Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Do The IWBs or Clickers You (want to) Own REALLY Help Meet Learning Goals?

The reason I don’t use interactive white boards or clickers is because I use technologies that will help me with productivity or help my students meet their learning goals in faster/better/or never previously possible ways. These items don’t help me do that so I don’t use them. If you are considering an IWB or clicker purchase, these questions should be considered and answered by school staff before you invest your money in such a purchase.

Just because a school has extra funds to spend on technology doesn’t mean it is always better to do so. Here are two stories of effective teachers who had tech imposed upon them that they didn’t want (story 1) or need (story 2) as a result of these questions not being addressed.

Story One - Literacy
An excellent literacy teacher in a one-to-one middle school loved her tablet and projector and exquisitely modeled writing during her mini lessons using her equipment. She demonstrated 21st century writing using a laptop with all the features that writers use. For instance in her modeling she’d show her students how she would type, cut, paste, right click, not slow down thinking with spelling errors the computer identifies, get synonym suggestions and dictionary definitions. She may get a bunch of text down first then chunk and place it where it belongs. She sat facing her students at eye level during instruction engaged in deep discussion. Her back was never to them.

None of this is done more effectively in a writing classroom with an IWB yet this teacher’s supervisor had a school full of em and she wanted them used. It didn’t matter that her students were writing with keyboards, not pens or that the teacher wanted to face or class or that the teacher felt modeling meant using the keyboard real writers use. The administration had lots of expensive boards and she wanted them used. The teacher left the school the next year.

Story Two - Unnecessary Purchase of Clickers
In story two a one-to-one school which extra funds succumbed to an IWBs companies sales advice that the next step for a school that had an IWB for every teacher and laptops for each student was to purchase clickers. The school was even covered by a news channel for the great work they were doing. Ugh. in the clip the teacher was up at her IWB and the students were at their desks with laptops and clickers. As I watched the news clip my heart sank. They were fooled by a salesman and had just wasted $2400 per class. They could have done exactly what they were doing with the clickers with the laptops every student had, or if the school didn’t ban cell phones, they could have used those.

What would I have recommended a school with extra cash to spend on tech do? Well, it’s what I’ve done with the educators and students with whom I work. Have a tech day and bring in a multitude of vendors from smart pens to iTouches, to flip video cameras etc. Have the teachers and students together explore this equipment and discuss ways these items can innovate instruction. Have teachers and students write proposals for the technology that can help them meet their learning goals. Provide the equipment for teachers with the agreement that they will publish what they are doing so others can learn. See for an example of what this might look like.

But, how’s one to know?
Administrators need not turn to vendors for purchasing decisions. Instead turn to your staff and students and invite them to think, “What are my learning goals and what are the tools necessary to achieve them?” Do not turn to vendors for the answer. There are many innovative educators that can help guide purchasing decisions virtually or face-to-face. You can find them by reading blogs and developing a personal network for learning available in places like Facebook, Twitter, and Classroom 2.0. And, if you don’t have that yet, you can always start here, with me, The Innovative Educator.


  1. Lisa, although you and I have disagreed on some of your arguments about IWBs and agreed on other points, there can be no disagreement on your last point.

    Administrators need to rely more on their teachers -- the people who are actually in the classrooms, using the tools that support teaching and learning.

  2. @Mark Barnes, I'd add that administrators need to rely on their "teachers AND students." We invite students to join on the decision making when it comes to how to use tech to meet their learning goals. We often find they have great ideas that never occurred to the adults teaching them.

  3. Hi Lisa,

    There seems to be a common progression of our to-ing and fro-ing. You say something that on the surface seems quite reasonable, I then expand the context, take a bigger picture view where (in my view) your arguments don’t hold up. It seems that while I am sure we have the same goal, the same vision for education, we see the world in different ways. I actually really like this, for me there is nothing better than being forced to see the world from a different point of view.


    Story One – Great example, but what is going to happen once the teacher has finished modelling the writing process? Ideally she would want the students to discuss what she did, deconstruct it, and then reconstruct it in a way that the students create their own personal understanding of the writing process. In your example I would suggest that this post-modelling activity would be best done on an IWB, and really only practical on an IWB.

