Started.

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23

Fertiliser (fert2)

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23

Sprayer

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24

Knapsack Spray
er

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24

APPENDIX 3


CASE STUDIES

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25

C
ASE
S
TUDY
1:

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25

C
ASE
S
TUDY
2:

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28

C
ASE
S
TUDY
3:

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29

C
ASE
S
TUDY
4:

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30






The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


1

Summary

ICT is becoming an integral part of learning in the Further Education sector.
Integration of ‘Mobile Computing’ facilities into college curricula is envisaged
as an inevitable development of this process. This survey ha
s analysed the
use of both Personal Digital assistants (PDAs) and laptops in a range of
learning situations, both within the classroom and out in the field.

Recommendations:

Laptops



Can be a useful alternative to desktop machines in classroom situations



T
hese are best used in ‘table
-
based’ situations where they can be rested
firmly whilst in use



Power requirements for laptops and increasing use of multimedia mean
that a continuous power supply is advisable in most situations



Adequate secure storage is req
uired combined with a transport system
which enables several laptops to be readily moved around a college site



Time to set up and store the laptops at the beginning and end of a session
is an important consideration

Personal Digital Assistants



Have many po
tential uses for fieldwork



Are much more easily transported ‘in bulk’ for use by groups of students



Are viewed as fashionable by students



Students have fewer difficulties with keyboard operations than might be
expected, possibly due to familiarity with tex
ting on mobile phones



Require software to extend their capabilities beyond basic Pocket
Windows programs to make them more useable

Infrastructure



Internet booking systems need developing for their use



PDA docking stations should be available for student us
e as well as staff



Security problems need addressing particularly for PDAs



A wireless network throughout a college site would greatly enhance their
use



Technician backup is essential pre
-
sessions and post
-
sessions and
possibly during use



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


2

Introduction

The
use of ICT is becoming an integrated part of learning at Bishop Burton
College. The facilities available mean that the vast majority of students are
now able to use the College's IT Suites and Open Access facilities to great
advantage to further learning
within their chosen subject specialisms.
Training of all academic staff to ECDL level is now reaping benefits in this
area. Many staff are keen to integrate ICT within the curriculum and to
develop its use for furthering the learning experience. The Col
lege has been
at the forefront of ICT development for several years, introducing a
comprehensive intranet linked both to its own website and to the college's
vast specialist information base, made possible through having its own
commercial farm on site.

Ex
pected Benefits to Learning

The planned research project was envisaged as furthering the use of ICT
within the curriculum by the direct involvement of students into the data
collection process. It is hoped that this will provide the benefits of:

a)

Enhancing

the appeal of the use of ICT as part of the students learning
process

b)

Broaden the understanding of students by the use of digital information
collection and presentation methods as part of learning 'in the field'

c)

Avoiding repetition of data input

d)

Enhance
student’s appreciation of the practicalities and problems of using
ICT devices 'in the field'.

The Project was scheduled to run from the March 1
st

2002 to July 31
st

2002.

Mobile Computing

For the purpose of the project the field of “Mobile Computing” was d
ivided into
two areas.

a)

Portable computers, which were not normally linked to the College
network, although capable of being so.

b)

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

In both cases it was envisaged that the machines could be used anywhere
and everywhere.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


3

Ma
rket Research

The initial research was directed at establishing what PDAs were available on
the market and their capabilities.

A vast range of machines are available on the market. Prices range from £70
to £1000. The machines at the cheaper end of the r
ange tend to be designed
primarily as organisers and do not include any of the connectivity which was
required. At the higher end new and emerging technologies such as
combined mobile phone and organiser are available, though for the moment
at any rate, t
hese are considered as rather expensive.

Three basic configurations were examined, Psion, Palm, Pocket PC

Psion

These machines have one initial distinction, in that they come with a keyboard
that is exposed when the machine is unfolded. This makes the mac
hine more
like any other computer and thus initially easier to use. Against this is the
keyboard is very small and thus quite difficult to type on. The design of the
machine and the folding nature makes its durability doubtful. The most
important conside
ration as far as Psion were concerned was that the
machines use relatively non standard software, and thus a smaller range of
software is available to them.

Palm

The palm operating system and machines based on it are very flexible and
powerful. The number

of manufacturers using the Palm OS was limited, but a
considerable amount of third party software was available.

Windows CE Pocket PC

This is the operating system which appears to be being adopted by most of
the manufacturers of PDAs. The machines are al
l equipped with touch
sensitive screen based keyboards which are operated by stylus. However
separate keyboards are available.

An initial specification was set, the machines:

1)

Need at least 32Mb of memory

2)

Must be running a version of running Microsoft Wind
ows CE

3)

Must include all the required software/hardware to link the machine with a
standard PC

4)

The machine must be able to stand up to multiple users (a single owner is
likely to look after a machine much more carefully).



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


4

Purchasing

PDAs

An order was plac
ed initially for 6 HP Jornada 565s @ £321.00 each.
Following internet searches this was seen as a reasonably priced mid range
machine.

After initial inspection of these machines, it was felt that something stronger
might be required for some of the dirty
farm/field conditions that they were
likely to encounter on the College and thus the second order placed was for 3
Cassiopeia EF 800 @ £625 each. The Cassiopeia is partly shock and
waterproof, this however makes it considerably heavier and bulkier.

N.B.

The Cassiopeia was deceptively expensive as the quoted price did
not include the docking station . To make data entry easier it was
also decided to purchase a single portable folding keyboard for
these machines.

