Apr 18, 2010
I received the following email on the California Education Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) listserve the other day:
----- Message from xxx@yyyy.zzz ---------
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2010 08:13:49 -0700
From: Tech Coord
Subject: [edtech] Interactive Boards
To: edtech@lists.cetpa-k12.org
In case you wonder about the hype and what can be done with interactive boards, check out what this math teacher does:


~Tech Coord
And I must confess, I lost it. My response:

From: CETPA [mailto:CETPA] On Behalf Of Jim Klein
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2010 10:04 AM
To: edtech@lists.cetpa-k12.org
Subject: Re: [edtech] Interactive Boards

Excellent proof that a great teacher will make excellent use of whatever tools you give them. You could give a great teacher a chainsaw and they would find a way to "carve out" a useful lesson with it. The real question is, what are the best tools for learning - not teaching. If it's an IWB, then I'm all for it. However, there is little evidence that this is the case (for those who would rush to Marzano, the study has been widely debunked as poorly constructed and designed to produce the results Promethean was looking for - see http://edinsanity.com/?s=marzano for further review).

I believe that the best learning tool for a student is a personal, connected device. For the cost of an IWB install, I can get 15 kids netbooks that will be far more powerful learning/production/creativity tools. I can buy the rest for the cost of response systems and doc cams added to that IWB. And I have no doubt, through direct experience, that personal devices offer the only real potential to transform the learning environment into the technology-rich, participatory space we all seek. The more access students have to technology, the more opportunities they have to learn/participate/grow.

The long and the short of it is if the teacher touches the technology more than the students, then it has little chance of transforming the learning environment. IWBs make teachers and administrators feel good about their technology use, but in most districts amount to little more than a photo op for district leaders when it comes to real, transformational change.

We need to stop using the phrase "teaching and learning" because that creates the perception that learning is all about delivery and reception, producers and consumers, and ultimately leads to the pursuit of delivery technologies such as this, which have no hope of producing any lasting improvement or change. Instead, we need to start using the phrase "participatory learning environments" where students take an active role in and responsibility for their own learning. If all we seek is to reform school, then by all means, improve content delivery using the same structures you already have in place. It's easy and uncontroversial. If, however, we seek transformation, then we must choose to take on that which is hard. To challenge habits and traditions. To take on socio-political structures that would seek to maintain the status quo. Only then will we see schools become relevant again. Only then will school once again be a place where students want to be, where they are excited to learn, and where they will develop the entrepreneurial, self reliant, creative skills that will lead them to success, no matter what their endeavor.

Jim Klein
Director Information Services & Technology LPIC1, CNA/CNE 4-6, RHCT/RHCE
Saugus Union School District

"Finis Origine Pendet"

Did I overreact? Probably. It was just a fun prank that had nothing to do with IWBs. But I couldn't help it. I've grown so weary of all the conjecture, unfounded claims, and hype over such an ineffective waste of money, especially in our current fiscal condition. If we really want to invest scarce technology dollars in the most impactful, transformative way possible, an IWB is the last thing to buy, not the first.

Credit to Gary Stager for effective use of chainsaws by teachers.


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  1. Chainsaw - I like.Your review of IWBs, is perhaps a little forceful. I share your support of 'personal, connected devices' - be that mobile phone (cell) / netbook / i-other? However within our school that means IT support costs, infrastructure, wireless. The real cost of providing greater access to technology in our school is significant (bravo to our headteacher for his support). Just to balance your initial response. Thanks for the post - hope you dont mind but I will be quoting the long and the short of it is. Regards

  2. This will get me roasted, I'm sure, but it won't be the first or last time. In my opinion, this is not a very balanced post--your bias is coloring your perspective. It is true that the biggest emphasis should ideally be on learning technologies, not teaching technologies. I'm well-known in my own district as a proponent for this shift, constantly espousing the need to focus less on the teacher and more on the learner. However, to dismiss interactive whiteboards as mere visual aids or "photo ops" reflects a very narrow and, I would assert, incorrect view. Any teacher who has been well-trained in the use of the IWB knows that they are most effective when students' hands are all over them as often as possible. I'd be happy to let you visit with the few teachers lucky enough to have one in our district to find out just what their perspectives are on this "ineffective waste". They increase student engagement and understanding. The key is that the "interactive" refers to not just the teacher, but the students' actions. This is true of most teaching tools though, isn't it?Simply put, there is a role for teaching technologies in the classroom, not just learning technologies. Your view is idyllic, a classroom where the teacher puts the tools into the students hands, and off they go, learning, creating, collaborating. Unfortunately, it's not reality. There is a role for direct instruction, and tools such as IWBs, digital projectors, document cameras, etc. can have a huge impact on student engagement and understanding. We have a responsibility to equip our students very, very well, and to do so first. In a world, however, where students seem less attentive and motivated, equipping the teachers with tools that grab students' attention and amaze them now and again is not a waste of time or money.

