Decisions.

Inspired by #edchat’s Tuesday night discussion about the meaningful use of interactive whiteboards in classrooms, I began to ponder: Should I purchase more of these tools for use in my building next year, when I have 5-6 mobile SMARTboards already that aren’t being used consistently (and frankly, may not be used meaningfully when they are checked out for classrooms?) I have two Promethean boards that are installed in a third and sixth grade classroom. These teachers received training from Promethean personnel and use the board throughout most of their day with students. They are quite comfortable with the resources available to them, and both have created their own resources as well as utilized those found through Promethean Planet. But are they using resources that engage learners? Could they use similar displays on an overhead projector? Or with a document camera? Or their laptop used with an LCD projector? Are the students truly engaging in curricular content through the use of the boards?

I posed this question to someone who I feel has a keen handle on the vision of educational technology, Aaron Eyler @aaron_eyler, in response to one of his latest blog posts, Interactive Whiteboards and the Future of Educational Technology. He was gracious enough to address my concerns in the post The Battle of Educational Technology: Software, Hardware & Funding and What to Do About It. I think all administrators should read and understand the points addressed in this point. I guarantee you my technology department, comprised of hardworking people who are not from the field of education, will not stumble upon this post, or anything like it, as they begin to plan for next year. I was approached by my tech director with the following scenario: The tech budget is thinning. The other two elementary buildings plan to utilize some of their available funds to buy IWBs (of a third platform, Polyvision- do I want to bring three different platforms into my building?), so could you also buy some Polyvision boards for your building? Initially, I thought, I can see what I can do, but just like your tech budget is thinning, so is my building budget. I thought, How can I not purchase IWBs if the other two buildings are perhaps bringing more boards to their buildings? Will our teachers be disappointed if their principal, the newly named Elem. Tech Integrator, chooses not to purchase more boards for their classrooms? Some would (although they may not understand the reasons why the decision was made). Others may not notice if there were five new boards rolled into the media center tomorrow.

Read insights about this topic from other educators here: Interactive Whiteboards: Engagement is not Interaction from Christopher Rogers @MrRog3rs. His stance is that IWB are a great, traditional tool, but not interactive. This post from Steven Anderson @web20classroomentitled Interactive Whiteboards: Sage on the Stage? summarizes the points made in #edchat about this tool being an instructional tool, not a tool with which students can engage while learning content.

My job as elem. tech integrator is to work to integrate technology and 21st century skills into the curriculum. Sound familiar? Cliche, I know, but I will be working with our academic curriculum, finding points of essential learning that lend themselves nicely to tech. integration opportunities, and helping teachers infuse the technology and the skills of student collaboration and creation into the curricular units in a seamless fashion. It is a daunting task, but we have a great teacher and admin team who will able to rise to the challenge. Since technologies are changing every second, my hope is that we’re not writing technology-specific goals into the curriculum (“All students will know how to format a word processing document with 1-inch margins using Microsoft Word” – reallly, we need to put that in writing?!!!), but rather opening teachers’ eyes to the learning opportunities that technology tools and the crucial 21st century skills framework can offer their students.

So… I think I have a plan. Or at least a vague idea of what might be some sort of a plan in my head.

1. Approach my admin. team and tech. director about the fact that I do not want to purchase additional IWB for my building until I know a) my teachers will use them b) my teachers will be trained adequately c) teachers can prove to me through the use of the IWB, students are learning essential content in new and meaningful ways.

2. Tell my teachers about this. Express my concerns that the technology we have is not being used. Last year was my first year as their principal. I noticed the SMARTboards lined up in the media center every day, gathering dust. I brought in SMARTboard training for one of the first in-services. They showed a greater comfort level with the technology following that training, but use still isn’t at the level where it should be.

2. Start to research interactive tablet options. I would rather have a tablet in the hands of every student than an IWB in the front of the room where only one teacher and one student can interact simultaneously. Invest in more sets of student-response “clickers.” We have one set each with our Promethean systems, and teachers and students use them productively. We have one older, fully functional Senteo system that was not used once last year. It was used two-three times this year. By a student teacher. 🙂

3. Invest in: mounted ceiling projectors in every classroom and encourage my tech director to beef up our bandwidth (it’s horrid) and get the infrastructure ready to go for file sharing and flawless use of the internet throughout the school day, in all classrooms. If my teachers are guaranteed to have an LCD projector in their classrooms every day, they can plan to integrate the use of Web 2.0 tools through the use of their laptops. Every single one of them has a laptop. How lucky are we?! By nature, many Web 2.0 tools are collaborative. Hopefully through their use teachers will begin to see the power of allowing students to engage in this type of learning. Invest in more digital cameras and video cameras for creation opportunities. Invest in more netbooks and/or laptops for students. One cart per grade level would be ideal.