Both machines came with software which allo
wed them to be connected to,
and to synchronise with, a computer though the USB / serial port.

Laptops

The College followed its standard policy for the purchase of laptops.
Machines were selected on the basis of price (£750) and the best machines
availabl
e for the price were selected. This resulted in the specification:

Processor

Intel Celeron 850Mhz

Memory

128 Mb

Disk

10Gb

OS

Microsoft Windows ME

Applications

Office 2000

PMCIA Network Card

2 USB ports.

In addition to the laptops a
secure

trolley was purc
hased, in which the laptops
could be stored, charged and transported to the place of use.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


5

The Project

Interesting problems arose once the purchase decision had been made.

PDAs are currently increasing hugely in popularity and finding a supplier who
had th
em in stock proved difficult. Being a relatively small and valuable item
they are also vulnerable to theft in the delivery system and the Casiopias
were stolen during the journey to the College and had to be re
-
supplied.

The sudden arrival of 20 laptops,

caused a considerable headache for the IT
Department. Like most computer support departments it has a considerable
workload. The machines when they arrived were pre
-
installed. The pre
-
installation however did not include college network settings and Off
ice
Professional. In the case of desktop machines there is a well practised
routine of installing an image containing everything the machine needs, which
takes about 20 minutes. The laptops have to be done on an individual basis,
because of the way the s
oftware is loaded, which is a great deal more time
consuming.

PDAs

The PDA was primarily designed as the name suggests as a personal tool,
i.e. a single user. In this role it is an excellent device, if used as a diary,
appointments record, memory jogger,

alarm clock, dictaphone and in
conjunction with an internet linked PC for email.

Specialist applications have been written for them which for instance convert
the machine into a very useful teaching and diagnostic tool for doctors.
However the productio
n of this software involved resources outside the scope
of this project.

One of the major functions which was envisaged for the machines was as an
electronic recording device. The bundled software was not sufficiently
powerful and the smallness of the scr
een made it relatively difficult and slow
to use. During this initial experimentation it was discovered that the
capabilities of pocket Excel in particular are rather limited, especially in terms
of spreadsheet automation and macros which are not available
.

On arrival, after a little experimentation it was decided that the first essential
to allow them to be used by both staff and students was some basic
instructions, these were produced and are attached to this document, in
Appendix 2

After consulting a nu
mber of staff in the machinery department about areas
where they and their students might find PDAs useful, a number of small
spreadsheets were designed. To keep the usability factor as high as possible
for novice users the spreadsheet had to be very small
. Printouts of the
spreadsheets are attached. (See Appendix 2)

Due to the limitations of the software which came with the machines a search
was performed for software for pocket PCs on the Internet. This yielded a
huge amount of information and potential
software, from the sites listed below.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


6


http://www.pocketpccity.com/software.html

http://www.pocketpccity.com/

http://w
ww.hpc.net/

http://www.download.com

http://downloads
-
zdnet.com.com/

http://4
-
pocketpc.com/

http://www.pocketpchelp.com/

http://www.pocketpchow2.com/howp1.htm

This software falls into three categories regarding price, freeware, shareware
and applications. A number of freeware packages wer
e experimented with
and some were loaded onto some of the PDA for use with learners.

Installation of these packages was generally quick and easy, through the
docking station

Sprint DB


Cost £12.73

This is a very configurable database, which enables multip
le
tables, forms and sub
-
forms, SQL queries.

The demo version is limited which inhibits full evaluation.

The software appears to be highly capable and would allow
complex databases to be set up. The process of setting up a
database demands a good working

knowledge of databases and
a considerable learning curve on the software itself.

It could be used to create applications for students to use, but is
unlikely to be of much benefit to most students on its own.

XDb 1.8.8

Free

This object
-
oriented database

for Windows and Pocket PCs
gives you the power to represent and manipulate complex data
in a manner unparalleled by traditional database technologies.

This package had extremely good reviews however the software
is complex and it would have taken too long

to evaluate
properly.

It did have the advantage that a PC version of the software was
available so moving data from the PDA to a computer would be
relatively easy.

Pocket Context English/Italian

Shareware £50.00

This package was installed and trialled in
Italy during an
exchange trip


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


7

Mconvert 2.0

Freeware

This package provided excellent conversion facilities for most
types of unit, metric/imperial, currency conversions, clothes and
shoe sizes.

This package was also taken to Italy for evaluation purposes.

Transferring collected data presented problems as this had to be done on a
desktop machine that had been set up specifically for that model of PDA. The
skills which were required to do this task were limited to relatively few people
on the academic team.



The Booking System

Booking systems were established
for both the PDAs and the laptops,
in order to collect the data for the
project. Initially it was arranged that
the bookings could only be made
through the Visual Aids Technician
via telephone onto a
paper based
booking system. At the point of
booking the machines, staff had to
explain what they were planning to
do with the machines and collect
the evaluation forms.

The booking system is currently
being updated to an on
-
line booking
system, via the co
llege
intra/extranet. This will provide staff
with easy and immediate access to
the booking system from their desk
PC (or home if necessary). A
screen shot of the booking system
for the portable computers is
shown.



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


8

The Machines

PDAs

As they are so small

it was felt that these machines were a definite security
risk. In cases where more than 6 PDAs are used, a rigorous monitoring for
their allocation is probably required. A system should be established whereby
students individually sign for, and take res
ponsibility for, a PDA. This is
necessary, not only from the viewpoint of security but also from the aspect of
allocating work done to individual students at the end of a session. Each PDA
has to be individually identified and its ID linked to a particul
ar student.
Where more than one student is using a PDA then it is recommended that
one student is allocated ‘responsibility’ for its safe return. Allocating a PDA
also facilities identifying whose data belongs to whom when back in the
classroom.