  3. Kristian, thanks for your comment. There definitely will be some infrastructure costs, but they don't have to be as great as you might think. For wireless, for example, we can use commodity access points rather than purchasing that "enterprise-class" wireless switching infrastructures. The technology built into most inexpensive access points these days rivals that of the enterprise solutions anyway. And as for support, these costs can be mitigated by taking a device-centric approach. If you can make the device as easy to use and reliable as a cell phone, you can free your tech staff to focus on innovation rather than technical support. See Netbooks and Open-source: Rethinking Laptops and Learning for some thoughts on this.

  4. Thanks for the reply, Jim. I was reading another blog yesterday that, I think, probably states my viewpoint on this issue better than I did. The post, at http://blog.mrbassonline.com/2010/03/teachersmatter/, discusses the bigger issue, in my opinion, of teacher preparation. Any tool, be it IWBs, laptops, iPods, whatever, is only as effective as the teacher makes it. When a teacher is given an IWB and basically left to their own devices, it becomes a glorified projector screen. When a group of students is given a laptop/netbook and told, "Research climate change," they easily can be reduced to substitutes for books/periodicals. Unfortunately, in many districts/schools, these scenarios are very reflective of reality (Thus my reference to your viewpoint at idyllic.). I've witnessed students in many classes, laptops in hand, either browsing/searching aimlessly or completely disengaging from the academic task, heading to the sites that they find more entertaining. The same goes for the IWBs. I'm working with another district that has given every teacher a whiteboard, and there has been little or no training in their effective use. The teachers think they are amazing and cool, but they are not using them in any transformative manner. My point is that either is powerful (And I still concur that the student technologies are preferable.), but only when utilized in a manner that reflects adequate teacher/student training and an understanding of how students best learn. Another issue with the netbooks is limited access to the most powerful tools brought about by oppressive filtering policies, but that is another discussion altogether.Incidentally, in response to the funding issue, it should be said that in my own district's board is recognized for their fiscal responsibility, and whiteboards only exist in classrooms where teachers have received grant moneys for their purchase, Meanwhile, the district is planning a 1:1 laptop initiative (with intensive training via Apple), but there are no plans to spend district funds on whiteboards, so someone is obviously in agreement with your position. :)

  5. Completely agree with you Randy. There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a school or district make a huge move on technology while simultaneously neglecting to do any serious or thoughtful planning to meet the needs of their teachers and students. Like the OLPC deployment in Birmingham, AL. Or better still, the iPad story out of Minnesota, where they actually said, "They're so savvy with computer technology it doesn't take much to get going" and "The plan is that every student at GFW high school gets an iPad to use, then we're going to have a team of teachers and students get together to figure out the how-to part." Brilliant. To fail to plan is to plan to fail, as Birmingham has clearly demonstrated. The real concern is politicians learning of such disasters and assuming that they are the norm. That could easily lead them to the false conclusion that technology doesn't matter and that they shouldn't fund it.

  6. As a teacher trainer I see teachers who use IWBs very effectively and others who use them just as a projection screen. I do feel that the software available by some IWB companies definitely will assist in the classroom environment for student learning, but when you take a look at the digital curriculum that many publishers are now providing a 1:1 situation provides all classroom students while so many more opportunities for learning that it's difficult to chose IWBs over the 1:1. A classroom of students cannot take a digital test all at the same time with an IWB, they cannot all practice skills at the same time with IWBs or all work independently to their strengths. I do feel that there are many situations where a computer and projector in the classroom are a must for teaching introductory skills. And if you really think about it, that's all a teacher needs. I've seen the 1:1 program in action and if supported with good staff development, it makes a very positive difference in the learning environment.

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