Palm’s education market activity is growing rapidly

Palm’s education market activity is growing rapidly

In efforts championed by a single evangelist, in small pilots and through well-funded solution providers such as MindSurf (Baltimore, MD), the education market is beginning to use handheld information appliances, also known as PDAs (personal digital assistants). Palm is the leader here, with its operating system accounting for 78% of the overall market share according to IDC. Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system is the key competing technology. Its education activities are defined in the following article.

Palm licenses their operating system and manufactures the handheld devices. A number of other companies, such as Handspring, manufacture competing, compatible hardware using technology licensed from Palm. These products offer a range of capabilities. The high-end, wireless products receive information via modem. The most basic devices, now retailing for about $149, can synchronize the data in a desktop PC and the handheld by either setting the handheld in a cradle connected to the PC or beaming the information via the device’s and a PC’s infared port.

Mary Fallon, who manages higher education markets for Palm, expects Bluetooth technology to make wireless capabilities widely available to schools, campuses and individual students. Fallon, for example, anticipates a day when a campus will have a beaming station. A student’s device will wake up when in the vicinity and receive news, schedules, email or any other kind of information the institution wants to push out. It is also possible for the beaming capability to create spontaneous networks among groups of people in close proximity. A classroom, for example, could use handhelds for instant polling.

In the here and now, wireless computing is underway. For just one example, UCompass’s Wireless Educator program lets users of their Educator course management system access content, communications and evaluation capabilities with the Palm VII and mobile phones with features that make them function much like a PDA.

Palm’s Proliferating Developers

The “HotSync” capabilities make handhelds without wireless capabilities useful to schools that don’t have wireless LANs. Martha Rolley, who manages K-12 markets for Palm, points to several services. Documents to Go, from DataViz, is an application that lets any file be transferred to a Palm for viewing or editing. AvantGo (San Mateo, CA, has a web-based service that allows users to select channels of information via the desktop, have that synched with their PDA, and then read it away from the desktop. Channels in AvantGo’s education area are Education in Motion from, Spanish to Go and French to Go from Encarta Language Learning, daily lessons from EnglishTown, and aggregated news on education E-business from Ecademy DailEnews.

Of course, companies with web content do not need a channel such as AvantGo to reach a handheld. A number of companies are selling Palm versions of their offering. eHomeRoom, an online community for connecting K-12 schools, teachers, parents and students, has a version of its product available to Palm handhelds. Sunburst offers Learner Profile To Go, a handheld extension of their Learner Profile software for assessment and attendance. Connected University (see p.10) has a new palm program, and VIP Tone (see p. 8) expects to work with the devices.

Hands High Software offers a teacher-specific version of their software, ThoughtManager for Teachers. That $30 product provides more than 75 educational resource outlines and templates including lesson plans, and homework checklists. Due Yesterday (, distributed by Planet Technology Solutions, provides organizing software for students. When combined with the Due Yesterday Desktop Companion, the $15 bundle synchronizes information with the desktop.

Imagiworks ( has graphing calculator software for a Palm, and they recently upgraded their probe-attachment that allows for the collection of science data. Fallon is enthusiastic about a Palm’s ability to serve multiple functions with either software or hardware additions. Imagiworks’ $30 software can turn a handheld into a graphing calculator. A $99 collapsible keyboard can even turn the device into a mobile word processor.

And there are numerous free applications, some specific to education and some business applications that work for that market. MiniMusic, (, for example, helps students learn to read and write music. Herbert’s Math Time, in which a caterpillar teaches K-3 math, is one of many educational shareware offerings for the Palm OS at the United Kingdom’s 5 Star Shareware site (

Higher Education as a Developer Force

Fallon says that that Palm is also seeing a number of learning applications bubble-up from the higher education academic community. Palm’s Campus Developer Program encourages colleges and high schools to teach students to develop software for the Palm OS platform. In addition to the creation of applications by faculty and students, a number of colleges are also making their web sites available to Palm Pilots. And where the institution may not have a Palm program, individual students are fond of the devices. Students are, in fact, such strong proponents of the computing style that Palm is seeing individual students put together seminars for the faculty to learn more about the possibilities of the technology. Also, mobile professional tools, such as resources for doctors and lawyers, are becoming a part of the programs for students in these disciplines.

In one key example of higher education’s contribution to educational Palm computing, Elliot Soloway at the U of Michigan’s Center for Highly-Interactive Computing in Education has developed a program called PiCOMap. This tool enables a child to make a concept map on their Palm, share it with others or move it the PC. (see Soloway has stated that “Every child in K-12 needs to be provided with a Palm computer.”

Palm’s Software Connection section for education ( lists numerous offerings for teachers and administrators, elementary schools, secondary schools and higher education.

Developer Assistance

Palm now has over 4,000 entities developing applications. Developing for this platform is not a technically challenging endeavor. Unlike the early days of Java and some other languages, it is relatively easy to find programmers. And, Palm actively supports developers. Their Alliance Program to assist development and marketing has five membership levels ranging from no cost at the Palm Alliance level to $20,000 per year for the Global Alliance level. Marketing and business development assistance kicks in at the Premier Alliance level at $5,000 per year. Additional marketing services are available for additional fees at that level and upper levels. Some of those services include business development assistance.

A new program specifically for hardware developers, the PluggedIn Program ( provides programs and services to assist in the development of hardware add-ons and peripherals for Palm-branded handhelds.

Professional Development

Two Palm initiatives are designed to facilitate the use of handheld devices in K-12 classrooms. The Palm Education Pioneer (PEP) grant program, run with SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning, provides handhelds to K-12 teachers and students. Evaluations of these activities are expected to assist teachers, hardware and software designers and policy makers in considering the affordability, mobility and flexibility of the devices for learning. Fifteen initial grant winners were announced at FETC in January.

At the same time, Palm announced a professional development program called Palm Education Training Coordinator (PETC). The free program certifies local educators to deliver consistent and up-to-date staff development curricula on the use of Palm handhelds in education. It includes a three-day trainer certification course, a trainer starter kit of hardware and software, a ready-to-use curriculum, and ongoing support and update training.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson B. Heller & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group