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.