    Now I know that we have not dived down the rabbit hole that is the issue of “what should students be doing with an IWB”. But having a group of students (ideally 4 or 5) gathered around a laptop (even if the image is projected) is never going to work. A large image is necessary for group collaboration, but so is easy access to an interface device. The size of an IWB makes this interface access practical, where as the small size of a laptop / table pc makes it impractical.

    I have got to go now, but a response to story 2 is not far away.


  4. Story Two - 90% of my time is taken up dealing with decisions that politicians make, perhaps the only demographic that are worse than administrators at making appropriate ed tech decisions.

    I love the idea of a tech day. I will have to try that.

    Anyway I think clickers (or being able to hear the voices of students) are fundamental. If I was in a 1:1 environment I would not both with physical clickers, rather virtual ones, but most of the world is not 1:1.

    REASON 1

    The following is a bit of a generalization, but it outlines what is wrong with a classroom without clickers.

    Scene 1: The teacher asks the class a question, a number of hands are raised. The teacher call on one of the students - they answer correctly. Great. The teacher then assumes that the rest of the class has heard the student and therefore if they didn't know the right answer before, they do so now.

    Scene 2: The teacher asks the class a question, a number of hands are raised. The teacher calls on one or maybe two students - they give a wrong answer. Oops. The teacher corrects the students and gives the correct answer to the class. The teacher then assumes that the rest of the class has heard this correct answer and therefore if they didn't know the right answer before, they do so now.

    I have seen these two scenes heaps of times, it would probably be the norm in terms of classroom questioning and it is fundamentally flawed. I have probably unconsciously done it myself more often than I would care to admit.

    You cannot fall into these false assumptions if you are using clickers to support classroom discussion.

    REASON 2

    Of course the flaw in my reason 1 is that teachers should not be asking 'fact recall - one right answer questions' in the first place. They should be asking questions that promote a range of possible answers from the class. Leading a managed discussion, teasing out why the class came up with the range of answers, what were the issues the students considering, is what the teacher should be doing.

    Again very difficult to do this without clickers. Clickers will instantly give you the broad range of student responses. It will also allow the teachers to see which students thought what. The teacher can then judiciously manage the discussion, calling upon selected students as appropriate to ensure the discussion is not dominated by the loudest voices, or only one side of the debate.

    REASON 3

    John Hattie in his work 'Visible Learning, 2009' has analyzed the vast bulk of educational research over a number of years in one big meta-study. He lists and ranks 140 different educational strategies from most effective to least effective. THE MOST EFFECTIVE strategy according to Hattie, is to have students self-assess their learning. I would say that clickers are the only practical option to do this and manage the data on a micro scale - lesson per lesson, concept per concept.

    Of course a great deal of clicker use is terrible, and promotes and reinforces poor teaching, but you should not blame the ICT for poor teaching.


  5. What can be done with an IWB that can't be done with a classroom computer (which is a prerequisite piece of equipment anyway), along with a document camera?

    In my view, document cameras are a much better investment than IWBs - and usually much cheaper too. I wrote a blog post about this a few months ago -

  6. @Kent3 - Story One
    Thank you for asking this question about story one and giving me the opportunity to explain further how the learning might go. When the teacher has finished her mini lesson where she was modelling the writing process, the kids do something very important in writing classrooms...they get to the work of writing. The teacher gets to the business of conferring individually, in pairs, or small groups.

    Like the IWB companies who just say, “You ‘should’ use an IWB,” you have not given me a reason why I’d use an IWB. I wouldn’t. The whole class mini-lesson is over and the students write. If they’re writing collaboratively, they don’t need to be standing around a keyboardless IWB screen. They can use Google docs to collaborate anytime/anywhere using a keyboard...the tool that most 21st century writers use. In fact, it’s not just “place-based learning” limited to those sitting inside the classroom. They can collaborate with others with common interests, passions, topics around the world.

