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Jim Klein :: Weblog :: Losing It Over Interactive Whiteboards

April 18, 2010

I received the following email on the California Education Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) listserve the other day:

----- Message from xxx@yyyy.zzz ---------
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2010 08:13:49 -0700
From: Tech Coord <xxx@yyyy.zzz>
Subject: [edtech] Interactive Boards
To: edtech@lists.cetpa-k12.org

In case you wonder about the hype and what can be done with interactive boards, check out what this math teacher does:

http://www.urlesque.com/2010/04/06/math-teacher-pranks/?icid=main|htmlws-main

~Tech Coord

And I must confess, I lost it. My response:

From: CETPA [mailto:CETPA] On Behalf Of Jim Klein
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2010 10:04 AM
To: edtech@lists.cetpa-k12.org
Subject: Re: [edtech] Interactive Boards

Excellent proof that a great teacher will make excellent use of whatever tools you give them. You could give a great teacher a chainsaw and they would find a way to "carve out" a useful lesson with it. The real question is, what are the best tools for learning - not teaching. If it's an IWB, then I'm all for it. However, there is little evidence that this is the case (for those who would rush to Marzano, the study has been widely debunked as poorly constructed and designed to produce the results Promethean was looking for - see http://edinsanity.com/?s=marzano for further review).

I believe that the best learning tool for a student is a personal, connected device. For the cost of an IWB install, I can get 15 kids netbooks that will be far more powerful learning/production/creativity tools. I can buy the rest for the cost of response systems and doc cams added to that IWB. And I have no doubt, through direct experience, that personal devices offer the only real potential to transform the learning environment into the technology-rich, participatory space we all seek. The more access students have to technology, the more opportunities they have to learn/participate/grow.

The long and the short of it is if the teacher touches the technology more than the students, then it has little chance of transforming the learning environment. IWBs make teachers and administrators feel good about their technology use, but in most districts amount to little more than a photo op for district leaders when it comes to real, transformational change.

We need to stop using the phrase "teaching and learning" because that creates the perception that learning is all about delivery and reception, producers and consumers, and ultimately leads to the pursuit of delivery technologies such as this, which have no hope of producing any lasting improvement or change. Instead, we need to start using the phrase "participatory learning environments" where students take an active role in and responsibility for their own learning. If all we seek is to reform school, then by all means, improve content delivery using the same structures you already have in place. It's easy and uncontroversial. If, however, we seek transformation, then we must choose to take on that which is hard. To challenge habits and traditions. To take on socio-political structures that would seek to maintain the status quo. Only then will we see schools become relevant again. Only then will school once again be a place where students want to be, where they are excited to learn, and where they will develop the entrepreneurial, self reliant, creative skills that will lead them to success, no matter what their endeavor.

--
Jim Klein
Director Information Services & Technology LPIC1, CNA/CNE 4-6, RHCT/RHCE
Saugus Union School District
http://www.saugususd.org
http://community.saugususd.org/jklein 

"Finis Origine Pendet"

Did I overreact? Probably. It was just a fun prank that had nothing to do with IWBs. But I couldn't help it. I've grown so weary of all the conjecture, unfounded claims, and hype over such an ineffective waste of money, especially in our current fiscal condition. If we really want to invest scarce technology dollars in the most impactful, transformative way possible, an IWB is the last thing to buy, not the first.

Credit to Gary Stager for effective use of chainsaws by teachers.

Keywords: Interactive Whiteboards, IWBs, Teaching and Learning

Posted by Jim Klein | Share This


Comments

  1. Chainsaw - I like.

    Your review of IWBs, is perhaps a little forceful. I share your support of 'personal, connected devices' - be that mobile phone (cell) / netbook / i-other? However within our school that means IT support costs, infrastructure, wireless. The real cost of providing greater access to technology in our school is significant (bravo to our headteacher for his support). Just to balance your initial response. 

