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Tag: interactive whiteboards (Page 1 of 3)

Don’t Buy the Digital Hype

A few days ago, Google announced on their multiple blogs a new product called Jamboard. Breathlessly described as “a collaborative, digital whiteboard that makes it easy for your team to share ideas in real-time and create without boundaries. We’re moving the whiteboard to the cloud”.

Many educators I follow on Twitter and elsewhere passed along the post, some playing up the tight integration with Google G Suite (once known as Drive, Docs, Apps for Education and maybe a few other names) and Chromebooks, with more than a few touting how wonderful this device would be for the classroom.

There were a few voices yelling back at the hype, of course. But the hype that accompanies any big corporate announcement like this – whether the product is free or “under $6000” – usually wins.

However, I want to yell back anyway.

Based solely on Google’s press release, it’s pretty clear the Jamboard is just another interactive whiteboard (IWB). The hardware certainly appears to be top notch, including a 4K display, HD camera, speakers, Wi-Fi and a “cool stand” (according to one tweet). But it’s still an interactive whiteboard, technology that should have died as a classroom tool years ago.

Schools have already wasted tens of millions of dollars on these devices that are generally used as little more than a glorified chalkboard crossed with slideshow software featuring rolling dice. More than anything, installed in a classroom, they further lock in place the traditional teacher-directed model of instruction.

I have heard from IWB advocates who insist that it’s possible to design meaningful activities in which student interact with the boards. I’m still waiting to see it. To see anything beyond kids lining up for their turn to touch the board in response to a question. Or several students participating in some kind of contest at the board. Activities we used to do with raised hands and chalk.

Even if the price of this Google board drops by 90%, it will still be a waste of money. Instead we need to spend the meager funds governments are willing to provide for public education on technology that students use directly. Devices and software that allow them to create, communicate, and express themselves in new ways and to new audiences.

That will never describe a whiteboard, no matter how digital you make it.

More, But Not Necessarily Better

EdWeek, a tabloid that’s supposed to be about education but more often deals more with business, posts about a report that claims spending on “edtech” has hit a world-wide total of $15 billion. According to a UK consulting firm, “growth has been strong”, with edtech purchases up by $4.5 billion over the past four years.

So, how do they define “educational” technology? And, more importantly, how is all this new tech being used to enhance student learning?

The press announcement doesn’t say much about the latter but did list the following equipment that was included in their research:

mobile computing — notebooks, netbooks, Chromebooks and tablets; classroom displays — interactive whiteboard, interactive flat panel, interactive projectors, standard projectors, attachment devices, complementary devices — visualisers, lectern panels/pen displays, voice amplification, voting systems and slates/tablets.

Note that most of that hardware is not for use by kids.1 And it’s likely that use of the mobile computing devices is almost completely teacher directed as well.

It would be nice to know more about how teachers are using all this stuff but that’s probably beyond the scope of a market report like this. Besides, if you want the full details of this kind of research, you’ll have to pay for it. “Knowledge-based” consulting companies don’t work for free.

However, just reading the summary is more than a little depressing. Especially this part about interactive displays.

Futuresource found that, in countries where teachers continue to stand in front of the class for instruction, display devices are more prevalent. That accounts for the fast growth of interactive flat panels in China, and interactive whiteboards in Spain, Italy and Russia.

In Germany, so-called “visualizers” are popular. These devices take images of documents and project them onto a screen.

In 2015, over 2.5 million interactive displays were sold. The volume of interactive flat panels more than doubled, with new models and new vendors entering the market.

Those “countries where teachers continue to stand in front of the class for instruction” unfortunately still includes most of the US. Of all the devices covered in this report, interactive flat panels/whiteboards do more to lock in that model of instruction than anything else. They are a giant waste of money, funds that could be spent in far better ways, for tech as well as other learning purposes.

The power of technology available for instructional use has increased dramatically over the past decade or two, as the cost of those devices and networks has dropped equally dramatically. But as schools spend more and more on electronic stuff, we waste much of that power and it’s potential for changing the way kids learn.

