This idea sparked from a claim in the staffroom the other day that Comic Sans helps kids learn. Who would have thought it?
I'm a bit weak when it comes to putting forward an opinion or wading into a debate. I get easily intimidated by people who speak and write with high levels of self-assurance and it is easier to be the fence sitter. That's OK - there are plenty of lurkers all over the internet who benefit from other people's bravado and expertise in equal measures but in my case recently I dropped a hint and let others pitch into the issue. Confused? Let me explain.
The other week I posted about my views on the PLN acronym and received a comment and link from Lisa Neilsen over at the Innovative Educator. I had never crossed with her before and was pleasantly surprised to discover her work showing me that there are plenty of edubloggers out there with many times the subscribers I have that I'm not aware of. I could launch back into the PLN / Networked Learning semantics that I subjected Lisa to in her comments section but that's not my point here. After my awareness was raised I subscribed to her blog and a few days read her post Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too.
Regular readers here will know that I've written a reasonable number of angsty posts on this designed-for-education technology over the past few years, and that posts like this are impossible for me to ignore. I'm like a swinging voter in an election on this issue. Reading Lisa's post sent my brain back to my personally disappointing experiences at the National IWB Conference last year, and conjured up a mental image of having someone like her with her passion and persuasive skills square off with her tech tools against a skilled and equally passionate IWB advocate. In my head, Chris Betcher came to mind. A duo duelling double keynote would be a gutsy alternative to someone just blindly pontificating the wonders of the IWB - but I wasn't the one with any guts to put this idea out here on my blog. So I slyly expunged the idea from my brain out on Twitter with this tweet, thinking that no one would care or even notice it.
But once you release even something as small as that onto the web, it takes on its own life, able to be picked up and re-shaped into whatever the next reader wants. So Peter Kent, probably one of the foremost experts on IWB pedagogy in Australia, picked up my tweet and decided it was worth his while wading into Lisa's territory and engaging in a professional conversation which he has now described as: Just posted a outline of what is the best #IWB debate I have been involved with http://tiny.cc/3sjed
I have a lot of respect for Peter and his groundbreaking work at Richardson Primary. He has graciously travelled to Adelaide to speak to our staff when we started our IWB program and always been willing to engage in dialogue with me online as well. So, while I felt that Lisa's post were excellent and made a lot of sense, I am glad that Peter chose (in his own tweeted words) to put his head into the lion's mouth and add a series of well written comments in response to Lisa's posts. It makes for an interesting pathway through Lisa's posts - Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too, IWBs are Not the Stars. They’re the Overpaid Extras with A Great Agent, Getting Smart about the Real No’s No’s of Teaching with IWBs - A Photo Compilation and Got Money for a Really Expensive Set of Training Wheels? I’ve Got An IWB to Sell Ya. Peter's comments are in various spots but he posts in his own space on the The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution Ning - The IWB debate - where do you stand?
What I really like about Peter's responses (and I suspect that Lisa likes it too) is how he draws things back to defining high quality teaching and how unless you have that in a classroom then it doesn't matter what the tech debate does. Whether you like it or not, the way we have schools set up at present, what happens in the classroom is dictated by the teacher. Even if the students are all involved in self directed learning with a great deal of choice, that has been enabled by the teacher in charge of that classroom. The same goes for the use of technology within that classroom as well - if the teacher cannot easily bend the technology to achieve learning outcomes that he or she has identified as being crucial for his or her students, then they are hardly likely use it, are they?
So, in some ways, I got my intellectual showdown but in some ways, this interaction between two high level educators is a better deal online than it would be in the confines of a conference. I laid out some virtual breadcrumbs and it snowballed. I've learnt a heap from both Peter and Lisa.
Thank you, both of you. I think I owe you both a few well thought comments back on your pieces of cyber-turf - when I finally decide what my actual position is. But hey, the beauty of networked learning is that I don't ever need to come to a final conclusion on an issue as my views can continually morph as new factors and counter viewpoints are aired across social media platforms.
