The classrooms in our schools are more congested with technology than ever before. When I was at primary school there was a BBC Micro Model B in the corner of the classroom and a couple of Acorn computers in the library. Today almost every teaching space is equipped with a computer and Interactive White Board (IWB) and schools have computer suites with enough computers for whole classes of pupils at the same time. Many lessons are delivered, at least partially, through the use of PowerPoint or Prezi presentations and watching video content no longer requires uprooting a whole class to a separate room to sit in front of an antiquated VCR and TV combo. Many people consider the proliferation of these technologies throughout schools to be an entirely positive development however I feel it is important to take a balanced view. This essay will attempt to critically analyse the research into the effects of technology in the classroom. It will also ask whether we are using the technology that is available to us in the most effective way, paying particular attention to the use of IWBs in classroom teaching.
As a digital native I have always been very keen to embrace all and any technology that is available to me however it has become clear that these technologies do not always make for better student outcomes, the success of the learning environments that contain these technologies is dependent on the pedagogies utilised by the practitioners within them. I have seen both good and bad practice in my school experience. In many cases teachers seem to be using IWBs as a direct replacement for the black and whiteboards that have been in schools for years. There are some very limited benefits with this kind of use of IWBs. The teacher is able to keep eye contact with the class for a greater proportion of the time because putting new information on the board only requires a tap of a pen on the board, rather than the lengthy erasing/writing process required on a normal black or white board. (Beauchamp, 2004) This small benefit of the modernisation of classrooms from the analogue to the digital is not in itself enough to justify the costs involved in upgrading. It is only when a new, interactive pedagogy is adopted that the costs involved in these upgrades become worthwhile. This area has been extensively written about and the conclusion above is one echoed across lots of different pieces of academic research. (Abbeduto & Simons, 2010; Schuck & Kearney, 2007; Miller, Glover, & Averis, 2004) Even when teachers are using new pedagogies, such as PowerPoint presentations, all is not immediately and automatically well. In the hands of a teacher who is proficient in and enthusiastic about using PowerPoint presentations and similar presentation technologies they can be extremely beneficial to the class, however teachers who centre their lessons around longwinded slides, or even worse, read directly from them, could actually be doing more harm than good (Lightfoot, L, 2011) So what actually constitutes best practice? How can teachers create lessons that best utilise the equipment they have available to them? Do IWBs help to create motivational learning environments? And, how can we equip teachers with the required skills to make the most out of this technology?
One of the most important factors in ensuring that the right training regimes are put into place. It is of the utmost importance that the training provided to teachers is of high quality and ongoing. It is easy for schools that have installed the IWB technology to hold a one off technical training day in order to improve teachers understanding of the technology however this approach is very unlikely to yield the best results for students. Training needs to cover the technical aspects of using IWB technology but must also, and perhaps more importantly, help teachers integrate this technology into their pedagogy and conversely mould their pedagogy around it. Clearly this cannot be achieved with a one off technical training session. Some staff, those who are keen and interested in the technology, will take it upon themselves to improve their skills and to make the most of the equipment available to them. However those who are less keen or perhaps even intimidated by the technology will find it easier to stick with the basics and will not begin to exploit the full potential of these devices. (Digregorio & Sobel-Lojeski, 2010) With this in mind it is important to implement a long term, whole school approach to training, allocating long term support and guidance to all the practitioners within a school but also providing the opportunity for teachers to feedback to each other and share good practice.
A school culture that reflects a wide “buy-in” from teachers to the IWB concept will allow administrators and faculty to observe, coach, and give constructive feedback to each other. …By giving teachers the proper ongoing technical and pedagogic IWB training, they are likely to be better equipped to transform their teaching as compared to their relatively inexperienced counterparts (Digregorio & Sobel-Lojeski, 2010).
