I’ve just had a digital epiphany – you know the feeling – when you discover that one piece of hardware or software that answers all of your prayers. That epiphany came last night when I discovered for the first time the Opera Mini browser for handheld devices.
I know that this browser is not new but I didn’t realize that it could be downloaded and installed freely on many handheld devices (including cell phones, PDA’s and smart phones). I currently own a Blackberry Pearl and decided to install the browser to see how it worked. WOW! am I ever impressed! The browser not only allows for viewing web pages as they look on the web, but it automatically adjusts the size and dimensions of the webpage to suit the smaller screen with navigation tools that are very easy to use. Websites first appear zoomed out and there is a mouse with a square focal area. Zooming in varies depending on the device but on my Pearl, simple pressing the #5 key zoomed the page to the location of the focal area and to a readable level. I tried the browser on a number of different website such as newspaper websites, mapping websites, Wikipedia and even our district’s web report card application. My Pearl does not have WiFi so I was downloading using my phone’s EDGE service – browsing this way can become costly as Blackberry data plans are not limitless but the Opera Mini does compress webpages allowing for reasonable data usage. Having WiFi on a handheld device, such as a PDA, negates this problem.
As I begin to get passed some of my initial enthusiasm, and I begin to think of classroom applications, many student learning possibilities come to mind. For students, access to the Internet means access to the world’s largest database. Students can use Wikipedia and other online tools to research content for assignments or projects. Students can create content by blogging or podcasting through their handheld devices. Students can also connect and collaborate through their mobile devices by utilizing online collaboration tools. The best part is that if the handheld device is WiFi capable, all this can be accomplished without the worry of expensive data charges.
Can teachers and administrators utilize this as well? My answer would be a definite yes and the uses go beyond just e-mail. Just as with students, teachers and administrators can access online collaboration tools to collaborate with their local or global peers. Teachers can access and evaluate student work whenever and wherever it is convenient for them if their student’s work is posted online. My ability to access our district’s reporting applications opens up the potential of filling out forms or completing report through a handheld device. I realize that you may be shaking your head at the last point but I think that this is not the result of the impossibility of the idea but due to the fact that the idea is so new and that we don’t normally associate handheld devices with this sort of work. Just think about it – really affordable computers for every student with real power to access applications and the internet. Students can even access productivity tools as web services such as Zoho, Thinkfree and Google docs are now available online.
Students can already type at blazing speeds thanks to text messaging. Typing out a short assignment is not that much of a stretch.