I don’t know if this plan is worth beans, but it’s where my thoughts are right now. I would appreciate feedback from anyone who has walked in my shoes in attempting to plan for technology purchases for a building, or from teachers who can offer insight into preferred technologies to use in their classrooms. I am also very interested in learning more about the tablet options that are out there. Thanks again to #edchat for inspiring this discussion and helping me to ponder what my students really need.

5 Replies to “Decisions.”

  1. You are definately on the right track. I have a Smartboard in my room and access to a class set of netbooks (I call them mini’s). In fact, I just wrote about how I use them in my Gr. 7/8 classroom last night on my blog (http://hdurnin.wordpress.com) after an excellent teaching day.
    I teach all subjects, except French. Yes, I could do with just an LCD project/laptop with my class set of mini’s to use Web20 tools. The Smartboard however is a definite plus in math class. Students who are reluctant to come up in front of the class, will do so willingly if they’re writing on the Smartboard. This is my 2nd yr. using chalk and a SB (see the picture posted on my link) and I continue to see the same response, even from those students who I have for the second year.

  2. I think you are on the right track with your plan. Teachers would probably be more likely to use tech if it was available in their classroom. You could get a group of teachers who are willing to commit to using the Smartboards and have the boards mounted in their classrooms. I do not really see any point in buying more IWBs when the ones you have aren’t being used.

  3. One of the strongest issues I would like to comment on is the fact that you have developed A PLAN!! To me that is what has been MISSING in so many cases. Too adhoc!!
    PLANNING is the key!

    The following may save you lots of $$$ if interested:
    I have no financial interest in this. Created by a great supporter of education in NSW.
    http://studentresponsenetwork.com/
    Student Response Network (SRN) is a powerful “virtual Clicker” student response system designed for use in school computer labs or with wireless laptop groups. It does away with the need for personal handheld “clicker” devices by providing a software-only solution for use with networked Windows desktops or laptops.

    All the best

  4. Lots of issues in this post, I think. First, your question about IWB’s. I think you’re right about the portable boards. When it’s a “borrowed item” there’s no “ownership” and no real motivation to learn the software or learn teaching strategies that bring kids up to the board. You’re better off to mount them in the rooms of those who really want them. I agree with that for sure.

    Second, the part about having provided training is critical, because there are two kinds of training. The first kind teaches the software. The BEST kind models the use and models lessons that get the teachers/students out of their seats and up to the boards. If you know how to learn from the board you can learn how to teach with it, too, I believe. BTW – do YOU model the use of it in faculty meetings? Get teachers up to the board? Of course, in my opinion, the BIGGEST issue with the boards is their size. A student (with young eyes) sitting in the back of the room can’t read the board.

    Finally, your concern about bandwidth is HUGE! It’s the piece that will make or break even the otherwise excellent plans. I heard so many times that this or that teacher just didn’t bother with the computers because it wasn’t a wise investment in time. True story – one math teacher told me that it took her class TWENTY MINUTES to boot up and log into their site. That was confirmed. Who would bother with that?

    One more thing. If you’re a MAC district, make sure your teachers know how to zoom in on the screen. It’s CRITICAL for helping students read text on those small boards. If you’re a Windows district, have your tech director install Zoomit (free download from the Microsoft site) onto every teacher’s laptop. it’s not as good as the Mac’s zoom, but a MUST-HAVE, IMHO.

    A blogging principal. Your teachers and students are lucky to have you.

  5. Thank you to everyone for your comments. Jim, I do my very best to model the use of tech at faculty meetings. While I didn’t use the SMARTboard last time, we did use Wallwisher to backchannel during the inservice so teachers could provide feedback/ask questions about the sessions. I also modeled and use Google Forms for evaluations and surveys. I wish I could say we are a Mac district. We used to have Macs but with our new tech. director we have moved to all-PC. I agreezZooming is key and love that feature on the Mac. I am a huge Mac fan and will continue to be! I will check out Zoomit. Thanks so much!

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