Even though I'm in my eighth year here at my current school, it isn't the same place that I wandered into. Back in 2003 in my first taste of leadership, I inherited a school with a computing room with twenty PCs and one lone PC at the back of each classroom. In my role as ICT Coordinator (now Teaching and Learning Technologies Coordinator) I assisted to change the focus and nature of the technology used as part of our learning programs. I've documented a lot of that journey on this blog over the past few years and back when we were getting our IWB program off the ground on this blog.
We've funded the IWBs, the teacher laptops, the wireless classrooms, the students laptop trolleys and the netbooks from within our own school budget and have been blessed with a supportive Governing Council who've seen the need for us to grow our digital resources and tools to keep pace with our learning goals. Then along came Kevin Rudd and his BER (Building the Education Revolution) and for the first time in nearly every South Australian state school teacher's career, schools had the chance to fund some new forward looking buildings. Although we have been restricted by the limited designs, my school has taken the line that a standardised building does not mean we can't be innovative within the pre-designed walls and roofs. We ended choosing to build a new library and a new 4 class GLA (General Learning Area).
I'm lucky in that I'm going to be one of those four teachers who get to move into the new classroom block. And as part of my role, I've been talking with my learning team about how we should be outfitting these new classrooms. I know that this is still education in an age old paradigm that may be rapidly fading in this constantly connected world, classrooms built to house thirty kids per room, but it will be still pretty cool to be one of the first to teach in a new space. The last few days, Ann, my principal and I have been back on the building site, eyeballing off the progress, talking about cabling and wiring with the foreman and envisioning how this will all come together.
So, here's what we're doing. The new block will be fully wireless, latest generation, and we will use a fleet of HP laptops with hopefully a transition to some form of 1:1 program in the future. There is still a limited budget so it is not a matter of building the ultimate new learning environment without constraints. The teachers decided that interactive whiteboards were not a necessity, but good short throw projectors in each room were mandatory. The longer I've worked with IWBs, the less enthused I've become with that particular form of technology. So I think this is a good move because it will give us more budget to use in buying flexible furniture, crucial for building a new learning space environment.
So, I guess I am no longer a believer. I still have Simon Shaw's great quote from last year when we visited his school, St Albans Meadows Primary in Melbourne, when he compared their interactive whiteboards with their laptops.
"Why do you need interactivity up there on the wall, when all kids can have interactivity at their fingertips."
That's a good mindset to take into a new building. After all, it needs to be about opportunities for the students.
A week ago, I was still in sunny Sydney with my colleagues waiting to get some taxis out to the airport after the giant prize draw at the end of IWBNet09. My group did OK in that regard - one colleague won a year's subscription to some form of software and another won a class set of ActivExpresssions (she was from DECS Learning Technologies but assures us that our school can borrow them at some stage) - but that is a bit of a worrying trend that I wasn't that fond of. I know the drill about conferences can't survive without vendors and vendors pay the bills and that the vendors need to get value for their time and dollars but my parting memory of this conference is the big prize giveaway of "complete literacy programmes", "essential IWB software" and "student polling devices". Normally rational minded educators had played the game as well, gathering stamps in their vendor hall booklet, hearing every single sales pitch just for a chance to experience the "The New Price Is Right" atmosphere at the end.
I'll have to admit that I only saw part 1 of Martin Levins' keynote as my nerves told me to go and set up for my Saturday morning session. (An unusual concept - a two part keynote over two days which meant that I never really knew what he was leading up to.) He did point to this Saturday Night Live sketch which was good for a laugh - but maybe a more powerful keynote for challenging thinking would be someone like Jason de Nys. (Note to self - reflecting on one's own ICT journey over several decades does not make for enthralling listening.)
So what did I make of the sessions I did attend? Here is a quick summary.
Belinda Anderson - All Things Google.
Shovel an excessive amount of people into one classroom and have someone talk and demo their way through the four Google tools. Listed as a vendor session - would have been better as a workshop where delegates would have a chance to play. Belinda herself was bright and breezy but I had to squeeze out of the room to set up for my session on Effective Design.
