Interactive Whiteboards and Wireless Slates in the Classroom
The children entering school today are part of a new generation that is different from the ones that preceded them. Researchers have found that the upcoming generation's brains are actually wired differently than the generations that came before (Juke, et all, 2007). If that is the case, do they learn differently than we do? After all, they are the first generation that is growing up with instant communication, digital games and movies, and direct access to information via the Internet that college researchers were hard pressed to locate just 20 years ago.
Interactive whiteboards, tablet PCs, and wireless slates are all available now for those who need them most. Disabled and needy students are best served by technology that allows them to be a part of the lesson. Senior citizens whose memory or cognitive abilities are no longer what they were are also well served by these emerging tools (Starkman, 2007). College students have found that they are better able to take cogent notes while listening to college professor’s lecture by using tablet PCs (Berque, 2004).
The new software such as SmartTools, DyKnow Vision and Monitor, Classroom Presenter and other programs designed for interactivity and hardware like SmartBoard, SmartAirliner, Promethean, Tablet PC, and others are available now. Prices for the hardware run from $497 for wireless slates like SmartAirliner to over $2,000 for interactive whiteboards such as SmartBoard and Promethean. Some software is bundled with hardware and many others, such as SmartTools and DyKnow for educators, are available for free to download.
However, just putting an interactive whiteboard or wireless slate into a classroom doesn't guarantee success. The hardware and software are the first part while training and implementation are as important or even more so. "Interactive whiteboards are only as effective as the instructors using them." (O’Hanlon, 2007) A rigorous training program in addition to the acquisition of the interactive technology will go a long way to insuring that money isn't wasted on another great idea that sits in a corner gathering dust.
as diverse as
While there is a shortage of quantitative analysis, the qualitative reports and journal articles I have gathered all support the increased use of interactive technology in education. This review of available literature is not all-inclusive but it does support the assertion by many educators that interactive technology is here to stay and is an important part of the educational process now and in the future.
Why this Technology is Important
The reason this new technology is so important is because of the students entering our schools now and in the foreseeable future. Think back just a few years to before instant communication, CNN, wireless phones and computers, e-mail, digital games, and a 24/7 news cycle. People once had to wait for access to information and games. Now it’s always on and always available. The students entering our classrooms are now used to this and clinical studies show that their brains are developing differently than students who entered the education system just a few short years ago. This isn't just anecdotal evidence, actual brain scans show a difference in the brain development of the digital kids (DK) versus prior generations of kids (Juke, et all, 2007).
Passive viewing of information on a computer screen is no longer acceptable. The latest generation sees the images on a computer screen as things to be manipulated, which leaves a deep communications gap that we as educators must narrow if we are to successfully teach these digital kids (DKs). 28% come from single parent homes, spend 40% less time with parents than 30 years ago, watch TV an average of 25 hours a week, read ˝ hour a day, 82% play video games an average of 8.2 hours a week, and often don’t socially interact with peers outside of school (Juke, et all, 2007). They absorb information differently then we did so we must use new technology to reach them.
Is Technology “Dumbing Down” our Students?
While our DKs are different and we need to use new tools to teach them, it doesn’t make them any less capable than the generation that came before. True, their social skills are sometimes lacking compared to students who grew up playing team games at the park, solving problems as a group, and using their imagination to create. This generation can listen to an iPod while surfing the net, watching TV, and doing their homework. Gamers can build sophisticated characters and follow incredibly complicated instructions for games that would make their parents cry in frustration (Johnson, 2005).
Remember when multi-tasking was an enviable trait that only very organized people were said to possess? These DKs understand it intuitively!
The Sleeper Curve (Johnson, 2005) is advanced by Johnson to postulate that the TV shows, movies, and digital games that what critics assail as mindless garbage and a detriment to society are actually much more intricate and involved than the “Father Knows Best” shows that we once watched. While shows that are considered good for teenagers to watch such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and others like it, “24” is much more involved and difficult to follow. A recent “24” episode had 21 individual characters with distinct personalities that had to be followed from prior episodes in order to understand the plot. “Bonanza” always showcased the best intentions and good moral values but only really followed four people and every problem was solved weekly.
Our students are not getting dumber, rather they are actually getting smarter. We don’t often recognize this change. However if we are to reach them in a meaningful way, our methods will have to change.
Who Benefits the Most?
students benefit from use of interactive technology but some groups benefit
more. Children with disabilities are one
group that is often cited (Basilicato, 2005).
