As Dede, C., Salzman, M.C., Loften, R.B., Sprague, D. (1999) suggest, hand held devices can be powerful tools for education, when used appropriately. Dede, et. al. (1999) indicate that the devices allow for subjects to be "immersed" in the learning, be provided with "spatial…[and]…multisensory" cues, be motivated by the use of the technology, and finally feel "[a] sense of presence in a shared virtual environment" (Loftin, 1997).
However, the use of hand-held devices has yet to see any significant impact in secondary schools, at least as far as my personal experience goes, except in a small section of the curriculum. This is partially due to a lack of funding in education, particularly for technologies which lack a proven track record at the secondary school level, and partially because of ignorance on the part of many senior educators as to the capabilities of the hand-held devices.
Two obvious exceptions to this minimal use, which are widely used across the affluent world, are graphing calculators and digital data collectors. In my teaching experience, the school without graphing calculators is becoming very rare. The use of digital data collectors has become so wide-spread that there is an entire physics modeling curriculum devoted to their use out of the University of Arizona (Hestenes, D., Jackson, J., 2003).
Devices which have multiple uses, and are generally considered ‘entertainment devices’ are seeing much less use in classrooms. In this category, I include cellphones, music devices, personal organizers, and other analogous devices. The reasons for this are, I think, obvious. Simply put, educators have enough problems with classroom management these days without introducing another element of difficulty, and so many schools have banned the use of these types of devices, a notable example being the New York City department of education (Clark, A.S., 2006).
The educational value of the second of these type of devices is still being investigated. Dede, et. al. (1999) argue that when used appropriately, these types of devices can have a tremendous impact on the learning of students, but that when used inappropriately, are little more than distraction devices.
Time will tell if these devices end up having a wide-spread use in education, but my personal suspicion is that they will join the ranks of the other media devices which have been used in schools (radios, etc…) and most schools will not use these devices to their whole potential.
Clark, A.S. (2006) School Cell Phone Ban Causes Uproar. Associated Press. retrieved on April 3rd from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/05/12/national/main1616330.shtml
Dede, C., Salzman, M.C., Loften, R.B., Sprague, D. (1999). Multisensory Immersion as a Modeling Environment for Learning Complex Scientific Concepts. Computer Modeling and Simulation in Science Education
Hestenes, D., Jackson, J. (2003). A Critical Role for Physicists in K-12 Science Education Reform. Arizona State University.
Loftin, R.B. (1997). Hands Across the Atlantic. IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications 17 (2), 78-79.