Forum Friday – Electronic Whiteboards – What Works?
Every Friday I try to showcase a particularly noteworthy conversation or resource from the Tech Savvy Ed Forum. There are many terrific resources that I don’t have the time or the ability to explore that are written about on the forum, as well as some interesting debates/discussions about what makes for good practical use of educational technology resources. Since my district recently passed a technology bound issue with the voters this week, I thought I’d post an interesting discussion about how to effectively spend money on electronic whiteboards; what works, and what doesn’t. Rick started the conversation last October, while trying to figure out whether the Cadillac of electronic whiteboards, a Smartboard, is the best buy, or if a competing product might be better.
Sales people will try to convince you that their hardware/software is something that you can’t live without. You never know until you have blown your budget. That being said, and it may vary from rep to rep, our sales rep for Ebeam gave us a unit to try, free of charge, for a month last June. Took me 5 or so hours to get a feel for it (not an in depth understanding) and then we took it and put it to the test with every grade, K-6 before we decided to buy.
Since I don’t work on the purchasing side of technology tools, I was surprised that a sales person would loan out a demo unit for an entire month, especially in a school setting. Granted, it was probably mostly summer time, without students, but I was still impressed. Perhaps it’s just e-Beam’s way of trying to get a leg up on the hugely popular Smartboards. Then again, BionicTeacher doesn’t think that electronic whiteboards are even the answer, if you’re already in a one to one environment:
If you’ve got laptops in every student’s hands it seems like projectors and software ought to get you that type of interactivity w/o more equipment. They also want to buy those clicker response systems but again it seems with wireless internet and laptops all you’d need is the software.
But why stop there, Falconphysics pointed out. If you’re going to personalize the learning tools, shy bother with expensive laptops, when a simple desktop whiteboard and markers will do?
I’d rather have student use individual white boards (yes, actual low tech with markers and such) that they could hold up for me to see.
Now, the techie inside of me says “YES, YES, YES, let’s get the interactive whiteboards AND the laptops!” That makes learning both personal and social at the same time. It’s easy to work independently, but also to share ideas with the whole class on the whiteboard. But the teacher inside of me says, “let’s look at what we really need to do, and not want we’d like to do.” Most of the time individual whiteboards work just fine for most math and science classrooms. I had a blast in high school physics working with whiteboards and feverishly trying to figure out an equation before anyone else could. It was also nice to pass around work and simply make corrections and/or notes on other people’s boards without too much difficulty.
Once Andy, a tech person from Alaska, joined the forum, he brought his self-proclaimed “tech snob” attitude into the discussion (I love ya’ Andy, just having fun with you).
We’ve got a projector in the hands of every core teacher now (32 classrooms) and a few spares for elective teachers to check out. Given that multimedia 1) reaches some kids that don’t otherwise get reached, and 2) can impart certain information to almost all students more quickly and clearly than other traditional methods, and 3) the tools are there……good teacher computer, projector, software, and a wealth of material, I now say that a teacher that is not moving to incorporate this tool as a regular part of what they do is not meeting their obligation to stay current.
Or have I become a tech snob???
Now, I don’t think Andy’s a snob, but it’s nice to see such a progressive attitude towards adopting newer technology as a tool for differentiation (his reference to reaching all kids). I think that’s what really is the focus of any technology spending, especially something as large as an interactive whiteboard. There has to be an instructional need first. Make sure the teachers are so savvy and aggressive, that they’ve used up all of the resources at hand and want to push their teaching farther. That’s when you can really start talking about which interactive tools are better than others, instead of debating how many of them to purchase, or where they should go without the a clear purpose for how they will be used.