Is The Next Big Thing Already in Your Classroom?

I recently attended a presentation by a teacher who explained how she is using Google Glass in her classroom, and one or her ideas was to let a student wear the device as a way of getting a better idea of their perspective of her.

It’s a great concept but I wondered if we really need a $1500 device to do that. Most teachers already have the tools necessary to get a class-eye view of their work sitting in the pockets and backpacks of their kids. But there’s a larger question that needs to be addressed when discussing Glass being the next big thing in education.

Do we really need to look for the next big thing?

Instead, shouldn’t we try to make better use of the last big thing we bought, made a big deal of for a while, and then put in the closet when the next big thing was announced?

Think back a couple of years when interactive whiteboards (IWB) were all the educational rage. Our schools couldn’t install them fast enough. Classes were taught on how to make great use of them, educational theorists were convinced they would revolutionize instruction, and researchers produced conclusive data on just how motivational/engaging/effective they were.

Now, when I visit schools, I make a point to gather a little data of my own on how those IWBs function in classrooms. Many, if not most, are used as little more than projection surfaces. The software, which supposed to enhance the interactivity of the boards, is used as a slightly fancier version of the standard slide show software that was all the rage back in it’s day. Very few kids use them in any way.

In the meantime, we have lots of portable computers that are put into fixed labs and spend a frightening amount of time as a replacement for paper/pencil multiple choice tests.

There are stacks of clicker systems mostly in closets except when pulled out to use for a few minutes as a “fun” way to practice for standardized tests.

Along side them in the storage room you’ll often find a bunch of wireless slates, which were supposed to add more interactivity to classrooms.

Every one of our classrooms has high speed access to the world wide web. A resource with nearly unlimited potential to connect our students to each other and to the world, enabling them to publish work and ideas to a much wider audience. In most, of course, the web is little more than a digital encyclopedia, the direct replacement for Word/Excel/PowerPoint (new tool, same assignments), and, of course, one more vehicle for delivering tests.

I suppose it’s possible that Google Glass is the next big thing for education. But while we’re waiting to determine that, not to mention waiting for the next, next big thing, we need to make better use of the previous editions of the next big thing we already have.

Change Doesn’t Mean Progress

Our state education department has decided that all students in Virginia will take their SOL tests* online, and, of course, they haven’t bothered to actually pay for the equipment needed to do that.

In a recent discussion thread about the expansion of those online tests in our elementary schools, the writer of one post compared the mindset change required by teachers in moving from paper and pencil tests to online tests, to that required when shifting from overhead projectors to Smartboards.

It’s a accurate comparison, although in both cases, change doesn’t mean progress.

When it comes to the SOLs, a test, is a test, is a test and it really doesn’t matter the media used to administer it. Students are still filling it the blanks and learning little or nothing in the process.

Except that when students take their exams online, it also means schools will be committing every computer they can find to weeks of functioning as a dumb terminal rather than as powerful tools for communications and creativity. Plus the time required for setup and practice sessions.

Overall the push to have students take their SOLs online only benefits the state since results can be obtained faster and it will be cheaper (for them, not the local schools) to administer in the long run.

For students, it’s a net loss.

The change from overhead to interactive whiteboards (IWB, most schools in our district buy the Smart brand) is a little more complicated but also represents a net loss.

Overhead projectors are designed for classroom lecture/demo presentations and, for the most part, were used exclusively by teachers. Sometimes students would be the presenters but that was not common.

IWBs, used with a data projector, are little more than a high tech, expensive, replacement for the overhead projector.

Except that these devices cost far more than the previous versions, money that could have been better spent to put technology in the hands of students, and like overhead projectors, reinforce a traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction.

So, there actually is a connection between students taking their standardized tests online and IWBs.

Both represent bad instructional practice and suck up resources that could be better applied to actually improving student learning.

And both represent change that does nothing to improve education.


*The common acronym for our Standards of Learning exams.

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