Interactive Whiteboards: Medieval Educational Practice?
This evening I was enjoying some down time, using the Flipboard app on my iPad to get caught up on some blogs. This rare and semi-blissful time was rudely interrupted when I stumbled across a post by Gary Stager about the needless investment schools are making into interactive whiteboards. Having recently made such a significant investment at Broxton Park School, I read on with a sick feeling creeping into my stomach. Just to give you a taste for the quality of his rant, I share with you one of his more intense passages:
IWBs and their clicker spawn are a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices. Aside from producing an illusion of modernity, interactive whiteboards are a pre-Gutenberg technology; the priest chants while the monks slavishly take dictation on their tablets. They reinforce the dominance of the front of the room and teacher supremacy. At a time of enormous educational upheaval, technological change, and an increasing gulf between adults and children, it is a bad idea to purchase technology that facilitates the delivery of information and increases the physical distance between teacher and learner.
In utter panic, I recalled how, as a math teacher, I began my Smartboard adventure with using the graphics as virtual manipulatives, so I didn’t have to fumble around with transparent bingo chips or tiles on the overhead projector. I found myself being able to explore concepts more deeply, utilizing a much more visual approach. I could show the students why we need a common denominator to add and subtract fractions. As a language teacher, the students and I would look at a piece of writing and collaboratively edit the work, guiding their thinking with comments and questions so they could develop the self-reflective tools necessary to being a good writer. I am certain Stager would scoff at such a medieval, sage-on-the-stage, teacher-centered practice, but I still naively believed that the teacher sometimes had something to offer the students.
But fear not, fellow Luddites, for I quickly discovered a way for the Notebook software to engage my students in a different way. There is a recorder feature in the software that allows students to record their work, both visually and with audio. Students could think out loud about what they were doing, and that gave me great insight into the gaps in their thinking and their misconceptions. I learned so much about math, just from watching them work and hearing them talk.
Now I’m onto Twitter, blogs, wikis, and cell phone technology to promote student engagement and interaction in the classroom. Stager correctly argues that there is free and open source software that can do the things that I described, but I don’t think I would have moved in that direction without having started with a Smartboard and, more importantly, the Notebook software that comes with it.
Nonetheless, I appreciate Stager’s argument, and the responses to his post. He is right. It’s not the stuff that we buy that will suddenly make our schools relevant and engaging. That part is still hard work, and we will do that work at our school. We should occupy as little as possible, if ever, the role of the chanting priest, mindlessly drilling rote memory activities. But I think there is still a place for sharing something cool at the front of the class, with all eyes watching.