Sunday, March 14, 2010

Whiteboards-Waste of $$$...What do you think?

In an acticle titled "Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards" by Bill Ferriter he writes that they are "basically useless" and an "underinformed & irresponsible purchase." (Even with time and training.) He argues that "they do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning" and "are nothing more than vain attempts to buy change-& rarely paired with a clear vision..."

Hmm...he does have some valid points. In fact, when I was adjucting at a local college, I was involved in an effort to put IWBs in each classroom. (It was actually a similiar product run from a podium rather than a mounted board). The sales rep showed us both the mounted board and podium version, and I noticed that as soon as he stood at that "interactive" podium, he lost his connection with us--the audience. Considering that, along with the typical lecture delivery of instruction, I just couldn't support that huge expenditure.

Whenever I look at new technologies, I take a cue from Clifford Stoll and ask "What is the problem to which this is the answer?" And, when I asked that at our local college, I didn't hear the response I would have liked...Enrollment, PR, and Updating were among the answers. Pedagogy wasn't even in the sites. A fancy way to lecture.

So now, once again, I am involved in an initiative to place these IWBs in our school district. And once again I ask myself the question "What is the problem to which this is the answer?" If you take a look at our SCCSD Technology Plan, you will find that our "goal is to empower teachers in new ways with technology tools that help more easily adapt curriculum to a wide variety of needs and student learning styles. They will have new resources and training that they may use to help manage differentiation or construct lessons in new ways. At a high level, this plan focuses on the concept of differentiated instruction, formative assessment, and data analysis used to help raise STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT."

Now, how are IWBs going to raise student acheievement? No tool alone is going to accomplish that goal. But it is a piece of the bigger picture...differentiated instruction. The IWBs our district has purchased allows for multi-users. Students are not interacting with them in isolation, especially combined with the portable tablet. These boards (and the software) allow for all three learning modalities. I was just commenting to my husband about my serious deficit in American History. Being a visual learner in a primarily auditory learning environment certainly had contributed to this.

Even Ferriter admits that students "think they are nifty." There has something to be said about students' level of engagement. This reminds me of a 2nd grade vocabulary lesson I recently observed. Students were using the IWB/Tablet to sort their words into 5 columns using a PowerPoint template that I created earlier in the year. The students had to analyze the word structure and place the word in the appropriate column. (Or should I say drag the word). All 18 students were engaged in the lesson, in fact, they were begging to be the next one to sort the word. (I sincerely doubt I would have seen the same level of engagement had this been done on a whiteboard with dry erase marker.) And, the teacher didn't have to spend prep time writing the words on the board...allowing for more efficient use of her time.

I suppose Ferriter has experienced schools in which stocking the classrooms with the lastest technology has been the goal. Technology should never be the goal. Technology is a means to a goal. Our district has the vision and plan to implement IWB (and the software) along with many other critical pieces to support Differentiated Instruction. Our district is committed to providing the training and support.

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