Because
of the way all the college computers are set up, particularly student
machines, all downloading of data collected had to be performed to the
project leaders' machines. Whilst this reduced the training need for staff, it is
going to be an important consider
ation after the end of the project. The
College intends to set up the charging and downloading facilities for these
machines in a central location. Staff and students will then be able to draw
machines from this location and after they have been used, tra
nsfer any data
collected to the college network.

Time is required to transfer data to and from the PDAs This means that when
being used in the field or classroom situation, approximately 2 minutes is
needed per PDA to connect the machine to its docking s
tation and to
download relevant files. With groups of 12 this means allowing 30 minutes for
the process to occur, of course some other tasks can be done whilst this is
going on. This therefore means with the system as currently established,
combining stu
dent class work (e.g. enabling the students to construct their
own files for use on the PDA) with field work is probably a 2
-

session process.
It would, of course, be possible to equip a computer room with docking
stations but this would then necessitate
the booking of that room by whoever
is tutoring the field work and would restrict its use.

Viewing area:

This is a major limitation of the PDA over the laptops as it has a very
restricted screen area. In Excel the standard area is only 3 columns by 8 rows

at 100% zoom. When viewed at 75% zoom, which is probably the lowest
practicable zoom for most students, 4 columns by 12 rows is the viewable
screen area.

For Word documents the viewable area at 100% zoom is 33 characters by 9
lines once the keypad is on
the screen.

Many of the advanced functions do not work on the standard Windows
programs and so automating them for ease of use by students is difficult. For
instance, as Macros do not work on excel spreadsheets this necessitated the

The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


9

simplification of spre
adsheets for student use and reduced overall
functionality of the devices.

A wide variety of experiments were carried out and with 32Mb of memory the
machines appeared to have perfectly adequate capacity. The college is the
owner of a HTML based plant dat
abase, which contains about 800 pages and
1400 pictures. The Jornadas were able to store this with space to spare.

This and other smaller collections of pictures were used, particularly for
plant/weed identification exercises, which worked well.


Portable
Computers

The portable computers were divided into two groups.



A collection of machines located in the secure trolley



A collection of machines which were individually available.

All of the computers were equipped with Windows ME and Office 2000. This
ful
filled the major requirements of users. A number of specialist packages
were also loaded onto individual machines as required by staff for a particular
task.

The Computer Trolley

The concept of the trolley was to be able to turn any room (classroom, libra
ry
or laboratory) into a computer suite on a temporary basis, where teaching and
learning could be improved through the use of computers.

The trolley had a built in power supply into which the chargers for 16 of the lap
tops are plugged and will become the

main mechanism for re
-
charging these
lap tops. The wires for all of these chargers has been wound into a
permanent loom within the trolley.

For security the trolley is lockable and of a fairly heavy construction. In
addition a length of chain and a lock

have been purchased so that it can be
temporarily secured in various remote locations.



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


10

Results of Surveys and Exercises

PDAs

Good


Moderate


Bad

1

2

3

4

5


Question

Average Score

Screen visibility indoors

1.5

Screen visibility in sunlight

2

Screen
visibility in cloudy
conditions

1.7

Pen ease of use

1.5

Programs navigation

2

Ease of inputting text

2

Ease of inputting numbers

1.9

Ease of data transfer

1.7

Battery life

1.6


Screen:

There was some initial concern about the use of the PDA screens

in terms of
their ease of being seen due to lighting conditions when used outside. There
were also problems foreseen due to the size of the screen itself.

The students rated the clarity of the screen as being easiest indoors, followed
by cloudy outdoor c
onditions and finally in direct sunlight. However, there
really were no major differences under all 3 conditions as perceived by the
students. This was possibly due to the small size of the PDA and the
consequent ability of students to move it into shade

so that the screen could
be easily seen.



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


11

Pen

The pen was felt to be fairly easy to use after some practice, although several
students commented that it could be a bit slippery on the screen and that the
keypad was a bit sensitive. Most students had lit
tle difficulty and felt it to be
both fast and accurate. Some students expressed concern about the strength
of the pen however none were broken during use. It was found to be possible
to use alternatives if a pen should be lost. For simple tasks such as

turning
the volume on and off, even a tap with the fingertip would do! An empty BIC
pen shell was adequate to allow more detailed inputting. Storing the pen in
the corner of the machine case was felt to be a good idea although some
students had initial
difficulty with extracting the pen to use it.

A few students found that inputting using the pen was much faster than via a
keyboard. Students are familiar with sending text messages to their friends
and using the pen in conjunction with the screen keypad
presented them with
few problems. Staff were initially concerned about this but this may be due to
familiarity with desktop devices and keyboards

Program Navigation

Overall this was felt to be no harder than for a normal computer. Once most
of the studen
ts had got used to the slightly different layout of the menus and
positions of the functions, they navigated them with the same ease as for
other computers. The only real problem was with the size of the option boxes
as some students found them to be a bi
t small. Some students who were
already familiar with the layout of windows programs actually found the new
layout confusing and had to re
-
train themselves to the altered layouts on the
PDAs.

Inputting

When used in writing mode, it was felt that the restr
icted screen size, meant
that at the default 200% zoom, unless the student was used to writing small,
not many words could be written on a line as the screen did not scroll
sideways. 150% zoom was found to be the best compromise between size of
screen and

viewing the written text. Some students found that it was easy to
press the wrong key on the keypad by mistake although most who had
previous experience with text messaging did not find this a problem.