While technology isn't the silver bullet that will fix all that is wrong
with education, it is an important piece of the puzzle, especially when used
correctly. Students who are deaf or hard
of hearing can use the interactive properties to show their knowledge without
having to verbalize or listen to directions.
Visually impaired students can use the large type and zoom features to
see that which would be hard to see on a regular whiteboard. Students with ADHD, autism, are paralyzed or
have any other physical or mental disability can usually benefit from an
interactive whiteboard or other assistive technology. From studies that have been conducted in the
use of interactive whiteboards by both students with disabilities and those
without, all benefit. It's a "kid
For students who don't retain information they read or those who don't retain what they hear, AudioPlus textbooks have an audio component that allows students to listen to a book while the text is displayed on a screen. These books are available in a wide variety of genres, from Dr. Seuss to quantum physics (Starkman, 2007), so preschool and college students all can benefit.
A student paralyzed from the shoulders down can still do class work with a 21-inch wand and an interactive slate. The slate is wirelessly connected to an interactive whiteboard and allows the student to do all the subjects his physically whole classmates can do. Another student with a mild form of autism can use a New Standard keyboard (arranged alphabetically rather than the QWERTY keyboard we are used to) to communicate better. Senior citizens who are recovering from strokes, brain injuries, or have memory issues have found this new keyboard ideal for learning or relearning to use a computer because they already know the alphabet. A teacher who is legally blind uses an Activboard that has a zoom feature so she can make reading and writing lessons more interesting and even see what she writes! (Starkman, 2007).
So while every student benefits from interactive technology, the most needy usually benefit most. From physical to mental disabilities, from preschool to senior citizens, assistive technology is making a great difference to education.
What’s Available (Hardware)?
whiteboards are presentation devices that enable users to use just their
fingers to move objects or write on the whiteboard, can accept video, need
nothing more than a LCD projector and computer to be used, and allows the
presentation and any notes to be saved, printed, or e-mailed. A number of companies in the
Wireless slates or tablet PCs do essentially the same although without the need for other than a simple movie screen along with the computer (for the wireless slate) and LCD projector. SmartAirliner by Smart Technologies is an example of a wireless slate that goes through a computer. Gateway produces a tablet PC that is much like an interactive whiteboard though on a laptop computer.
The cost of hardware varies but a standard SmartBoard is $1,999 not including installation and the SmartAirliner (wireless slate) is $379. A LCD projector that will hook up to the SmartBoard is an average cost of $1,200 and the laptop to hook the two together can be from $799 to $1,500 and up. A Dukane digital presenter is $850. The good news is that the software is usually free to download. One can download Smart Notebook with the Educator Tools for free and it can be used without the SmartBoard but will not have the impact the interactive whiteboard does. (Hirsch, 2006)
What’s Available (Software)?
technology comes with free software.
Much of that free software can be downloaded free from the
manufacturers’ websites, such as Smart Notebook from Smart Technologies. This software has educational value but
usually doesn’t contain samples or specifically tailored curriculum
Other software available are programs that work with tablet PCs like DyKnow, a program specifically designed to share information between a master PC and tablet PCs. I’ve used programs like Macromedia Flash and Fireworks for graphics, and Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and Classroom Presenter for presentations, just to name a few.
How to Integrate Interactive Media into the Classroom
While there are various types of interactive technologies and even more software programs available, integrating them into classroom situations isn’t always easy. For college students using tablet PCs with DyKnow software, it is easier because of the knowledge base coming into the adoption. Students at the college level already have an understanding of technology and instructors have chosen to use it. At the K-12 level however, it is more problematic.
At any staff meeting in a K-12 school, the largest section of time is almost always reserved for testing. No Child Left Behind has made test scores the Holy Grail of education for students, teachers, administrators, districts, and states. The most efficient way to teach students exactly what they need to pass a standardized test is often a textbook designed to answer specific questions most likely to be found on that test. (Bauer, 2006) Technology isn’t used just to broaden students’ intellect so much as heightening their ability to pass a standardized test.
Training for teachers and students in its use is one of the most important aspects of the use of interactive technology. Many administrators labor under the belief that if they buy the technology, the teachers and students will be able to use it with minimal training but that’s usually not the case. While most teachers and the vast majority of students are familiar with computers, interactive graphics, and presenters, using them in a classroom isn’t always easy.
Most textbooks come with prepared lesson plans to go along with their written material. Teachers can add to lessons, change them to fit the situation or their teaching style, or decide to prepare their own. Companies who manufacture interactive technologies could/should do the same for their products (Bauer, 2006). A set of lessons for Science or Math that could be adapted to any state’s curriculum standards or specific lessons for certain novels would be extremely helpful for teachers striving to raise test scores while still giving students the best education possible. Smart Technologies has a web site with lessons but it’s just beginning to accumulate enough to scratch the surface of what students are required to know by the end of each year. More and better lessons are needed.