Sally-Anne Walton - Catering for Different Learning Styles Using the IWB
I'd just finished off my session on Social Bookmarking in the same room so it was amusing to see people turning up for this one grabbing a copy of my handouts on their way in. This session proved to me that one must read the abstract as well as the title before choosing a session to attend. There was very little link made to learning styles in this session from my perspective - and it seemed to be massive show and tell grab bag of IWB use. The first five minutes were spent talking about how to choose the right position for an IWB in your classroom and I must admit, I lost interest from there very rapidly. The presenter showed that she had embedded video footage from a digital camera on her IWB - but failed to tell us why - what were the learning goals and how did the video footage help to reach those goals? It finished on a note with the presenter's colleague plugging a vendor's teacher amplification system and proclaiming that the ActivStudio library was the premier place to find digital resources (what about the internet?)
I do feel a bit unsporting to airing a negative review but these are my honest responses and I'd hope that someone would make a similarly honest and challenging assessment of any of my presentations. We don't improve if tips and tricks are portrayed as innovative practice.
Moodle On The SmartBoard - presenter not on my original list.
IWBNet09 had what were titled vendor sessions each day where the vast majority of sessions in that time period were from, well, vendors! As I'd already spoken at length with Bryn Jones about Atomic Learning late on Friday afternoon, I decided to skip his session which I had planned to attend, and went along with two of my colleagues to the above mentioned session at the last minute. I'll have to admit here that my professional conduct here was very poor, as I started talking to Trudy throughout the session in low hushed tones. We were hushed by a gentleman in front who was genuinely interested in seeing how to embed a worksheet screengrab in a Moodle to be displayed on a SmartBoard being operated by a tablet. I should have voted with my feet and followed Dan Meyer's five minute rule.
Enhancing Literacy Through An IWB - Kel Hathaway
Now, Kel is a very nice guy with an entertaining manner, and his session held his audience captive. But I couldn't get past the fact that it was a literacy focussed Tips and Tricks session, one of the most proficient I'd ever seen. There were "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" on almost every turn of his flipchart page where he covered everything from Wordle to spelling with Flickr to downloading magic erasers from Promethean Planet. He'd make a great trainer for Promethean, for sure but I'm sure there is greater depth to his expertise and knowledge than what this session permitted him to cover. My notes showed my mindset as I sat through this session - How could I use this file or idea to help my kids? Can this be used independently of the teacher? How about the kids creating instead of all the various incarnations of flipchartery promising many long nights for teachers as they created these "engaging" digital masterpieces?
I do feel like a pariah for feeling unsatisfied with IWBNet09. A quick look at the tweets from the #IWBNet09 hash show that many people thought it was great - and queried my less than enthused demeanour. I guess I wanted to spend more time talking about the learning and actually "pushing the boundaries".
John's forte was the development of Learning Games, based on Powerpoint and some more sophisticated Flash based content. He took attendees through some of the games including "Battle Of The Sexes" (useful only in co-ed schools), "Millionaire" and several others. He also talked through the use of these games as templates for students to create their own versions, easily tying these platforms to whatever learning was current in their classroom. There are a number of examples on John's website at My Interactive Classroom. He also talked through his pedagogical stages of IWB use - which you can find here in a comment on Lauren O'Grady's blog.
John let his games do his talking for him by getting audience members involved in the games. He was witty, informative and flicked onto a new example before the audience could get bored, which is an excellent tactic for any classroom.
In my mixed bag experience at this conference, John's session was a standout.
I got back Saturday from the National IWB conference (referred to as IWBNet09 as the event is run by IWBNet) tired and glad to be back in quiet old Adelaide. I went with a group of colleagues from my school along with Dr. Trudy Sweeney and Cate Berden from Learning Technologies in DECS. Our main goal was to get some sort of idea about the national picture, to gauge how we are travelling as a school compared to others and bring back leading edge ideas and experiences to share with our staff to keep our own technology use moving forward. I was quite excited about the two day conference, having volunteered to be a part of several presentations but hoping to catch enough other leading practitioners in action to help inform my own journey as an effective educator.