Several students felt that a separate keyboard would

have been useful for
inputting data but supervising staff felt that this would create problems with
monitoring and control. The keypads could be easily damaged or lost and
would be an extra item to have to monitor during a session.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


12

Transferring Data

Th
is was done by a member of staff on the students behalf. This is one area
where there may be problems if the PDAs are used on a regular basis.
Currently only 2 members of staff are using the docking stations and the ideal
would be for each tutor to downl
oad the information for their class or for each
student to be able to do this.

Several staff download points around the campus would be ideal, although
this would also mean deploying several of the PDAs around the campus. 2
points could also be establishe
d in the college’s ‘open access’ room for
students to download information themselves. This would mean however,
that 2 of the PDAs would have to be charged elsewhere.

Battery Life

Currently the PDAs are stored in the MIS section for security reasons and a
re
charged up before storage using the docking stations. This system will
probably be expanded in conjunction with some of the changes outlined
above.

Annoying Features

Were there any annoying features?

Several students commented on the quality of the lid

and felt that it might
easily be broken. Some felt that it would be better if the lid flipped right back
out of the way. Some students felt that the pen might be better attached via a
chain to the PDA to ensure it was not lost.

A few students felt that
the screen was too small and that the screen keypad
was difficult to work with. The battery saving feature of the screen turning
itself off when not used for more than 30 seconds was found to be annoying
to some students. When the sound was on some stude
nts found this a
distraction from inputting.

Other Uses

The following is a list of possible uses suggested by students and staff who
had used the PDAs;



Field Science projects



Dairy lactation recording



Tag number recording



Questionnaires



Crop walking



Taking

lecture notes



As a diary / reminder



Downloading data from the internet for use later



Recording crop applications



Dairy rations



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


13

Other uses were identified, provided further facilities were available:




Species counts possibly linked to GPS



Use of text rea
der software available to students in need of learning
support



Use of infra
-
red capabilities to enable ‘live’ data exchange between
students in a session



Voice recognition software



Use with ‘electronic study packs’ for student background reading on
specifi
c topics.


Portable Computers

These could be booked either individually, in small collections or in the secure
computer trolley. As the trolley only became available later in the project, the
major use was with loose machines.

It was quickly established p
articularly due to the weight but also because of
shape and size that these were only really suitable as a mobile device up to
the point of use. A data collection exercise was carried out where the
machines were being carried and the users much preferred
the PDAs. As a
result effort was concentrated in using the computers in static situations and
the PDAs where more mobility was needed.

Scoring

Good


Adequate


Bad

1

2

3

4

5


Question

Average

Screen visibility Indoors

1.5

Screen visibility Outdoors

2.5

Keyboard ease of use

1.2

Touch pad ease of use

2.1

Ease of data transfer

1.4

Battery life

2.1

Mobile facility helpful

1.4

Software adequate

1.7



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


14

Screen Visibility

The screens scored very well indoors with all users and comments made by
the users in
dicated that graphics and readability were good. On the
occasions that the machines were used outdoors, the screens were less
clear. This could possibly add barriers for users with reading difficulties,
although the opportunity to test this did not arise.

Keyboard

Typists often criticise portable keyboards because they have a different
shape. This was definitely not the opinion of the users in this survey who
found them easy to use.

Touch pad

The touch pad was the least popular feature of the laptops. A
number of
users commented that they found it difficult to use. Staff reported that they
did cause a problem particularly for users who had never used one before but
that most users improved quickly.

When the laptops were used by people with reduced motor
skills, a roller ball
or a mouse would be a definite asset.

Data Transfer

Transferring data and files never caused problems as the results of the users
work was always able to fit on a floppy disk.

An experiment was carried out with larger data files using

a ZIP 250 disc
connected to the portable’s USB port. The operating system recognised and
installed the drive the instant it was attached and the mechanism worked well.
This, it is anticipated, will be important if the portable is being used in
conjuncti
on with digital cameras in the future.

Battery Life

The average user session was just under an hour and in most cases the
batteries were adequate for this, however a number of users were forced to
stop using the machines prematurely.

To circumvent this, wh
ere possible, the machines were connected to the
mains

Mobile Facility

Almost all users found the availability of the laptops very helpful.

They particularly highlighted the fact that this allowed access to a computer in
areas of the college and situation
s where previously this had not been
possible. A number of users reported that because the machines were
available they would prefer to use them rather than the open access facilities
currently provided.

The small footprint of the machines was also apprec
iated in that it left more
room for books etc in the work space.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


15

Software

Users were asked if they thought that the software provided on the laptops
was adequate for their needs.

This question scored highly (1.7) indicating that users were able to complete

the task that they needed to do. The only software missing as far as most
students were concerned was the lack of a browser, which was not made
readily available as the machines could not connect to the college network.


Comments on Annoying Features

The

main criticism was as previously mentioned
-

the touch pads.

Some users also felt that they would like access, via the laptop, to the files
that they had stored on the network and the internet.

Other Uses

The responses particularly indicated that users wo
uld welcome access to the
portables in the library, in classrooms and in the common room. The uses
they envisaged were mainly for collecting information, producing assignments,
taking notes, class work, browsing the internet.


