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Questioning EdTech

Doug over at Blue Skunk Blog wrote about the results of a survey on the use of interactive whiteboards (IWB) in his school system and generated a pretty good discussion (of course, I tossed in my two cents).

In a follow up post, Doug summarized some of the concerns about IWBs and then asks four good questions about both the boards and technology in general.

1. How are concerns about IWBs unlike any other technology application we have placed in schools?

Doug’s right that the concerns are pretty much the same, especially when it comes to effective use of technology. That effectiveness, however, depends heavily on teacher training and a change in the teacher’s approach.

2. Is the “gee whiz” factor positive or negative in technology implementations?

I would argue that we are largely still in the “gee whiz” stage for almost everything except basic computer use. And at this point it’s more of a negative.

3. How do we know when any technology’s cost is justified?

Good question. Our IT folks talk a lot about “total cost of ownership” but they never really define what that means in terms of the instructional use of technology.

The bottom line is that we don’t have an unlimited budget for ed tech, so choices must be made based on what will make the biggest impact on teaching and learning.

Some would argue that, under that criteria, the IWBs are a good value. I would not.

4. Are we asking too much of devices? Which comes first the technology or the methodology to use it well? And who defines “use it well?”

I think the attitude is still with us that just putting technology in a classroom will automatically lead to better learning.

As I’ve ranted about many times before, all the hardware and software will have little impact without a solid training program and fundamental changes to classroom procedures reflecting the power of the technology.

As to who defines “use it well”, that’s all part of the discussion. How’s that for a cop out? :-)

interactive whiteboards, education, technology


  1. Graham Wegner

    We also need to guard against the idea that putting technology into classrooms will automatically give us better teachers. I can see a real “digital divide” as the progressive, constantly-changing, empowering-learners teachers blend whatever tools are on offer into their students’ learning, and expensive technologies like IWB’s stand idle or poorly utilised in classrooms where teachers are either too stubborn, timid or unaware of the need to adapt to an ever changing world. Unfortunately, that means those in decision making positions about how and where technology dollars are spent are having to make judgment calls about who’s embracing effective teacher pedagogy and progressive approaches to decide where the new gear goes.

  2. Jim B

    As I complete my Master’s in Ed Tech, I’ve been reading a number of blogs and research articles about the use of technologies in teaching. The one commonly reported result is that of increased motivation. My suspicion about reported increases in learning is that they will decline as the motivation decreases. That will happen as the novelty effect wears off. Such an effect will occur regardless of the technology…Smartboards, laptop initiatives, whatever. What to do?

    Teachers may find the answer, not in one technology, but in many. It may become a shell game…you know…as I move the 3 shells around, which walnut shell has the pea under it? As a teacher, I watch for signs my students are loosing interest in a topic under study and then I switch the topic or I switch the way I teach it. Sometimes the method of instruction can bring them back on board. Using technology tools in the same manner may be part of the answer. If we’re using laptops…be prepared to “drop” them and use a hands-on, physically interactive method for a lesson or a unit. If we’re using a Smartboard, take a break. Whatever is needed to maintain interest and motivation becomes a skill set for teachers of the future.

    Is this a reasonable solution?

    There is a “but”, however… we don’t want tech tools to be like candy. I remember learning to use candy to motivate. Some kids will work only to get the candy. The goal is to slowly remove the candy as they discover the thrill of learning and do it for a personal, intrinsic reward. We probably don’t want to do that with tech tools, nor do we want students to drive the choice of tools. However, I still think that, as teachers, we can learn to skillfully use tech teaching tools as the need arises and not feel we are “stuck” with one once it is installed or thrust upon us.

    I’m done!

    Jim B

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