But now I'm back, I find that as a conference experience, IWBNet09 was not what I was hoping for. For me, there is still too much focus on fancy equipment, software solutions, too much basic click'n'drag demos. I'm sure that people could say the same of my own presentations - I was reasonably happy with the flow of my Effective Design presentation (much better than than the ramble I presented at CEGSA) and I think that choosing to cover Social Bookmarking in a presentation format was not the best idea. Talking at people for fifty minutes about the benefits of online bookmarking isn't ideal - but only having nine people in the session meant that questions were freely asked and I could track around my initial pathway to address these ideas.
I'll pick through my notes and publish my take on some of the sessions I did attend, but I guess what I felt was missing was the conversation about student learning in the classroom and how teachers are using technology to help facilitate that. I kept wishing for more in the sessions I did attend, with the exception of John Short who tied some pedagogical purpose to his Powerpoint Learning Games. I suppose when one attends a conference that purely focuses on one piece of technology, then said piece of technology takes centre stage. I think that I'm more interested in a conference centered around learning and technology's potential role - and not the other way around.
Along with a group of teachers from my school, I am heading off to the National IWB Conference in Sydney in late August. Despite having used one in my classroom since 2005 and being one of the prime movers in getting them installed in our school, my opinion on their effectiveness waxes and wanes constantly. I am presenting at the conference as well - twice in solo presentations on the use of social bookmarking and on effective presentation design, citing expertise from Meyer, Shareski, Elias, Mercer and Woodward along the way. I am also appearing in a support role with my co-planning buddy on "IWB and Inquiry Learning."
In between these commitments I hope to catch a variety of sessions in an effort to gauge what is being touted as best practice, how our school measures up in a national picture and whether there is any real transformation going on. I hope I can keep my cynicism on check as my one day jaunt to the 2008 IWB Conference was .... ahem ... a bit underwhelming.
I use my own IWB daily when in the classroom but I struggle with this whole concept of interactivity. I helped my wife construct her first own flipchart the other day as part of the training package her school got with their IWB purchases from late last year. She had to construct a table on basic shapes (she is teaching five year olds) and hide her selection of objects from the library in a layered box so the kids could "pull" them out of the "magic box" and then place them in the appropriate column on the flipchart. So what does pulling the objects out of the box achieve? Does this really enhance the learning process or is it just a visual gimmick?
So these sort of questions keep bugging me to the point where I am not sure whether the IWB is a lifeline or a barrier to effective classroom learning. Maybe to stretch the mangled metaphor a bit more, maybe IWBs just add digital cement around age old established practice. So, in the spirit of querying my own (constantly changing) perceptions, here is a comic for you to consider.
One of the biggest challenges in implementing this concept of "life long learners" is not just changing the mindset of the teachers in our classrooms but the students as well. Many of them have well established expectations of how school should play out and for many of them, being a "good kid" and following instructions was the recipe for learning success. What progressive educators see as steps to empower the learning process, some students see as a huge threat to their perceived version of the status quo. In our upper primary classrooms at my school, we are trying to keep that shift going with the way we structure our learning program.
The shift is subtle but our students are feeling it.
Generally, they are pretty good. The students enjoy the freedoms in their personal blogs, the tasks that give them opportunity to be creative and make choices to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and knowledge covered and most are enthused about the opportunity to be the leaders in the student community of the school. Things aren't quite as bad as over at ken's school:
Don't tell me to create. How about you create something? Instead, you're dumping your own lack of preparation on me and every other student in this classroom. I show up, I do my job. That's what it's been about. That's what it's all about. Honestly, I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish.
But our new High Flyer program has thrown a few of them into a tizzy. This is our Year Seven high achievement recognition program for the kids in their final year of primary school. The actual High Flyer certificates pre-date my involvement at the school but was essentially a teacher-driven award system - the criteria was drawn up by the teachers who then made judgement calls about how the students measured up to them. The teachers were doing the heavy lifting - while the students benefitted by playing the role of "good student" in order to gain recognition. A very traditional approach but one that was definitely in a major need of re-alignment to our school focus of inquiry and collaborative learning. Maria, Kim and I decided to turn things around by grabbing the 18 Qualities of a Lockleys North Graduate and have the students provide evidence of their achievment of these Qualities. Here's a sample of our new approach as lifted directly from our private planning wiki.