The Computer Trolley

All who

used the trolley felt that it was a valuable resource, however a few
drawbacks to using computers in this way, were highlighted:



In order for the 16 chargers to be used in the trolley and comply with
health and safety regulations, the rather long wires wh
ich are fitted to the
chargers had to be wound into a loom, and thus were not removable. If
these machines are to be used with chargers, then a second set of
chargers will have to be purchased.



In order to be reasonably secure, the trolley is a fairly hea
vy construction,
when carrying 16 lap tops it is very heavy and thus quite difficult to move
between buildings and on slopes. The routes used between buildings on
our extended campus are limited to those with good paths and no steps.



When the trolley is l
ocated in a classroom it takes about 10minutes at both
the beginning and end of the session to set up and put away the
computers. Given that the tutor may only have 10 minutes between
sessions and they may have some distance to cover in that time,
technic
ian support is needed.



The use of the computers is limited to the life of the battery, then an
approximately equivalent amount of time is needed to recharge. This does
not and will not necessarily fit in with the times that people want to use the
machines
. The use of the multiple power points and all the trailing leads
associated with chargers in a classroom situation, makes the use of

The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


16

chargers in a classroom situation doubtful from a health and safety point of
view.



Laptop batteries give fairly good usag
e times when they are new. They do
however deteriorate fairly rapidly and in a machine which is a year old,
usage time may depending on charge patterns have dropped to about 45
minutes. Additional chargers will therefore be purchased so that the use
of t
he machines is not curtailed too much by battery life, however this will
only alleviate the problem in rooms with a sufficient supply of suitably
located power points, for health and safety reasons.


General Observations from Staff

Although lap top compute
rs have been available for some time, they have
been rather expensive and thus relatively rare. There was therefore a
considerable amount of novelty for a number of staff and students alike.
Some staff who have often shown a reluctance to use computers i
n the past,
found the novelty appealing and students were very enthusiastic.

The machines arrived in the latter half of the academic year and a number of
staff reported them as being a great enabler in helping students to finish off
assignments and complet
e portfolios. This was because computers could be
drawn from the pool and taken to the normal class/tutorial meeting room
(computer suites being unavailable). The individuals or groups could then be
supervised and assisted.

The availability of laptops al
so made it possible to introduce a considerable
number of new teaching activities into the classroom. Often the students
found these activities more interesting and motivating.

There was an opportunity to witness and appreciate some of the computer
skills

of the students first hand. This has actually acted as a goad to some
staff in improving their own skills.

It would have been even better if the computers had been able to access the
college network and thus the internet. (In fact the computers can, but

most of
the ordinary class rooms are not yet wired for the network).

Considerably more use would have been made of the computers if more back
up support had been available, both in their setting up and during sessions.



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


17

Conclusions and Recommendations

Th
e laptops and the PDAs were an asset to staff and students alike. It is
important to appreciate the difference in the two types of machine and use
them appropriately. Laptops are most suitable in a situation where a table is
available and PDAs when worki
ng mobility is required.

They allowed staff to develop new teaching mechanisms/methods, which had
not previously been possible.

The novelty of the PDAs in particular acted as a great motivator for students.
This is something that staff can utilise in teac
hing.

The ability to take pre
-
prepared and relatively complex calculations into a
workshop or field situation was of great assistance to students.

The PDA is primarily designed for personal organisation. The bundled
software is good but did not always meet

the college’s needs. With the added
development of some bespoke database type software it offers huge potential
for the collection of data in a field situation

The increase in flexible computer availability was greatly appreciated,
particularly in situati
ons where an entire computer suite was not really needed
or justified.

The increased motivation and availability in a number of cases was very
positive and enabled several students to complete their courses, which would
otherwise have been in doubt

An easi
er mechanism must be established for the installation/configuration of
new lap top computers to make their introduction as easy as desktop
computers. Because of the way that software, particularly device drivers, is
bundled with new lap top computers this
may well have licensing implications
for institutions.

The provision of a mobile facility such as a trolley containing 16 computers
has significant support implications. The facility will not be used unless staff
are provided with support both in establis
hing their “computer facility” and
possibly during it’s use.

The configuration of machines to meet the growing aspirations of staff in
terms of installing packages etc is going to incur significant support time from
computer departments.

In order to capita
lise on their investment any institution considering the
purchase of laptop computers and PDAs should consider the following
inhibitors to their use carefully.

Security

The machines are very portable.

Staff skills

A number of staff drew back from using th
em because
they felt unsure they could cope, particularly if something
went wrong in a class session.

Power

Lap top computers have a severely limited work pattern if
they rely on batteries alone.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


18

The Next Step

For these devices to be used most effectivel
y colleges should have networks
for both staff and students which extend to every classroom

/

common
working area.

The advent of wireless networking has made this more feasible as only one
wireless point for each network is required per room. Each computer

or PDA
can then be equipped with a wireless network card and full access to the
network and all the facilities it offers will then be possible.

All new or refurbished rooms should be provided with an abundance of
electrical power points. While computers a
re becoming smaller the advent of
new technologies such as DVD and other media means that for sustained use
they will still require access to a continuous power source.

Students who have their own laptop computers could then be encouraged to
bring these wi
th them and be provided with network access, considerably
relieving the strain on a college’s own computer facilities.



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


19

Appendix 1

A Selection of the Exercises Performed

Course

Machines

Location

Task

Stages

Laptops

Library


GNVQ Engineering

Laptops

Engi
neering
Workshops


Various

Laptops

Laboratory

Target skills setting exams

Various

Laptops

Laboratory

Target skills setting exams

BTEC ND Public
Services

Laptops

Ice Pit
Classroom 4

Examining group behaviour
and its relevance to public
services.

