MET:Handheld Devices in the 21st Century Classroom

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This page was edited by Christina Luciak, Jonathon Brady-Patry, Shawn Lank, Christopher Sandor and Daphne Cockerill.

The 21st Century Classroom

Technology plays a large part in 21st century learning, and handheld devices in the classroom are enabling this shift to happen. Teachers are trying to find educational ways of allowing students to responsibly use their handheld devices in the classroom as well as Pedagogical communities are turning to mobile technologies for innovative learning methods. A variety of mobile handhelds are personalized and flexible and allow students to collaborate with others and synthesize information with their learning environment.

A 2013 study by TRU, supports handhelds for learning - "...if we meet children where they are we can leverage their use of mobile devices for powerful learning...Mobile technology can inspire and engage students by letting them lead their learning and supporting them in choosing and using the devices they know, love, and prefer," says Lisa Nielsen in The Innovative Educator.

OpenColleges graphically represents what they say a 21st century classroom might look like.

What is a Handheld Device and How Does it Fit into our Lives?

A handheld device (also known as a handheld computer, handheld, mobile internet device or mobile device) is "a small, hand-held computing device, typically having a display screen with touch input and/or a miniature keyboard and weighing less than 2 pounds (0.91 kg)." See: mobile device.

Evolving Quickly over Time

"Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives." (Mark Weiser, 1988)

Before internet web browsing, handheld use in the classroom was limited and used primarily for word processing, file organization and computing math. Since 2000, the evolution in the design and capability of handheld devices has grown exponentially. Opportunities for both educators and students is continually emerging with the ability to connect instantaneously and from any location. In 2012, Google stated, "Up to 70% of Canadians use mobile devices."

Popular Handheld Devices (1990-1999)

1991 Psion Series 3 1993 Apple Newton 1996 Palm Pilot 1997 IBM Workpad C3

Popular Handheld Devices (2000-2013)

2003 RIM Blackberry 2007 Apple iPhone 2007 Amazon Kindle Apple iPad 2010 Black 5th Generation iPod Touch 2012

Pushing the Boundaries of Traditional Classrooms

Educational Applications (Apps) for Hand Held Devices

File:Girl with handheld device.jpg
Teenager with mobile device.

Many of today’s instructors allow the use of handheld devices, tablet computers, smart phones and laptops in the classroom to enable students to participate in their own learning. IPads for example, allow teachers to "...have paperless classrooms, take attendance, share interactive presentations and test their students"

Image retrieved from:

Learning Theories

"One definition that captures the dual perspectives of learner mobility and learning with portable technology is: Any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies. (O'Malley et al., 2003)"

Find more information about learning using mobile and handheld devices.

K3-K7 Classrooms

In the K-3 classroom, the iPad or tablet computer is very effective. The iPad is visually stimulating, intuitive and has hundreds of educational applications. iPad carts in schools ensure students in a classroom all have access to the devices. iPads are replacing books saving money for schools and keeping information current.

In the K-4 to K-7 classrooms, laptop computers and iPads are equally useful. Many students use these devices to engage in blogging activities as well as produce and research work. A students' learning shifts towards connectivity and collaboration with peers using handhelds devices {quote}.

Secondary School

At the secondary level, students in the classrooms use tablets, laptops as well as smart phones. Students gradually use these devices more in classrooms as more teachers embrace the use of handhelds to support learning. In the classroom, smart phones:

  • Access the internet.
  • Take pictures of assignments or notes.
  • Record language orals.
  • Text to replace student response systems such as “the clicker”.

Laptop computers are being used in much the same manner to connect with peers as well as produce work. iPads can help students:

  • Create videos and presentations.
  • Access the internet.
  • Connect with other students.

Post Secondary

Free wireless service and downloads of customized apps encourage students to access university resources such libraries, registration, and faculty. UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) states that "three-fourths of all college/university students have purchased or intend to purchase an Internet-enabled handheld device within the next year.[1]

Ming Nie, from the University of Leicester, states in his article, "Mobile/handheld devices are used in the following areas to support teaching/learning:

  • Students record interviews with informants.
  • Students record their own works e.g. oral examination, oral report, presentation, group discussion, etc. for tutor evaluation, peer evaluation, and self-evaluation.
  • Students listen to authentic audio materials e.g. music, speech, interview, vocabulary, audio book, poem, etc.
  • Students access multimedia materials e.g. movie, painting, photograph, documentary, visual glossary, etc.
  • Students refer to preloaded information in a field trip or field study.
  • Students produce their multimedia presentation, assignment, and project."

Distance Learning

  • Students doing distance learning can use mobile devices to access their course resources while commuting, from work or from home.

See: Handhelds in distance and online education.

Educational Applications (Apps) for Hand Held Devices

Image on the right retrieved from:

Benefits and Challenges of Handheld Devices in Classrooms


  • Flexible and convenient - allows the student to access information anywhere, anytime.
  • Portable - students can use the devices in any classroom as well as outside of the classroom.
  • Community - allows students to connect with each other and can reinforce integration of different curriculum.
  • Communication - students, teachers and parents are able to connect instantaneously.
  • Support - handheld devices can enable and support those students who have learning difficulties.
  • Features - applications such as GPS


  • Culture - while the culture of schools is changing in some classrooms handheld devices are still not allowed.
  • Control - handheld devices in the classroom mean giving up control in the classroom and this is worrisome for some.
  • Access - equal access to devices will always be a challenge in schools especially when students are asked to bring their own device.
  • Connectivity - to use handheld devices effectively in the classroom wireless connectivity in schools will be required.
  • Engagement - while handheld devices can help engage in the classroom they can also serve as distraction for some.


Handheld Devices in the 21st Century Classroom ([2]Video) by Rob Theriault

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