Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chickens and Eggs

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"-Ancient causality dilemma

In the spirit of enhancing education through technology, our district has purchased four mobile SMART Boards and installed an additional two units in designated classrooms. Some teachers were chosen to attend day long training sessions; the rest of us had a quick overview during a recent Superintendent's Day.

It looks like a cool interactive instructional tool, but at around $3,000 a unit, these boards represent a significant investment for a small school district. We've been told that teachers who use the Boards are the most likely candidates for receiving a permanent classroom SMART Board when funds become available. And therein lies the rub.

Following the directions of our trainer, I downloaded some of the SMART software on my home computer. The activities I've begun creating, a current events review set and a presidential campaign page with candidate links, could be used in class with the help of an LCD projector and attached computer keyboard. That would, of course, negate the cool interactivity factor that is the main selling point of the SMART Boards, but I'd still end up with some very useful instructional aids. There is a permanent projector in the tech lab where I do my teaching, so having the appropriate hardware available would not be a problem.

Now consider the realities of most of our K-12 classrooms. Only a few have already had SMART Boards or LCD projectors installed. A teacher who wanted to try out this new technology would have to download an activity from the SB files or create a new activity, find time to give it a test run, sign up for the SB, move the SB and the LCD cart to their classroom, position it, and begin teaching (if all of the equipment is connected properly, something which was not explained in any detail during the mini workshop). Obviously to make this worthwhile, a number of the day's lessons would have to be planned around the SMART Board.

Bottom line: the tool (SMART Board) would be driving the content (lessons).

A better test of the SB's power to engage students in learning might be to provide the tool as part of a classroom learning environment - or studio, as Clarence Fisher would probably describe it. Then the teacher could use the Board when appropriate, while continuing to incorporate other tools and techniques depending on the desired learning outcome.

Obviously, buying one SMART Board per classroom is not in our immediate future. It might be possible, though to set up a model studio, with SMART Board, student computers, listening centers, white board, tables and desks, etc. and let teachers "test drive" it for a day or a week or longer. Feedback from such a model classroom would provide valuable information which could then be used when promoting the acquisition of further Boards, assuming that evaluations from teachers and students were positive.

Which comes first: the tool or the content? Create a need or fill a need?

"First the stalk -- then the roots. First the need -- then the means to satisfy that need. First the nucleus -- then the elements needed for its growth." -Robert Collier

"Chickens and Eggs" by ashe-villain


Anonymous said...

"Which comes first: the tool or the content? Create a need or fill a need?"

Actually the outcome we are trying to achieve. The problem I see happening consistently is that I do professional development with staff on elearning and they become so caught up with learning how to use a tool that they forget about the outcome they are trying to achieve. And it does not matter how many times I tell them - think about what you are trying to achieve they lose focus on this. Which is natural I suppose but it is important not to.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a dilemma. I know what the tools can do for us and still have trouble using them when they are not permanently installed in a room. It is unreasonable to ask my teachers to do something that I won't do myself.

I think you are on to something with the idea of giving the teachers access to the SMART board for a week or more.

diane said...

Another chicken phrase springs to mind: "running around like a chicken with its head cut off."

If ONLY there were some concrete guidelines, standards, whatever so that districts, staff members, BOE were all on the same page as far as necessary hardware, desired skills, embedded technology...