    Thanks for the post - hope you dont mind but I will be quoting the long and the short of it is. Regards

    Kristianstilll on Monday, 19 April 2010, 14:53 PDT

  2. This will get me roasted, I'm sure, but it won't be the first or last time. In my opinion, this is not a very balanced post--your bias is coloring your perspective. It is true that the biggest emphasis should ideally be on learning technologies, not teaching technologies. I'm well-known in my own district as a proponent for this shift, constantly espousing the need to focus less on the teacher and more on the learner. However, to dismiss interactive whiteboards as mere visual aids or "photo ops" reflects a very narrow and, I would assert, incorrect view. Any teacher who has been well-trained in the use of the IWB knows that they are most effective when students' hands are all over them as often as possible. I'd be happy to let you visit with the few teachers lucky enough to have one in our district to find out just what their perspectives are on this "ineffective waste". They increase student engagement and understanding. The key is that the "interactive" refers to not just the teacher, but the students' actions. This is true of most teaching tools though, isn't it?

    Simply put, there is a role for teaching technologies in the classroom, not just learning technologies. Your view is idyllic, a classroom where the teacher puts the tools into the students hands, and off they go, learning, creating, collaborating. Unfortunately, it's not reality. There is a role for direct instruction, and tools such as IWBs, digital projectors, document cameras, etc. can have a huge impact on student engagement and understanding. We have a responsibility to equip our students very, very well, and to do so first. In a world, however, where students seem less attentive and motivated, equipping the teachers with tools that grab students' attention and amaze them now and again is not a waste of time or money.

    Randy Rodgers on Friday, 23 April 2010, 22:57 PDT

  3. Kristian, thanks for your comment. There definitely will be some infrastructure costs, but they don't have to be as great as you might think. For wireless, for example, we can use commodity access points rather than purchasing that "enterprise-class" wireless switching infrastructures. The technology built into most inexpensive access points these days rivals that of the enterprise solutions anyway. And as for support, these costs can be mitigated by taking a device-centric approach. If you can make the device as easy to use and reliable as a cell phone, you can free your tech staff to focus on innovation rather than technical support. See Netbooks and Open-source: Rethinking Laptops and Learning for some thoughts on this.

    Jim Klein on Saturday, 24 April 2010, 13:50 PDT

  4. Randy, thanks for your perspective. I agree that there must be a balance of instruction and action in the classoom - I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. However, I disagree that is idealistic to assume that, given direct, personal access to technology, students will use that technology for learning. I speak from experience when I say, they will. You can see it every day of the week in our SWATTEC classrooms. It's not only ideal, it's real.

    Your description of the IWB equipped classroom is a common one among IWB proponents and, as with the theirs, does not represent reality. Not only is the type of use you describe the exception, not the norm, it's also set in an impossible context, as it is based on a flawed perception of "the students" as singular. They are not singular, there are 30+ of them - and only 1 board - which makes it impossible for any one of them to "interact" with it on anything even resembling a regular basis. It's basic math. Even if you gave each of the 5 minutes - just 5 minutes a day with the technology - it would take two and a half hours for them all to get their opportunity to use it. The best you can hope for is synchronous activities in which the majority of the participants are able to do little else than sit and watch.

    Contrast that with a classroom in which every student is equipped with a device. Even if they hardly get to use them at all - let's say just 45 minutes a day (which, by the way, is the norm for most 1:1 classrooms for a variety of reasons you can read about here) - every student gets simultaneous access. Every student gets to "interact" with the technology asynchronously. Every student gets to exercise their abilities and, done right, gets to participate in and take responsibility for their own learning. There's not only the opportunity for, but also the realistic possibility of students learning from one another and sharing expertise unbounded by the walls of the classroom or the artificial barriers of grade levels, schools, socio-economic status, etc. Technology is a great leveler. Technology is a powerful enabler. If wisdom truly is the sum of knowledge and experience, then individual technology provides the opportunity for experience that balances out our current emphasis on the delivery of knowledge. Interactive whiteboards not only do not, but can not provide that opportunity by their very nature.

    What we're talking about is real engagement, not "attention" or "enthrallment", which is a more accurate representation of what you describe. If this were not the case - if IWBs really had such a dramatic impact on student engagement and learning - then there would be daily reports of great gains from the thousands of schools that have equipped themselves with these devices over the past decade.

