On The Go Or On The Wall?

Some of my thinking about the best way to deploy technology in the primary school classroom seems to be heading in either of two near future directions. One - build it big enough that everyone can see the same thing or small enough that everyone can have one of their own. One costly thing that has a long life (by Moore's law standards, anyway) but needs upgradeable software and reliable peripherals and is mainly geared towards being a teaching tool or lower cost (but not low enough yet) handheld or exercise book sized devices that are designed for personalization but rapidly evolving in their shape, capacity and capability. Yes, you guessed it. It's time for one of those Interactive Whiteboard vs. 1 to 1 PDA/laptop posts of ponderance.

It's not my position in my education system to say what is the correct way to equip our local primary schools, but I am entitled to an opinion. A lot of thoughts about the right way to effectively use the technology dollar and ensure that we are just not putting things in for the sake of it. However, I get worried when well meaning colleagues (some higher up in leadership than me) make statements along the lines of, "Interactive Whiteboards are the way of the future." Ironically, my job entails the implementation of an IWB program here but I am far from a blind advocate. I have been reading a lot of Alex Hayes' thoughts lately at both of his blogs and they have offered my brain a lot of fuel for thought. I am worried because anyone who sees an Interactive Whiteboard as an educational technology solution has really missed the point about technology and its role within our society, nay, our world. Everything is evolving so fast and nothing is going to stop to allow our busy education system to "catch up" - this year's IWB could be next year's Nova 5000. It's a corny phrase but it's true, the only thing certain about the future is that it is uncertain. Alex says in his post, Mlearning : Importance.

I believe that learning that includes or incorporates the mobile technologies that students own, have access to and preference is at the heart of the challenge that education organisations face, now and in the future.

The questions and positions that we as educators adopt with respect to mlearning are respected when we acknowledge that the simple, small and seemingly insignificant 'games' that students of all ages play using these technologies. At the heart of our current ICT's in schools is the letter - capital "C" - communication.

My own research question / stance could be framed as - How can we improve the uptake of mobile communication technologies in a teaching and learning context acknowledging and incorporating the mobile technologies that students own and/or have access to ?

Or more simply and more pertinent to my present situation accompanying the former question - What challenges do educators face as they seek ways to employ mlearning as part of their everyday teaching and learning duties ?

I am entirely convinced we are at the crossroads in the Australian educational context with these issues and challenges.

These words made me think about my own [tentative] use of mobile technologies and the benefits it has brought to the way I now learn. Even in the primary school sector, is it the way forward? I outlined this in my comment to Alex:

However, the idea of anywhere, anytime learning that a mobile device gives its user really hit home to me the other day at a meeting with my learning team. I had been to the doctor earlier in the day and while I was sitting there, waiting my turn, I re-read an offline Prensky article webfile that would be useful at the meeting later on. Having that option has been become a regular way of operation for me now and I don't think anything of it but a few of my colleagues were amazed. So as wireless networks in the education sector become more common place, I wonder how I could utilise a class set of PDA's and whether the current focus on technologies like Interactive Whiteboards in the primary school sector (ironically, part of my role here at my school) is part of an old classroom container paradigm that may no longer be relevant.

And even as I think that I'm getting on Alex's wavelength and imagining the future of a middle school Aussie class with their wireless handhelds connecting and accessing web application as needed as part of the way they do their learning, Alex's exploratory response to my comment reminds me that IWB's have a lot of untapped potential and once again, the technology chosen is only as good as the methodology that drives it.

Your points on on the interactive whiteboard "container" may well be big news at the moment and again someones bright idea of transporting learning and connecting this in a distributive manner. I'm not entirely familiar with Interactive Whiteboards however it seems the ability to drag, drop, interact with and remotely operate that which was once static has again changed the ways in which we "showcase" what we do in a PD sense.

There is also the issue of getting the teachers (technophobic ones included) on board and reality says that an IWB stands a good chance of being sustainable. Ideally, in a world where education has buckets of dough, I'd fire up my IWB and model the task or problem to be solved and the kids would log in wirelessly on their handhelds and get to work. But the reality in education here in SA is you roll the dice and cross your fingers and hope that your purchasing power has been well directed and you don't end up with Interactive White Elephants or Wireless Devices in the hands of unmotivated students that have as little work in them as some of their exercise books used to have.

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2 thoughts on “On The Go Or On The Wall?

  1. Quentin D'Souza


    I think you are right to be critical in your views on IWB. We are making a more and more purchases in Toronto, Canada. Your reference to the user interface of IWB struck a chord with me.

    I’ll use a personal example. I wanted my family to take advantage of the free long distance to anywhere in North America that Skype is offering until the end of the year. Ask them to use a computer headset and nothing happened. So I bought a USB Phone from eBay, all of a sudden it is being used. User interface can make or break a product. It just might make it for IWB.

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