The 2009 High Flyer is based on the 18 Qualities of an LNPS Graduate. As students are encouraged and supported to take charge of their own learning, the High Flyer Award is designed for students to take ownership of their own achievements. The students will collate and present evidence of these Qualities. (instigated by students, book time with their teachers, onus on the student to self manage)
The self managing part is the part that some students immediately found difficultly in grappling with. For example, one quality calls for students to "Participate in and support activities as reliable team members, encouraging spectators, and ‘good sports’". We gave the kids four possible options for evidence (they had to choose two or create their own) including this one - Written supportive statement of involvement from PE teacher.
The students with initiative, the ones who we really want to be winning these awards, created their own statement, putting their own performance under the perspective microscope of Mr. G, our PE teacher, typed it up and approached him for a signature if he agreed with their statement. Into the folder of evidence it went.
But others were more literal and fell back into the "teacher needs to do it for me" mode. Maria and I had an interesting but frustrating conversation with a student from her class (whom I had taught in 2007 and 2008, so I may have been part of the problem) where she just couldn't get past the fact that she was responsible for ensuring that the evidence was there for us to assess.
"But I've emailed Mr. G twice and asked him to write me a statement."
"Imagine if he has to do that for all 51 Year Sevens. You need to show some initiative like Pavlo over here who wrote his own statement."
"Oh ... maybe I should write Mr. G a reminder note and put it in his pigeonhole."
"No, you're missing the point! You can write it yourself and Mr. G can sign off on it."
"But how can I do that? How do I know how I've been in PE lessons?"
You get the picture. Hopefully, this will also eliminate the visit from the one irate parent who is upset that their darling child has not gotten the High Flyer certificate because they are a "good kid". Enough with the good kids - we want motivated, self-improving students - otherwise, the life long learning will never happen unless a teacher is holding their hands.
Although, like Lauren O'Grady, I felt a bit underwhelmed at the sessions at the National IWB Conference, one leadership session that I found very valuable was held by Mal Lee, Digital Schooling Consultant and creator of IWB.net. Here are my notes from the session with my thoughts in italics.
Author of a book "leading a digital school" which was due out this week. Mal was also involved in the 2003 research into IWB's at Richardson Primary School, Canberra, ACT. His talk was about achieving total teacher usage of digital instructional technology - preferring the term DIT to ICT. (Not sure if I like the term instructional - has a lot of connotations about methodologies being used. Where's learning?)
It doesn't matter if the technology is there if it is not used. The paper based mode has been maximised (Treadwell says that it peaked in the mid-60's) and it is time to move to a new paradigm. This move should also enhance the prductivity of the nation. In developed nations, the majority of teachers use technology for preparation but only a small number use technology for instruction. Singapore, Korea, UK and NZ have significant investments in this area but Australia hasn't done so - now there is a big divide between the home and classroom, and between the proactive and the reactive teachers. The onus is on schools to address the human and technology variables simultaneously, not one then the other.
1. Teacher Acceptance. This is anyone who teaches in your school as the teacher is the most powerful person in the education equation when it comes to technology. In NSW, all secondary kids will have a laptop under the DER scheme (they don't get a choice, and it will be an el-cheapo) but whether they get used will be decided by the teacher in the classroom. So, they need to see the educational value and how it assists their teaching.
2. Working with the givens. We teach classes, not individuals, have to manage that class operating in classrooms with physical limits, a crowded curriculum that limits the time to go off elsewhere like a computing room - so the tools need to be in the classroom.
3. Teacher training & teacher development support. Teacher release within the school is the most valuable, give them time to do things. Amazing statistic - 64% of UK classrooms have an IWB, Australia has got 5%.
4. Nature and availability of the technology. Needs to assist teaching, not oblige change, integrate with teaching. IWB's were designed by companies started by ex-teachers while most ICT tools were designed for other purposes. Not a fan of laptops in schools because of the high tech support needed, one private laptop school now wants to get rid of them - the future will probably be some iteration of the iPhone.
