Monday, November 27, 2006

Keeping Things Moving


As a favour to our ACTIVboard suppliers, I recently presented to a school that was sinking a very sizeable slab of money into an IWB rollout. They were using federal grant money which required such a bulk purchase but I thought to myself at the time that I would not like to be the person in charge of that programs' success. Without identifying the school at all, they wanted their choice of Interactive Whiteboard into every classroom in their school (around 20) ready for the start of the 2007 school year. My job on that occasion was to tell them about why my school had chosen the Promethean product and walk them through the various software features so that they could make an informed opinion. But whether they followed our lead, or plumped for SmartBoards or even chose the third option, TeamBoard, the big issue for any IWB investing school is how do you keep all of your teachers moving forward and continually improving their practice?

Our school's process was to break the implementation into several stages over an attended period of time. We started with our first group of teachers, hand picked for their enthusiasm and ICT confidence who were referred to as our "pioneers". As I was one of that group and no more expert than anyone else, it was important that these teachers have some trouble shooting ability. If they couldn't solve a problem, they had enough nous to identify what was going on and ask for technical help. They've all been steadily working through Marc Prensky's four stages of technology implementation and trying to ensure that their pedagogy doesn't get mired in "old things in old ways". And they've known that when the next wave came on board they would have a role as mentors and buddies.

How do you manage that when you have 20 or so teachers all at the same starting point, all demanding that they need help troubleshooting or working out how to get a certain tool to function in the way they want? It would be very difficult and invariably someone will get left behind or maybe just not bother changing their practice at all. How do you keep the front runners satisfied and challenged and receiving recognition for pushing the limits of their pedagogy?

Only one part of having an Interactive Whiteboard in your classroom is technical expertise. That's important but after a certain period of time, that learning curve starts to flatten out and the use of the tools can become second nature. However, I'm always finding out new capabilities (quite often, pointed out to me by my students) but the major part of IWB technology is how it affects your practice without giving into the temptation to become an "instructivist" teacher. I've explored this idea before on Teaching Generation Z, but what I really want to focus on here is the idea of continually moving forward and if used with this idea of never standing still in mind, then we can utilise this quite expensive technology well. Training needs to come just in time and the teacher has to be continually looking for ways to improve their classroom practice. Which should be happening with or without an IWB anyway, right?
I'm totally convinced that rolling out our ACTIVboards in phases has been the right approach to ensuring they don't become an expensive sideline tool in the classroom. Providing the teacher with a laptop is another thing our school has got right. You can't expect a teacher to become proficient in a tool by only providing occasional access and expecting them to bring their IWB resources back and forth between home and school on a USB thumbdrive. I'm not saying that all of our users are where they should be yet but in the incremental approach, there is better chance of helping them along than if the whole school started at once.


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