BTEC ND

Agriculture
Group A

Laptops

Farm

Assessing risk for COSHH

BTEC ND Agriculture
Group A

PDAs

Farm

Assessing risk for COSHH

BTEC ND Agriculture
Group B

PDAs

Farm

Assessing risk for COSHH

Endeavour AQA
(Schools)

PDAs

Farm

Weed Identification

HND Agricult
ure

PDAs

Farm

Nitrogen levels in slurry

First Diploma Public
Services

PDAs

Farm

Questionnaire analysis

National Diploma
Interior Design

PDAs

Whitby

Exhibition design suggestions
on site.

National Diploma
Agriculture Year 2

:

PDAs
-


Farm

Sprayer calibra
tion

National Diploma
Agriculture Year 2

:

PDAs
-


Farm

Fertiliser spreader calibration

HND Agriculture

PDA v
Laptop

Farm

Comparison of effectiveness of
PDA and Laptop for on
-
farm
recoding

AVCE Leisure &
Tourism

PDA

Northern Italy

Unit and money convers
ion

Italian dictionary

Work Based Learners

Laptops

Classroom

Initial Key Skills Assessment.

BTEC ND Public
Services

Laptops

Tutorial

Preparing presentations.

Portfolio building.



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


21

Appendix 2

General Instruction Handout

The HP Jornada 560


Welcome to the

Jornada

The Jornada is a hand held computer/organiser/personal assistant which
providing it is looked after should give years of service, please look after it and
avoid either dropping it or getting it wet.


Getting started

1.

Pre
ss and release the power switch both to turn the machine on and turn it
off again.

Press and hold the power switch to turn off and on the backlighting

2.

Press the Home / Menu
button

3.

Look for the Excel icon

If this is not visible then use the Next/ Prev
ious buttons to change screens.

4.

A list of the available spreadsheets will then be displayed.
Locate the required spreadsheet and double click on it with
the pen or use the navigation pad and action button.






The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


22

Using Excel on the Jornada

Tips For Using Ex
cel on a small screen

View in full screen mode to see as much of your spreadsheet as possible.
Tap
VIEW

then
FULL SCREEN
. To exit full screen mode tap
RESTORE
.

Show and hide window elements. Tap view and then tap the element you
want to show or hide.

Fre
eze panes on a worksheet. (
VIEW menu
)

Split panes to show two different parts of the spreadsheet (
VIEW MENU
)







Tap to
activate
or hide
keyboard

Undo

Redo

Cut

Copy

Paste

Clear

Select All

Find/Rep

Password

Toolbar

Horiz Scroll Bar

Vert Scroll Bar

Status Bar

Sheet

Split

Freeze Panes

Full Screen

Zoom

Cells

Row

Column

Modify Sheets

Insert Cells

Delete Cells

Go To

Sort

Autofilter

Insert Function

Insert Symbol

Define Name

Beam Workbook

Send Via E
-
mail

Revert to Saved

Save Workbook As

Delete Workbook

Show Hide
Toolbar

Start a
New
Spread
sheet

Edit
Menu


View
Menu


Format

Menu

Tools Menu


Toolbar



The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


23

HP Jornada

Fertiliser and Sprayer Spreadsheets


Getting Started.

Press the On button.

From the Start menu (top left) choose Programs

From
the screen choose Pocket Excel

The three spreadsheets are displayed in the window, select the
required one by pointing at it and clicking.

All of the spreadsheets already contain formulas to do the calculations
required. The
ONLY
boxes that should be fill
ed in are the
BLUE

ones.


Fertiliser (fert2)



Enter the figures in the Blue section of the
spreadsheet near the top.

The answers you require will be calculated for
you in the lower section of the sheet.








To Calculate Speed
Time for
30
sec
Distance
50
m
Speed
6
km/hr
Required output
Volume
250
lt/ha
No of nozzles
24
Boom Width
12
m
Nozzle output
1.25
lt/min
Calculate Application Rate
Collected (1noz)
1.5
lts
Time
60
sec
Nozzle output
1.5
lt/min
Area Covered
7.2
ha/hr
Actual Volume
300
lt/ha
Tank Capacity
500
lt
Rate (chemical)
2.4
lt or kg
Ha / tank
1.666667
ha
Chem per tank
4
lt or kg

The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


24

Sprayer

This spreadsheet is divided into t
hree
sections, depending on which calculations are
required. The top two sections are connected.
The bottom section is independent.


Fill in the blue boxes as required.












Knapsack Sprayer


This spreadsheet is divided into two
sections, dependin
g on which calculations
are required.


Fill in the blue boxes as required.










To Calculate Speed
Time for
30
sec
Distance
50
m
Speed
6
km/hr
Required output
Volume
250
lt/ha
No of nozzles
24
Boom Width
12
m
Nozzle output
1.25
lt/min
Calculate Application Rate
Collected (1noz)
1.5
lts
Time
60
sec
Nozzle output
1.5
lt/min
Area Covered
7.2
ha/hr
Actual Volume
300
lt/ha
Tank Capacity
500
lt
Rate (chemical)
2.4
lt or kg
Ha / tank
1.666667
ha
Chem per tank
4
lt or kg
Speed of travel
Distance
60
m
Time
60
sec
Speed
1
m/sec
Speed
3.6
km/hr
Swath Width
2
m
Nozzle output
1
l/min
No of nozzles
6
Total Output
6
l/min
Application Rt
500
l/ha
Application Rt
10
l/100sqm
Area to cover
50
sqm
Cemical Rate
5
l/ha
Chemical needed
25
ml
Water needed
4.975
l
Knapsack Sprayer

The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


25

Appendix 3


Case Studies

Case Study 1:

Comparison of use of PDA and laptop for fieldwork on a Farm site.

