In the last few weeks I have begun removing Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) from classrooms in my school. That’s right. You read correctly. And I don’t mean removing to put another board up.
I had planned this for a while. But when the crunch came I had a little moment. Am I really going to do this? I reflected on the excitement we all felt when they first went up such a short time ago. And I wondered to myself, in a time when surrounding schools were still getting excited and still aspiring to put these up in every room, am I the first Assistant Principal or ICT coordinator to actually take one of these things down?!?
I’ve been lucky enough to work at two different schools over the last 3 years that have been ahead of the curve in adopting IWBs. Both schools were among the first to have boards in every classroom, and this has meant that it has been at least 3 years since I’ve taught without one, and 6 years since I’ve taught without at least a fixed data projector and screen. So IWBs are not special or new at our school. They are ‘normal’, and I’ve watched as our teaching practice has grown and changed with them and around them.
In the Junior school (Prep – Grade 2) they are a hit. Teachers in these grades spend a lot more time modeling things to a whole class. Students in those class groups are thrilled when they get the chance to come up and manipulate something on the screen and the teacher taps into this engagement to help make their point. During Literacy and Numeracy times, small groups of students work together on a game or puzzle of some sort on the big screen which still genuinely thrills their socks off.
In the Senior school (grades 3 – 6) its a different story. This year we have been able to flood the Senior School with iPads and Macbooks. Devices in the students hands when they need them has been absolutely pedagogy changing. Finally we are fully moving away from teacher at the front of the room. Students have access to everything in the palm of their hands and this has been reflected in how their learning is being structured.
And that is why it has become more and more ridiculous to have a giant touch screen sitting at the front of the room. I noticed that our Level 4 teachers (grades 5 and 6) were using the touch screen element of the boards less and less this year. It has got to the stage where I can’t remember the last time I saw a student actually using an IWB in these classrooms. But then I thought, is that really a bad thing? The more I thought about it, the more I realised I could barely think of a single situation in this fantastic, dynamic learning environment where the technology an IWB provides makes any sense at all.
So the answer is no, their lack of use was not a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing. The teacher is no longer controlling the technology, and we are no longer operating within a ‘knowledge given from the front of the room’ modality.
So here’s what I did. We are lucky enough to be a growing school. We have 2 new classes in our Junior area that needed two new IWBs. I knew I didn’t want to buy more of these things. Especially considering the insane amount of money they cost. So instead of buying new ones, I removed 2 IWBs from the Grade 5/6 area and put those into the Junior School rooms. I then bought 2 interactive LCD screens for our 5/6 area. I wasn’t ready to drop the interactive screen idea just yet, but I had got rid of the expensive IWB and projector double act, and replaced each one with one beautiful, thin LCD screen. With the money I saved I had the trolleys custom built to house a Mac Mini on the back of the screens. I connected the Mac Mini to the screens via HDMI and the result was a potable Mac with a 46″ interactive screen!!
Now here’s where the learning curve comes in. Whenever you enter a new frontier there are going to be things you discover that work better than others. The feedback from teachers was that the portability of the screens and the fact they came with their own PC attached was fantastic. The size however was not. While the picture was crisp and sharp and easily beat the quality of the projectors, when text needed to be shown there just wasn’t enough screen real estate to make it big enough for all students to see. And yes, the interactive component of the screens still wasn’t being used!
Here’s where we copped a lucky break. One of the screens was damaged in a break in, and we got a replacement screen on insurance. The replacement screen was a new model that had dual touch capabilities. The problem was, there was no driver for the screen that would make it work with a Mac. After a bit of back and forth with Samsung, we ended up getting our money back. First I considered other touch screen models. But then I realised, if we were willing to make a break from interactive screens, we could get a 60″ LED screen and a 55″ LCD screen for the price of one interactive LCD screen.
Here’s how the figures are currently:
– a 46″ Samsung interactive LCD screen is between $3500 – $5500
– An interactive whiteboard with ultra short throw wide screen projector costs between $7000 and $9000.
…A Sony 55″ LCD screen is just $1300.
Stacking up how much interactive boards were being used in our classrooms and their lack of appropriateness to our current pedagogical practices against the price differential, the decision seemed like a no brainer. Two bigger screens for the price of a smaller one. And with change left over! And the change left over meant the screens would now no long just have a Mac Mini, but an Apple TV as well!
With iPads in the student’s hands and an Apple TV to mirror them live onto the LCD screen, why on earth would you want a child to come up and actually have to touch the screen at the front of the room to move things around on it!?
So here we are in what feels like a brave new frontier. What do you think. Am I a crazy man?