Using Personal Digital Assistants and Database Forms as Tools for Field Data Collection: Practical Experiences from Research Trials

in HortTechnology
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  • 1 Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, Sweet Potato Research Station, P.O. Box 120, Chase, LA 71324-0120.
  • 2 Department of Horticulture, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La 70803.

Handheld computing devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), can potentially reduce repetitive tasks that pervade data collection activities in horticultural research. PDA-collected records are electronically transferred to a desktop computer, eliminating manual reentry as well as the need of reviewing for incorrect data entries. In addition, PDAs can be enclosed in protective cases, enabling data collection in inclement weather. Visual CE-generated database forms installed on PDAs were used to electronically collect data from research trials conducted in 2003. The records were subsequently transferred to Microsoft Access desktop database tables for archiving and subsequent statistical analyses. Data for certain trials were also manually collected using paper forms to facilitate comparison between manual and PDA-assisted data collection methods under controlled conditions. Using paired samples analysis, we determined that electronic transfer of records reduced the time required to store the records into desktop computer files. Manual and PDA-based recording methods did not vary in the time required to enter numerical measurements. Our experience demonstrates that off-the-shelf software and consumer PDA devices are viable options for data collection in research. PDA-assisted data collection is potentially useful in situations where remote, site-specific records need to be merged into a central database and where standardized measurements and observations are essential for performing analysis.

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