With the correct training it is obvious that IWBs offer an opportunity to make classroom teaching more centred on the pupil when compared to the more didactic methods of the past. Children are no longer expected to sit quietly at the back of the class listening to an endless stream of information. The teacher is no longer considered to be the infallible source of all knowledge. It is expected that pupils and teachers should work together, interacting with the technology available to them in order to learn. It is important to distinguish the difference between the interactivity that any given piece of equipment can facilitate and whether these interactivities can contribute towards an educational dialogue. It is clear that the IWB provides many opportunities for pupils and teachers to interact with it. It is possible to highlight, erase and annotate text, you can animate objects and it can automatically recognise handwriting. It is even possible to set the IWB to provide feedback such as sounds and animations when a correct answer is selected. Clearly all of these features are “interactions” but the question still remains as to whether they are beneficial to the educational dialogue within a classroom. Implementing a dialogic approach to teaching involves encouraging learners and teachers to share ideas and build upon each other’s knowledge in order to reach shared conclusions. (Alexander, 2004) It is by adopting this attitude to teaching and embracing this way of working that teachers are able to make the most out of the technology available to them. IWBs and other advanced technology should not to be seen as the driver of pedagogical change but merely a tool which can help a teacher to implement new pedagogies they are already fully committed to.
It seems that a tool such as the IWB can present new possibilities for a teacher, but it is as the servant of pedagogy and not its master. … Those teachers with dialogic intentions strive to employ a variety of IWB functions to enhance the quality of pupils’ learning experience. Thus the effective use of the IWB as an educational tool is not inherent in the hardware, software or even the materials it displays. It is predicated upon the teacher’s practical understanding of how to engage students and to help them learn (Mercer, Hennessey & Warwick, 2010).
There is a great deal of agreement regarding the effects on motivation that the introduction of IWB technology has on students, initially at least there seems to be a short term positive impact on the motivation of pupils. (Armstrong et. al., 2005; Shenton & Pagett, 2007; Wood & Ashfield, 2008) In a 2002 survey conducted in two Sheffield schools, a high proportion of children, (57 – 68%) when surveyed described lessons using the IWB as more fun and interesting. (Torff & Tirotta, 2009) Whilst this is a positive result it does suggest that the added motivational value of being taught using an IWB is not as large as it could be. It is therefore very important that these pieces of equipment are used in the best possible way, in order to maximise their impact.
Another consideration to think about is whether just because the technology is available to you, it should be used at all times without any consideration for the pedagogical benefits. There are several ways to look at this but perhaps the most interesting and useful is the SAMR model. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition and at its simplest form allows you as a practitioner to see what benefits your use of technology has. At the substitution level all that is really being achieved is replacing an analogue technology with a digital one. This could be as simple as showing your class a map of their town on Google maps rather than in a road atlas. In this case you are not really adding to the learning and some would argue that you are actually taking away from the learning by not teaching map reading skills. In the second level of the SAMR model you might use Google maps to plan a walking route through a town with your class, in this case the technology has augmented the learning by giving precise distance data for the route you have planned. In the third level learning is actually modified and the technology gives you opportunities that may not be possible without the technology, an example of this might be using Google street view to see the types of housing in cities and towns around the world. And the fourth level is redefinition, this is where technology can be used to create new ways of displaying and presenting work. Children are able to present their work in the form of video blogs or YouTube clips and are no longer restricted by what is possible with a pen and a piece of paper. Teachers can create interactive quizzes and are able to collaborate with teachers from around the world as well as with their own pupils and colleagues all with the aim of improving learning and teaching for everyone. It is with these final two stages of the SAMR model that the best use of technology can be found, when it used to create new and exciting ways of both learning new things and presenting what has been previously learnt. (Edinburgh city council, 2012)
The question of whether IWB technology is beneficial to the children in our schools is a difficult one to answer. When used properly it can certainly contribute to a more engaging and motivational learning environment, however this is not always the case. Whether through lack of training or a lack of desire to embrace the digital age there are cases where the technology that schools have spent so much on is not utilised to its full potential. Because of the massive investment schools have made, this technology is now firmly embedded within our classrooms it is therefore essential that teachers are properly trained, not just on the technical aspects of how to use IWBs but also in the pedagogical benefits of them. It is also very important that we recognise when it is beneficial to use these technologies, for too often they are used for trivial tasks which are not in any way enhanced by their use. We have, in our schools, an exceptionally powerful tool, with the potential to enrich and inspire millions of children but like all powerful tools, it is of very little benefit in the wrong hands.