Continued use of the interactive whiteboard is also important when integrating it into the classroom. If it's used only occasionally, the lesson should work fine but the lasting impact will be missing. One can't judge change from infrequent use. (Painter, et all, 2005)
Color is very important when preparing lessons with interactive whiteboards and wireless slates. Students today don't notice black ink on white background the way previous generations did (maybe because most texts and lessons were this way). This generation of students responds to bright colors (Johnson, 2007). Red actually raises one's blood pressure while yellow-orange is the most visible color, which is why school busses are yellow-orange! (Color Matters, undated) while a cool background of blue makes the material seem closer and with more depth.
Many schools have successfully integrated interactive technology into their curriculum. Because of the newness of the technology, it’s difficult to find specific research that can show a definite correlation between interactive technology and raised test scores. However, anecdotal information from the U.S., U.K., and Australia shows that students are more engaged, making great strides in getting students involved in learning, and becoming more motivated. (Smart Technologies, 2006)
Tom Reardon is a
math instructor at
It's not just
individual schools or school districts making strides with interactive
technology. The states of
Research from Other Countries
most research on interactive technologies comes from the U.K., European Union countries,
and Australia. (Painter, et al, 2005)
One major finding
that could influence more U.S. use of interactive technologies is that in
national tests for English in the U.K. at age 11 and science at age 14 helped
raise standardized scores by 16% and 21% respectively. (Balanskat, 2006) For schools and school districts trying to
raise test scores, this may point to an expensive but effective way to do just
that. Another interesting fact which
could be borne out by
How Do We Make Interactive Classrooms Sustainable?
We need to look at
the logistics of not only developing interactive classrooms but also keeping
them operational. The DeSoto was a car
ahead of its time. In 1942 it introduced
pop up headlights for its cars but by 1960 it was out of business. My first computer was a Commodore 64, but
Commodore is no longer a name to be found on computers. Scores of new and exciting products come and
go for many diverse reasons but the most common is a competitor passes them
with newer and even more exciting products. It's the industries that continue
to improve and stay up with cutting edge technologies that stay around, like
Just like the industries that stay ahead of the competition, educators must continue to innovate and use the most current and effective technologies to keep our students on pace with the rest of the industrialized world. I've given reasons why our students need more interactive technologies in our classrooms, why we need to obtain the most current and proven hardware and innovative software, and what the costs are. Now we must consider how to sustain the progress we have made and to improve and update what we already have.
Administrators and technology advisors should plan on a three to five year replacement cycle for all hardware and software. (Tschirgi, undated) This doesn't mean all hardware and software must be replaced after a certain period of time. Rather, a trained technical staff needs to insure that hardware and software doesn't become obsolete or incapable of doing the job they were purchased for. Most equipment should be useful for many years, such as computers, LCD projectors, and whiteboards. However, interactive whiteboards will eventually be replaced by something even more innovative and useful. Newer software will come along that will make our interactive technologies even more helpful. If we plan now for eventual replacement, our equipment and software won't go the way of the DeSoto and Commodore.
Since the children entering school today have different educational needs, we as educators must devise ways to meet those needs. They are used to instant communications and instant information via the Internet and 24/7 television. Interactive technology is available and until something better comes along, that is the best way to teach our new generation of students.
All students, from Kindergarten to 12th grade and up into college can benefit from this wired world. Disabled students and adults are also beneficiaries of emergent technologies that allow them to interact with instructors and others. Whiteboards, wireless slates, and tablet PCs are just the tip of a growing iceberg of technology rich hardware that enables interactivity between students and teachers.
While the price seems high today, think about the price of color TVs when they were first introduced. VCRs and DVD players once were $500 (not adjusted for inflation) and now can be had for under $50. Laptop computers that cost $2,000 are now under $1,000 with many times the computing power and storage abilities.
Software, much of which is free, won’t get much cheaper but look at how much more powerful it gets in each new edition. Smart Notebook has just exploded with new icons and more useful applications. As educators continue to use this software and recommend changes and upgrades, it will only get better.
The usefulness of training is being recognized more and more by administrators. They in turn are putting more emphasis on teacher training which results in better lessons and more teachers using interactive technologies. Have we reached a tipping point? If not, we are close to the time when interactive technologies won’t be the purview of a few technocrats but will the norm in all schools.
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