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 http://innovatemyclass.org 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.
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