You are here

Bentley CIS Professor Trades Textbooks for Pocket PCs

October 14, 2004

Bentley students in Mark Frydenberg's experimental IT 101 'technology intensive' class have traded their textbooks for a Pocket PC. This intensive, introductory course - 60 students in two sections - is an effort to use leading-edge technology in a creative way to engage those self-proclaimed computer wizards fresh out of high school who would easily test out of Bentley's required, introductory IT course. "Now we're asking students to 'opt in' rather than test out," says Frydenberg, a senior lecturer and software specialist in Computer Information Systems. "I want this to be an engaging, relevant and hands-on class."

The idea for using handheld technology for this IT 101 'intensive' pilot course came to Frydenberg when he realized that for not much more than the cost of the required textbooks, students could purchase a handheld computer and "learn about technology by experiencing it rather than by reading about it," he says. Bentley purchased Dell Axim x30 Pocket PCs at an academic discount and sold them to students at a further subsidized price. But students haven't abandoned books or reading. In addition to web resources, course materials include two E-Books from Books 24x7, one about the Pocket PC and the other about Microsoft Windows XP.

The use of handheld technology in education is not unheard of, but as far as Frydenberg knows, its use in an intro IT class is unusual, if not rare. Many medical schools, such as those at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota, for example, offer Palm Pilots or Pocket PCs because there are electronic documents or specialized software applications in the medical field where handhelds can easily be used for data collection. Some MBA programs, such as the one at the University of Maryland, have students using Blackberrys. And professors at other schools are digitizing their lectures or putting books on audio so students can listen to them with Ipods.

"I don't know of any other college or university in the area using Pocket PCs in an introductory IT class," says Frydenberg. "The Pocket PC is a great tool for learning about technology. For example, before we set up wireless Internet access, I talked to students about how the Pocket PC works and explained all of the acronyms and items that would be on the screens when they set it up; I wanted them to understand what they were doing, rather than just reading instructions to click on some choices in hopes that it magically worked."

One of the course goals is to help students become better problem solvers: "I want them to recognize what the tools are and which ones are appropriate for which tasks. And I want them to discover these things for themselves so they realize the topics are relevant and real."

Already, students have begun using their Pocket PCs to maintain schedules, create customized spreadsheets, download e-mail and web content, and collaborate with other students in the class. They're not only learning what the IT 101 basic course teaches, but they're learning it at a faster rate. More to the point, they're not just learning about leading-edge technology - they're learning in a hands-on way.

So far the students' resourcefulness has been put to the test. They've learned to use their pocket PCs to create budgets, view pictures from their digital cameras, access their Bentley laptops, play MP3s and watch DVDs. They can even play games - as long as it is outside of class, says Frydenberg.

He also wants the students to get in the habit of writing about their experiences with their Pocket PCs so they can see for themselves how much they are doing. On the first day of class, the students created weblogs, and are now required to add weekly entries on topics related to the technologies of the week.

"After experimenting with my Pocket PC for a full week, I can honestly say I don't know what I would do without it," writes Corey Drucker, a freshman from Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, in his weekly blog. "I am finding it so useful, for everything from keeping my schedule to listening to music, researching information or taking down quick notes. Although it is not realistic right now, I hope to eventually reach a point where I am always online and connected. I think that is important, especially in the working world, in case problems arise. Instant communication is an important factor in how productive people can become in their lives."

In the weeks ahead, students will go off campus in search of wireless Internet access, create web pages that display differently on their laptops and Pocket PCs, use surveying software to collect and analyze data, and even get a taste of programming.

"I want them to have a sense of empowerment," says Frydenberg. "I want them to say, 'Oh, I can do this and I can do that on my pocket PC - it will do what I want it to.'"

He also wants the IT 101 'intensive' to serve as a model class in which students develop a strong understanding of ethical and honest behavior. "We talk about the ethics of downloading music and software, how to document web resources, and how to use the Internet responsibly," he says. "These steps will prepare the students for the remainder of their time at Bentley and beyond."

So far, Frydenberg clearly believes the experimental class is paying off. "The students are beginning to discover more and more how technology can make a difference in their lives. Hopefully this approach will become a permanent IT 101 alternative for years to come."

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

Type: Latest Headlines