Course:

BTEC ND Agriculture Group A

Tutor:

John Whalley

Locatio
n:


On Farm


Beef unit / Sheep unit / Dairy unit

No.

Students:

7

Lesson:


Assessing risk for COSHH

Summary:

The students were allocated both laptops and a PDA for use in assessing
risks and hazards for COSHH on the farm. The data input required was
bas
ed on the Land Based Colleges Learning Pack on COSHH and was
established as a database on the laptops and as a spreadsheet on the PDAs.
Students had previously worked through the LBCNC pack and had their
previous session investigating the impact of Health

and safety in Agriculture.
The object of this session was to increase their understanding of potentially
hazardous situations on a farm and to enable them to have some practice in
assessing level and likelihood of risk.

Ideally, using a database on both
PDAs and laptops would have been
preferable but the PDAs did not come equipped with a suitable database and
the restricted Excel functions did not allow its database facilities to be used.

About 30 minutes development time was required to establish a sprea
dsheet
which would easily fit onto one screen and allow data inputting to occur. A
further 30 minutes was needed to establish a database system for use with
the laptops. In both cases approximately 2
-
5 minutes were required for the
files to be transferre
d onto laptops or PDAs (i.e. a further 30 minutes in total).

It was necessary to provide a handout for use with the PDA spreadsheet since
the format had to be somewhat different to that outlined within the study packs
in order to fit onto the small screen.

Again, this took about 30 minutes to
produce.

The session began in the classroom with a 10 minute outline of both the PDAs
and Laptops and the students were issued with handouts explaining the task
involved and the PDA spreadsheet. Once this was done th
ey were then taken
onto the farm and split into twos. One student was allocated to look after the
laptop and the other to look after the PDA. It was felt that allowing a student
to look after both would probably lead to one or the other being lost or
dam
aged.

The laptops were collected from their charging unit by the students, at this
point numbers were allocated to link laptops to students. Since the numbers
were on the inside of the laptop casing, each laptop had to be removed from
its case to do this.

This process took a further 5 minutes. The laptops were

The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


26

taken to the farm in their carrying cases but it soon became apparent that the
students were finding it difficult to keep removing and replacing the laptops.
The cases were temporarily discarded w
hich caused a problem with storage
at a point where they could easily be collected after the session but where
they would not be stolen in the meantime. They were eventualy stored in the
farm office.

The students then went off in pairs to review the Beef
yard, the Sheep shed
and the Dairy unit. Students who had the laptops had a lot of difficulty in
finding somewhere to rest them whilst inputting data and the joints connecting
the screen to the keyboard section appeared to take a lot of strain. The
dayli
ght conditions were bright sunlight and the students had to keep moving
the laptops in order to see the screens effectively. Because of their bulk, one
student also dropped his laptop, fortunately not damaging the machine. The
database on the laptop was
however, much easier for the students to follow
as the screen was restricted to only the field boxes themselves unlike the
spreadsheets on the PDAs. The PDAs in contrast were much easier to
handle in a farm situation despite the more complicated spreadshe
et. All
students expressed a preference to using the PDA in terms of handling. Once
a student had inputted their data for 1 hazard in a section of the farm, they
swapped with their partner and entered the other hazard via either the laptop
or the PDA.

In this exercise each hazard was a separate record on the database or was a
separate worksheet on the spreadsheet. Students found little difficulty using
the PDA screen to navigate from one worksheet to another once they were
used to the slightly differen
t layout. Students in all cases preferred to use the
PDAs despite initial problems with inputting of data.

On completion of the exercise the PDAs were handed back to the tutor.
However, the students had to return to the farm office to collect their laptop

cases and then had to return the laptops to the main classroom block since
they would have been too heavy for the tutor to carry. In practice this meant a
further 10 minutes out of the lecture time. In a 50 minute session this is likely
to raise problem
s.

The tutor then downloaded the information from the devices and onto the
students own areas for use in the following sessions. Again, this required
approximately 30 minutes to complete. Laptops were then returned to their
storage box for charging


thi
s task was found to be quite difficult for the tutor
since each laptop had to be placed back in its case, its charging pack stored
away and laptops returned, in pairs, to their charging unit. This process took
about 10 minutes. By contrast, the PDAs were

placed onto their docking
stations ready for next time in about 2 minutes.

Some conclusions:

The students found the PDAs to be much easier to use in farm situation. The
bulkiness of the laptops is a real problem and they were felt not to be robust
enough

for this type of session. Specialist ‘tough’ laptops would probably be
needed for regular use in field situations or there would have to be pre
-
prepared areas around the site where laptops could be rested for inputting.

The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


27

Obviously, this would not be viab
le for true fieldwork. By contrast the PDAs,
whilst initially being found a bit harder to input data onto, were well suited for
use in fieldwork. The students also found them ‘cool’ and this increased their
enthusiasm for the session. When using both de
vices together, the ease of
use of the PDAs was highlighted. Their main problem seems to be the lack of
software with ‘full’ abilities in that the cut
-
down packages on PDAs seem to
restrict the use of macros which could be used by tutors to overcome
probl
ems with small screen size.

One significant area of advantage is in the storage and handling of the PDAs
over the laptops. PDAs require no carrying cases. Being so small, a dozen
can be easily transported to classes and field trials by lecturers and retu
rning
them later is also much easier. In fact one lecturer transported hers around in
a carrier bag!


