Emerging Technology

An Actual Interactive Board? Why?

Interactive Boards; this is one of the technologies used in classrooms where “The Dirty Little Secret About Technology in Schools” applies. We have no data on whether an interactive board has actual impact on academic achievement, positive or negative. I know this is a technology everyone considers as an indication that your district is implementing “current” technology concepts. However, I suggest that we are accepting a number of premises regarding the instructional value of these systems that are simply not substantiated.

We assume that since interactive whiteboards have generated anecdotal evidence (stories) that students are more engaged when the teacher uses them in a 20th-century, teacher-centered environment, they would still be of value in a student-centered 21st-century learning environment. However, we have clear data that discussions, hand-on projects and students teaching each other are the more efficient ways for people to retain knowledge.

If your learning environment emphasizes those types of activities, how much student time during the day should be spent receiving information from the teacher using an interactive white board? Hopefully, not a large percentage of their day.

We need to answer the questions; Where in a student-centered 21st Century learning environment does an Interactive whiteboard fit? What student-centered experiences are appropriately tied to that technology? How many students can use that technology at one time?”

Another question is how much of your limited revenue do you want to spend on technology that we hope does not get used a majority of the time in each learning day? I see little correlation between the value of an interactive whiteboard in a teacher-centered environment and the premise that it will have similar value in a 21st-century student-centered learning environment.

Taking a totally different train of thought, if you are one of those districts planning to provide every student with a device, why would you use an interactive whiteboard when every student can access the presentation on their device? Whether the presentation is from a student or the teacher, each student could simply open the file on their device from the classroom “shared” location in the Cloud and follow along.

A typical response is; “As the teacher, I want to be able to see their eyes and be able to know that they are paying attention.” That is definitely a teacher-centered environment response. Not to be sarcastic, but I thought we were expected to use formative assessments to determine what our students did and did not learn today. Looking into someone eyes to estimate if they are learning is a very subjective process and I would hate to base tomorrow’s student experience on an unsubstantiated viewpoint.

I find little support for the premise that we need a large screen presentation system in a learning environment where every student has a device.

At this point your response may be, “I hear what you are saying, but we want it anyway because everyone else has them and our constituents expect to see them in the classroom.”

Or, another one could be, “I hear what you are saying but that is long way from where we are to today. We need to move our teachers to a digital learning environment before we move to a total digital content environment. Using interactive whiteboards as part of that transition will help our district in eventually making those big jumps.”

In my opinion, both statements represent very valid rationale for using interactive whiteboards.

The reality of funding mechanisms around the country is that your constituents need to have the perception that your school district is doing what you can to properly educate students. If they perceive you are not doing well or not properly focused, they will limit your access to funds. If your constituents expect to see interactive whiteboards in the classroom, you need to provide interactive surface capability.

We also need to help teachers make the transition to digital learning and, eventually, digital content environments. I would point out that there is no data indicating that use of an interactive whiteboards actually helps teachers with the transition to student-centered learning. But again, if your teachers perceive it would, I would install interactive capability.

This is how we should be choosing our technology in schools. Does the technology enhance the development of a student-centered, 21st-century learning and teaching environment in your classrooms? Does it improve student academic or civic achievement? Show me the data. This article approaches interactive board concepts from the curriculum/instructional and local politics viewpoint; my October article will explore the technical viewpoint.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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