I teach pre-service teachers to prepare them for the classroom, but I also try to steer them in directions that will make them more marketable as they look for jobs in an extremely competitive job market. In addition to trying to make them web 2.0 tech-aware, I also require that they do at least one interactive whiteboard lesson. I like to require that the lesson deal with some aspect of Grammar. This tackles two of the biggest hurdles for English Teachers, Tech and Grammar.
Although I require that my students achieve a comfort level with the Interactive White Board, I needed to update my personal knowledge of the subject in order to keep up. At my own expense I signed up for a workshop/conference on the Interactive Whiteboard sponsored by one of the leading Interactive Whiteboard companies. I had limited expectations, expecting maybe 50 educators and a few trainers.
This conference was held at one of the many Long Island high schools which have embraced the IWB technology. There were more than several classrooms with IWB Technology in them. Hence, this was the perfect choice of locations for an IWB conference. There were nine hands-on workshops repeated over four sessions and there were Science, Math, Social Studies and ELA Training classes conducted on both the elementary and secondary levels. There was a product demonstration area set up in the Gym. There had to be 500 educators in attendance. This was a pleasant surprise, a real conference. My adrenaline was pumping away. I was truly excited as I often am at statewide or national educational conferences.
My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened as I engaged educators in conversation and asked two simple questions. Are you on Twitter? Do you use The Educator’s PLN Ning site? The first question elicited not verbal responses, but stimulated what can best be described as facial contortions. The second question was answered by one or two questions: What’s a PLN? or What’s a Ning? I digress however. This is a topic for another post, so, back to the IWB’s.
Two things that I strongly advocate in my class would be creative thinking for students through authentic learning, and the use of technology as a tool for learning. It is no coincidence that it also takes up much of the discussion time in our #edchat discussions. These are major common concerns of many educators today.
Now, I need to address the point of this post. I must admit that I believe that IWB’s are an asset to the classroom. They can seamlessly use web 2.0 applications to engage students in creative and constructive lessons for learning. The important element in this however is the training of the teacher using the IWB. Without training the user, the IWB becomes an expensive video projector or an expensive PowerPoint presentation tool or a very expensive hat rack.
What I believed one of the added pluses to this product was, is the vast library of lessons which are available to qualified users, but, therein lies the rub. We teach that according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the highest form of learning is creative. A lesser form of learning, although necessary, is remembering. As I attended each of the workshops, which unveiled several very thoughtful and creative examples of previously recorded and now archived lessons, I began to notice a distressingly common thread. Each of the archived lessons addressed the remembering learning described by Bloom and not the creative learning for which we, as educators, should strive. As I watched the trainer of one of the sessions showcase another remembering lesson. I remarked that the creative learning was not on the part of the students partaking in the lesson, but rather on the part of the educator creating the lesson. It would then stand to reason, for the students to get the full benefit of an IWB, they should each be creating lessons to present to fellow students.
I am not saying that remembering lessons have no place in education. They are necessary and must be taught. This is content. However, it is the use of that content for more creative efforts which affords students learning. Remembering lessons should not be the focus of education, that focus should be on the creative.
The danger in the use of IWB’s is the lack of training. If districts place IWB’s in a classroom without training the teacher in its use, that teacher will seek from the library, lessons which have already been developed, most of which are remembering focused. This is a case of doing the right thing with the wrong result. I have been told that there are districts which place these IWB’s in classrooms as incentives for teachers to be motivated. They do not attach it to proper training. Would any of us fly with a pilot who had a 747 placed in his driveway as an incentive to fly a bigger plane without training?
Now here is what set me off today. I was in a workshop using clickers to respond to questions from a lesson. As a formative assessment it was great. They were multiple choice questions which could be instantly analyzed. It is not to be confused with a tool for learning, but rather a tool for assessment in the multiple choice genre of tests. It was in this workshop that the trainer revealed to the group that the company had filed a number of standardized tests which could be used for practice with the use of the clickers. This would offer the data to be aggregated in any way needed for analysis. Some might use the word manipulated. A teacher in the group immediately came to life. He was excited to see that this would provide him material to use for the month of May. That was the month that his district administrators designated as THE MONTH FOR TEST PREPARATION. In my mind that was squandering a month of learning for the sake of test preparation. Then the same administrators ask, why are we failing our students.
I believe in Technology. I believe in support for that Technology. We need to teach our students to be prepared for their world and not one that which we might prefer. We do not get to make that choice. IWB’s with training and support can move our students forward. Kids understand IWB’s and want to use them. It’s the adults who need to be brought along. Creativity should be the focus and remembering should be the support.