SANDY Pete Suarez and Jo Ann Holferty want youngsters to use a GameBoy to do more than learn about Pokemon, Super Mario or Zelda.
Like learning instead about math, science and history.
Their company, Pocket Direct LLC, is an official Nintendo publisher that has produced Pocket Professor KwikNotes, a cartridge for various GameBoy platforms that features basic information about several educational subjects, allowing the devices to be used for education rather than play.
"The whole idea behind KwikNotes is immediate access to that once-learned, easily forgotten and frequently hard-to-find information that keeps popping up during junior and high school years," Suarez said. "Not unlike Cliff Notes, we took 'War and Peace,' in effect, and squished it down here, taking out all but the essential information."
For example, a GameBoy user can easily get details from Jupiter to the Jurassic Period, from cell mitosis to multiplication, from capitalization to chemistry.
"This is what we're bucking right now: That it's a game machine," said Suarez, the company's president. "It's a sophisticated piece of hardware, and it can do more things than just learning how to steal cars and blowing things up. We wanted to take a whole new approach to this thing."
Suarez and Holferty see KwikNotes as a potential personal tutor, study hall aid, homework helper and refresher for those taking ACT and SAT exams, among other uses. With a goal of having valuable information accessible in an easy-to-use, engaging format in a mobile device, the company crammed the information onto a single cartridge available for $44.95 at www.pocketprofessor.com.
"We've taken libraries of information and condensed it into what you see there," Holferty, vice president of new business development, said while pointing to a stack of books and booklets about 6 inches deep, "and then condensed that further into the cartridge that goes into the GameBoy. It's amazing how many textbooks have been used and how many teachers' guides have been used to construct this information."
Suarez said KwikNotes is an alternative to other information sources, such as textbooks or the Internet.
"For an assignment, what we found out, they (students) will take the path of least resistance to finding out information," he said. "Where the Internet is an incredible source of information, it can be very distracting and even somewhat dangerous. So this is an alternative to that. It's a tutor, it's an alternative to the Internet or can augment what might be on the Internet, and it can help parents become more involved in what the kids are doing with their education."
Ahh, parents. Holferty said KwikNotes can serve as a reminder for parents, a way to trigger recollections of what they learned in school years earlier and can pass along to their children.
"Sometimes all you need as a parent trying to help your child with homework is being able to remember what you learned, to have something trick your memory and be of assistance to you," she said.
In addition to basic scrolling through pages, users can click on links to get details about particular topics. Audio capabilities can, for example, provide proper pronunciations of many foreign words and phrases often used in English can you say "carpe diem"? Users also can bookmark up to 60 pages of information for even quicker access.
Dale Niederhauser, a professor of curriculum and instructional technology at Iowa State University, has said KwikNotes "becomes an extension of the classroom teacher." Another adult has said students are "learning without realizing it."
One local school district official in Utah found KwikNotes "fun to work with and educationally sound" with a platform "that kids of all ages can use with ease." A high school student wrote the company and described the product as "easy to use" and "user-friendly," with the speed of the interface and volume of material covered as "impressive." A community college instructor found it to be "quite an interesting and useful tool for students."
The idea for KwikNotes dates back about five years, and collecting and developing information from teachers and professors took about two years. Sales of KwikNotes are in the early going, but Pocket Direct already has plans to produce individual cartridges for each subject that will be even more informative and interactive. It also is developing a GameBoy cartridge packed with information about the dangers of illegal drugs. That is being reviewed by Nintendo, and Pocket Direct is scouting for venture capital funding to advance that product's development.
"When you look at the potential of this thing, at the need that's out there, and just how much positive that can be done with this technology and the fact that nobody's looking at it from that perspective, it's disconcerting," Suarez said."We're using something that's a dyed-in-the-wool toy, if you will, and trying to do something different, so it's a challenge. But there's so much you could do with this technology that it's absolutely incredible not to use it this way."