While “individualized, self-directed online learning is all the rage,” schools are rushing to buy interactive whiteboards put “the teacher front and center” with an updated chalkboard, writes Mike Petrilli in Education Next’s blog.
These contraptions, which go by brand names like SMART Boards and Promethean ActivBoards and cost about $5,000 a pop, are giant computerized screens that crackle with video, audio, and Internet connectivity. When hooked up to a computer, they enable teachers to present multimedia lessons meant to catch the eyes (and brains) of a generation addicted to Wii, iPhones, and IMing. They also serve as an old-fashioned blackboard (teachers and students write on them with special markers) but with a twist: whatever is scribbled on the board can be captured, digitized, and saved for later. This is particularly helpful for students who miss class and can in effect replay the lesson at their leisure. It also allows teachers to “rewind” and explain a point made 15 minutes or 15 days earlier.
Critics complain the whiteboards are expensive ways to support “stand-and-deliver instruction” instead of student discovery and collaboration.
If there’s common ground between “individualized learning” gurus and whiteboard fans, it might come in the form of “learner response systems.” These clickers allow all students in the class to answer a teacher’s question at once. Their responses can be instantly aggregated and displayed on the whiteboard; teachers can look at their computer screens and know right away which of their students gave the wrong answer. It’s “formative assessment” taken to the extreme, and allows a teacher to know which students need more explanation, and when the class is ready to move on.
With school budgets shrinking, the day of the interactive whiteboard may be waning, Petrilli writes. These technologies will survive only “if they allow teachers to be just as effective with a class of 30 students as a class of 20” by increasing engagement.
I can hear teachers saying: You mean a class of 42 instead of a class of 34. I’m curious: Are interactive whiteboards worth the cost? If it’s a choice between whiteboards and slightly smaller classes, a longer school day, more books, more field trips or the idea of your choice, what would deliver the most brains for the buck?