    I have no doubt that your teachers do amazing things with these tools, and that their lessons are incredibly engaging. But you don't walk in to their classrooms and say, "wow - that's a really amazing whiteboard." You say, "wow - that's a really amazing teacher." It's the teacher that's engaging, not the board. A passionate teacher is always engaging, no matter what tools they have in their arsenal. Don't short-change them - they are powerful and they make a difference every single day. 

    In a perfect world we'd have all the funding we need to have it all. A classroom equipped with all of the technologies we both listed would be ideal. But since we don't have that funding, we must determine what our priorities are, and align our budgets to those priorities. If our priority is to improve the delivery if content in the classroom, then let's focus in delivery technologies such as IWBs, document cameras, and the like. If, however, our priority is to transform the learning environment through the creation of a participatory culture and the development of individualized learning opportunities, then personal technology must supplant presentation technologies at the top of our lists.

    Jim Klein on Sunday, 25 April 2010, 11:48 PDT

  5. Thanks for the reply, Jim. I was reading another blog yesterday that, I think, probably states my viewpoint on this issue better than I did. The post, at http://blog.mrbassonline.com/2010/03/teachersmatter/, discusses the bigger issue, in my opinion, of teacher preparation. Any tool, be it IWBs, laptops, iPods, whatever, is only as effective as the teacher makes it. When a teacher is given an IWB and basically left to their own devices, it becomes a glorified projector screen. When a group of students is given a laptop/netbook and told, "Research climate change," they easily can be reduced to substitutes for books/periodicals. Unfortunately, in many districts/schools, these scenarios are very reflective of reality (Thus my reference to your viewpoint at idyllic.). I've witnessed students in many classes, laptops in hand, either browsing/searching aimlessly or completely disengaging from the academic task, heading to the sites that they find more entertaining. The same goes for the IWBs. I'm working with another district that has given every teacher a whiteboard, and there has been little or no training in their effective use. The teachers think they are amazing and cool, but they are not using them in any transformative manner. My point is that either is powerful (And I still concur that the student technologies are preferable.), but only when utilized in a manner that reflects adequate teacher/student training and an understanding of how students best learn. Another issue with the netbooks is limited access to the most powerful tools brought about by oppressive filtering policies, but that is another discussion altogether.

    Incidentally, in response to the funding issue, it should be said that in my own district's board is recognized for their fiscal responsibility, and whiteboards only exist in classrooms where teachers have received grant moneys for their purchase, Meanwhile, the district is planning a 1:1 laptop initiative (with intensive training via Apple), but there are no plans to spend district funds on whiteboards, so someone is obviously in agreement with your position. :)

    Randy Rodgers on Sunday, 25 April 2010, 15:40 PDT

  6. As a teacher trainer I see teachers who use IWBs very effectively and others who use them just as a projection screen.  I do feel that the software available by some IWB companies definitely will assist in the classroom environment for student learning, but when you take a look at the digital curriculum that many publishers are now providing a 1:1 situation provides all classroom students while so many more opportunities  for learning that it's difficult to chose IWBs over the 1:1.  A classroom of students cannot take a digital test all at the same time with an IWB, they cannot all practice skills at the same time with IWBs or all work independently to their strengths.  

    I do feel that there are many situations where a computer and projector in the classroom are a must for teaching introductory skills.  And if you really think about it, that's all a teacher needs.  I've seen the 1:1 program in action and if supported with good staff development, it makes a very positive difference in the learning environment.

    Arlene Anderson on Monday, 26 April 2010, 07:25 PDT

  7. Completely agree with you Randy. There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a school or district make a huge move on technology while simultaneously neglecting to do any serious or thoughtful planning to meet the needs of their teachers and students. Like the OLPC deployment in Birmingham, AL. Or better still, the iPad story out of Minnesota, where they actually said, "They're so savvy with computer technology it doesn't take much to get going" and "The plan is that every student at GFW high school gets an iPad to use, then we're going to have a team of teachers and students get together to figure out the how-to part." Brilliant. To fail to plan is to plan to fail, as Birmingham has clearly demonstrated. The real concern is politicians learning of such disasters and assuming that they are the norm. That could easily lead them to the false conclusion that technology doesn't matter and that they shouldn't fund it.

    Jim Klein on Monday, 26 April 2010, 15:08 PDT

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