5. Teacher acceptance of IWB's. (Can IWB's change pedagogy or just entrench it?) The important feature of the IWB is it is a digital facilitator (not the native software) and now there are early signs that key areas (IWB + broadband) can improve literacy - quoted Balanskat 2006 (can't find link via Google). IWB numbers have grown from 70,000 in 2002 up to 603,000 in 2008 with predicted numbers reaching 1.371 million by 2012.
6. Appropriate content and software. 85% of Australian schools are severely restricted by filters, and that means less access to Web 2.0 tools.
7. Infrastructure. The best bandwidth available is what's needed - Korean speeds in schools are around 100MB while Australia does well to get 1.5MB. Technology needs to be operative 100% of teaching time even though education has unusual demands - peaks between 9 - 3, 5 days a week.
8. Finance. Successful schools have leaders who go out and find the money. Must consider Total Cost of Ownership which includes teacher PD but schools are still funded on a paper based model. The average school budget commits 2.7% to ICT but 85% to staffing. If schools have a chance they must capitalise on the DER funding.
9. Leadership. This is crucial in order to unlock time, money, to put pressure on certain people and overcome hurdles. Australian preparation of principals is not geared towards this future - but they are the architects of the digital school.
10. Implementation. It is a historic pattern that we are focussed on equipment, but department restrictions can be a problem. Eventually schools that have their act together won't want to play by their department's rules.
Mal says that he disagrees with Peter Kent's eTeaching pedagogy, just believes in good teaching. He believes that we have reached a decline in teacher preparation time thanks to technology (or has it just shifted that preparation?) He doesn't care what brand of IWB schools buy - that will depend on the user.
Overall, an interesting session that allowed me to compare his advice with my own school's journey. I don't think I agree with him about the potential of laptops in the classroom but much of what he said made sense to me.
I've been hosting a few visitors again and it's the interactive whiteboards that seem to be the main attraction. I had a team from a local educational publishing company sit in on one of my lessons to see one in action and gain some ideas about how to design content (books, digital resources, support materials) that fits with a classroom that is moving more into the digital world. Amazingly, one of the graphic designers was an ex-student of mine from my teaching days in Port Augusta (in my Year 3/4 class back in 1992) - feeling old at 41!
Then tonight, I took a group (of which I am a member) from my son's school's Governing Council around my school to get some ideas around the theme of Assets Improvement. This group are parents from other non-education areas of the workforce and they really wanted to see an IWB in action for the first time. I know that the "wow" factor is always more pronounced with adults but I did point out that nearly everything I produce now in the course of my work is digital. I do my programming on a wiki (easier to embed the web links I like to use), I create flipcharts to introduce concepts and take students through units of work, my school communication runs on email and the electronic daybook and I produce document after document in the course of my daily work. Then in the evening, I network with my global colleagues, hunt down and tag potential online resources and read widely varying big and small picture perspectives on technology, education and the space between the two.
One of the Assets group pointed out that all of this technology stuff seemed to be my passion and that is true. I have actively sought out all of this stuff and manouevred myself into leadership responsibilities in the eLearning area, and tried to be progressive in working out what new and emerging technologies can do in the classroom. The hardest part has always been how to lure the non-technology-passionate teacher over to the other side. And I still think that the Interactive Whiteboard is the one of the best ways to do that luring. It bridges that middle ground and gets otherwise skeptical non-digital teachers to at least start to become digital in their day to day work.
Lastly, I've been approached to offer a workshop for the mid year Australian Literacy Educators Association conference on how I use the IWB for literacy in my classroom. Looking through the program, there are shades of Web 2.0 in some of the sessions and the opening keynote will focus on the media fuelled "Literacy Wars". (Yep, we've got our own version, Doug.) But if some of these passionate literacy educators drop into my session and see that use of an IWB in their classroom can be a gateway to all of these new multi-literacies that modern education needs to address.... well, I'm hoping that I can do the invitation justice.