  7. @Kent3 - Story Two
    I agree clickers can be fantastic learning tools. My point was that the IWB companies would sell milk to a cow who didn’t know better. They pushed to sell their product even when the school didn’t need them. They already had all the clicker functionality in their laptops. The IWB companies just didn’t let the schools know that. They went for the profit unnecessarily taking funds from a school that could have gone toward resources for students. And, in fact, for non 1:1 schools most students already have access to clickers as their personally owned cell phones or laptops provide that functionality as well.

  8. @Innovative Educator

    Story One – I think part of the problem is that you, I and probably every other reader of this blog has a different picture in their mind as to might be happening in this lesson. These differences will not be helpful when we discuss this example.


    Most of the schools that I work with use a pedagogical delivery mode based around either: Learning by Design (Cope and Kalanztis), Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe) or the Inquiry process (Kath Murdock). On the whole all these models are similar in that they begin with some exposure to ‘new concepts’ – usually direct instruction. The class then analyse the concept, critically and functional – usually but not always through small to medium sized group discussion. Then the student will apply their new knowledge and skills.

    This is an oversimplification, but my point is that group discussion (3-4-5 students) is an important part of many well proven pedagogical models. When the content of the lesson is digital, it is usually best to have this group discussion in a digital context. Google Docs is not really going to work for real-time, fast paced, interaction with digital content. Also if you want all students to participate and interact with the digital content, a shared keyboard interface can create a ‘bottle neck’ in my experience. An IWB allows these discussions to flow more freely, and facilitates student contributions more than any other technology I have seen.

    Yes IWBs are more expensive than some other technology combination, but I prefer to measure value in enhancements to the learning process, rather than pure functionality.


  9. @Kent3, If I was the teacher in story one, and you were my principal, you would not have convinced me that incorporating the device would enrich my instruction. When modeling writing using a keyboard and projector, students don't need to be standing around a board. The teacher models based on what the lesson is, then the students get to the work of writing. As in most cases in a 1:1 environment, no IWB required.

    When students are writing, it may be collaboratively, but often students are writing their own pieces. If they're collaborating Google docs, not an IWB, is a great tool for that. As I shared in my previous comment, such collaboration can be done anytime, anywhere. I’m not seeing where the IWB comes in to play or benefits the lesson.

  10. @ innovative educator

    Just briefly, most of the world is not 1:1, and I usually right with 'most teachers' in mind. I will agree completely that the high performing teachers can make any technology work.

    If I was your principal, I would have shown you through team teaching. ICT is has always been a 'see it to understand it' thing for me. Which is the most likely reasons that administrators and politicians make poor decisions, they never see technology being used in context. I would agree with you that if they did there would be a lot less IWBs in the world, probably a lot less of all technologies.



  11. @Innovative Educator

    Also re: if I was your Principal. In the schools I have run, I trust the high performing teachers, and support their decisions about how they want their classrooms to run. Espicially when I don't understand and think that their decisions slightly irrational.

  12. @Kent3, I understand most of the world is not 1:1. The point of story two is that vendors will sell products to a school whether they need them or not, and often schools don't realize that they don't need tools being sold to them.

    Regarding what you would do as a principal and trusting the decisions of teachers. The problem here is that vendors are spending thousands of dollars to lead teachers and leaders into believing they need a technology they often do not. Doing so results in profits for them. The playing field is uneven and without providing insights from the other side of the story...which is often the case, the schools are at a disadvantage.

    In the two stories above teacher one had a technology imposed upon her that she didn't believe would enrich instruction, so hopefully her principal would understand that she has the expertise to know that. Better yet, that would be considered prior to the purchase.

    In story two, the vendor sold a school a product they didn't need to earn a profit even though these companies knew the laptops had the same functionality.

    In both cases the tech imposed upon the teachers wasn't right or necessary for instruction and as a result both cash-strapped schools spent thousands for unnecessarily.

  13. "In story two, the vendor sold a school a product they didn't need to earn a profit even though these companies knew the laptops had the same functionality."

    I wonder where 'personal responsibility' comes into this. It was the school that decided to buy the equipment. Should McDonald's not sell to obese people? Did anyone really 'need' an Ipad before they were released?

    But then again I suppose this was your point of your the original post, getting people to think more about their technology choices.



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