Is the tale of the recent surge of Interactive Whiteboards a grade-B horror flick or a Cinderella story? Are they the villain or the belle of the ball? They’ve begun creeping into trendsetting classrooms, taking over precious wall space and sending those unfortunate overhead projectors of said classrooms to basement warehouses to gather dust alongside carousel slide projectors and the purpled-mimeograph machines of yesteryear. Are they an inevitable given in tomorrow’s classroom or an expensive fad?
These questions and many more are explored in today’s The Opening Bell.
I have just been granted the opportunity to be a pilot classroom in my district for use of the Promethean Interactive Whiteboard. Tomorrow, in fact, I meet with the Promethean guys to determine where the board will be mounted. The fact is, it will, most likely, be mounted on top of my current board, thus, bringing to light my first concern: how to make my cabinets (the only flat surfaces left on the walls of my classroom) a writing surface that isn’t interactive.
The NEA article ponders the pros and cons of these boards and explores just how effective they can be. It seems obvious to me that if they are first given to teachers with little or no buy-in who keep it in their closet, the boards will be ineffective. If the district distributes them with little or no training for the teachers, they will also be ineffective.
As much as I am a huge proponent of technology in the classroom, I am not so arrogant as to believe that interesting technology trumps good teaching. However, I do believe that for the most part, good teachers tend to be those who read the writing on the wall about the need to use technology in the classroom as a way to prepare their students for their own inevitable technology-rich futures. Good teachers tend to be those who are open to learning new skills that might make their craft more engaging. Good teachers tend to be those who don’t loose their own style while picking up new skills and tools of teaching.
What is true, however, is that these boards, along with any new technology, come at a greater price than many districts are willing to pay. When my district first researched these boards, we were advised the following from the Riverside Unified School District which successfully piloted and integrated the boards at every grade level and in every subject. They said the following:
1. The equipment can’t run itself. Teachers must learn to use it and schools must provide training for those teachers.
2. Districts must provide on site tech support for those using the boards. As it is, teachers are going to need to always have a plan A and B for every lesson in which they plan to use the boards in order not to loose instructional time. Decrease teacher frustration and inefficiency by providing on-site back up while the educators learn the new technology.
3. Support curriculum development. Have curriculum developers that specialize in technology integration available so that the teachers have people to seek answers from.
4. Distribute the first wave of rollout amongst an entire department so that the workload of the learning curve is palatable and so that teachers are well supported by each other’s collaboration.
5. Provide common preps to allow for this collaboration time to occur on the clock.
6. Once a department is given the go-ahead, there are no nay-sayers allowed. If the department is helping each other, and the school and district are committing, an individual teacher is not permitted to say “not me.”
That’s all well and good, but while I am really excited to get my board and start exploring with it, I am the only one in my department to get an Interactive Whiteboard. We don’t have on-site support or on-site tech curriculum specialists. Just me.
However, I deeply believe that unless I jump into the technology pool at every presented opportunity, my own achievement gap can potentially get greater and greater. That is, the gap between those who are comfortable with anything new and those are not gets wider with each rejected opportunity to learn; and knowing myself, I cannot afford to lose momentum in my own learning if I am to keep up with what I know I need to bring to the classroom to do my job well.
So I’m excited. I believe that my buy-in for the need to evolve in technology in the classroom can overcome a lot of bumps along the road. I am late to this realization that tech is an educational given and that our job as teachers are as much about teaching our history as it is about preparing them for their future.
So I’m going to hang my Interactive Whiteboard over my old static one. I’m going to go to Home Depot and get some material to cover my cabinets in order to write on the good old-fashioned way. I’m going to sit at my desk at home and ponder which lessons in my hat will be the ones lucky enough to be morphed into some grander “Minority Report”-esque presentations. And I’m going to jump into the deep end of the 21st Century classroom.
Check back in and I’ll update my progress and my relationship with this new technology.