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


28

Case Study 2:

Course:

AVCE Business

Tutor:

Nina Hayton

Location:


UK study tour

No.

Students:

12

Lesson:

Use of PDA for recording information during vi
sits to business
premises

Summary:

AVCE students went on a study tour to the Chester area, staying on a camp
site and using this as a base to visit several local organisations in the area.
These included Chester Races, Chester Zoo and Manchester Airport.

The
use of laptops would have been difficult in these conditions i.e. all students
were transported in a minibus and had to store all their equipment in their own
tents. A PDA was trialled as a method of recording information from each
organisation visit
ed. Manchester airport was the selected organisation since it
involved a 45 minute briefing followed by an hour long tour of the airport.

A PDA was used to record information during this time. Initially Pocket Word
was used with the keypad being used to
record the talk as it was occurring.
The talk involved a history of the growth of the airport and its links to
surrounding businesses in the area. There was a high degree of statistical
information being delivered during this talk and it soon became appa
rent that
in these circumstances inputting data via the keypad was too slow. It was
difficult to cope with absorbing the statistics and finding the correct keys on
the keypad to input it in ‘realtime’.

Inputting via the transcriber was also tried as an al
ternative whereby
information is hand
-
written onto the screen and transcribed by the PDA to
characters. Whilst this was felt to be much better than using the keypad,
there were still problems with the speed of transcription and the errors in
translation t
hat occurred. Whilst no re
-
typing was needed with this method,
there was found to be a definite need to correct large chunks of text. This
would possibly improve with the recognition software attuning to the writer but
would be difficult in cases where m
any students use the devices.

The third alternative was inputting via the ‘writing’ option whereby the
information was merely held as an image of the users handwriting. This was
definitely the best alternative for taking notes during the organisational vi
sits.
With zoom at 75% this was felt to be the best compromise between area of
data to input with and ease of writing onto the PDA. This became the
preferred option and meant that the data was quick and easy to take down.
The disadvantage was that since

it only records an image file in effect it does
not seem to have many advantages over a notepad. One of the main
advantages was that the ‘hand written’ information could be stored as a file for
processing at a later date and was not as likely to be lost.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


29

Case Study 3:

Course:

ND Agriculture

Tutor:

Mike Freeman

Location:


Machinery Workshop

No.

Students:

10

Lesson:

Use of PDAs For Sprayer Calibration

Introduction:

Any person working with chemicals now has to be suitably qualified. In
agriculture and hor
ticulture this particularly applies to the application of
chemicals to crops, but also to the cleansing and fumigation of buildings, soil
etc.

As a result of this most of the agricultural students at the College will undergo
training and testing for agricu
ltural sprayers, to allow them to use them when
they enter their place of work.

Agri
-
chemicals are both expensive and potentially dangerous. Thus accurate
applications are important from both the financial and the safety point of view.
The only way of ma
king sure that the chemical is being applied accurately is
to test both the speed and output of the machine against a stop watch, then
calculate what is actually being applied in the field. Instruments provided on
many agricultural machines are consistent

but notoriously inaccurate.

The calculations that are required for this have often made learning how to
calibrate a sprayer difficult for students.

Summary:

The Cassiopias were used for these tasks, as they are waterproof and a little
more rugged. This m
eant that they could be used by wet hands and would
survive a little rough treatment in the tractor cab.

Both the tutor and the students commented that it made the calculations for
sprayer calibration a great deal easier. The spreadsheet that was used
evo
lved through the sessions to the one which is provided in Appendix 2.

The size of the screen, and making the spreadsheet easy to use constrained
the design greatly. Because of the lack of a protection facility to make sure
that users did not accidentally
delete or overtype formulae, colour was used to
indicate where entries could be made on the spreadsheet.

Tutors expressed concern, that students had to understand how the actual
calculations were performed, so that if they did not have a PDA available then

they would still be able to calibrate a sprayer. The PDA did however remove
one of the traditional barriers to a student learning the process, as all they had
to do was to measure times distances and quantities and plug them into the
spreadsheet. This w
as a great time saving as the process has to be
performed on an empirical basis and repeated until the machine is set
correctly.


The Use of PDAs and Laptops as an Effective Learning Tool


30



Case Study 4:

Course:

Schools Group

Tutor:

Steven Meek

Location:


Arable Fields

No.

Students:

6

Lesson:

Use of PDAs for Wee
d Identification

Summary:

In this session the imaging facilities of the PDAs were used. The HP image
viewer was the software used to view colour images of 15 different types of
weed commonly found in crops. The images of the weeds were resized so
that th
ey would fit onto the PDA screen and would not require the students to
have to manipulate the images on screen. An image handling program,
Paintshop Pro 7, was used on a college desktop to resize the images to 250 x
250 pixel height and width. The images

were saved as Jpeg files and
transferred to a sub
-
drectory in the PDA. On initial use it was felt that the
names of the weeds should also be added as an integral part of each image.
This was found to be very useful by the students who could then put a n
ame
to a weed very quickly.

The schools group identified weeds using a PDA device but were not required
to input data onto the machine. Weed counts were recorded onto separate
sheets of paper as it was felt that instructing them in the use of the
spreads
heet or the word processor would take too much time out of the
session.

Students could easily see the images despite the tasks being undertaken on a
sunny day and had little difficulty in navigating from one image to another.
They found the task much more

interesting than identifying weeds from a
book or from copied drawings.