One thought on “The Innovative Educator: Gary Stager Finally Shares Why He Thinks Interactive Whiteboards / Smartboards Suck

  1. Since there seem to be some moderation issues/delays on the original blog site, I am re-posting my comments about Gary's article here.

    Although Gary’s position may seem extreme, it needed saying. This thread is an intriguing and important discussion, which should focus on substance and not on the personal experience or alleged motivations of those taking the time to share their insights.

    I, too, have been called upon from time to time to provide PD for interactive whiteboards. Moreover, all too often, what I have observed is that these devices are being used mainly as expensive, non-interactive whiteboards, or in ways that perpetuate and refine the worst of “sage on the stage” instructionism. Gary’s concern that this type of technology may lend itself to encouraging the latter should not be dismissed lightly.

    However, having said this, these tools CAN also be used in more constructivist models. In my personal image of the ideal classroom, I would have one; but probably I would use mine differently than most. Perhaps before one is installed in a classroom, we should first require the creation of a half-a-dozen sample lesson plans, illustrating how the equipment will help students achieve, in more forward-looking student-centered scenarios. Perhaps PD for these tools should be led more by enlightened educators passionate about pedagogical considerations and less by manufacturers focused on “content delivery” and training on “how to operate the equipment.”

    It is crticially important to ask, when contemplating mass purchase of this type of equipment, whether 80% of the benefit might be achieved at 20% of the cost, by mounting a ceiling projector with a teacher-friendly docking station and a document camera. (Merely amplifying the teacher’s voice has been shown to increase achievement for all students, not just those who are hearing impaired.) At a time when so many crucial things are being cut – including potentially more cost-effective and compelling uses of technology –it behooves us to ask whether the incremental cost of the “full boat” interactive whiteboard solution including “clickers” and so on will yield significant results, in terms of corresponding increases in student learning. There is a real danger of Luddite backlash if we cannot later show that student learning, including the nature of the graduates we produce – such as whether they are capable of imagination, innovation and critical thinking – is improving sufficiently to warrant the large costs. In my view, the greatest benefit of educational technology is often that it forces us to re-examine the roles of teacher and student; whereas, as Gary worries, the whiteboards are apt to be used, instead, to reinforce outmoded approaches and roles that were more appropriate during the industrial revolution than in the information age.

    Every teacher should have a dedicated laptop, projector and document camera; and every student should have a modern, powerful computing device (laptop, iPad, netbook, whatever – not just a clicker). In classrooms led by teachers who think of themselves as “intellectual coaches,” who have truly embraced constructivist pedagogy, when budgets permit, there should be room for the full-on interactive whiteboard solution as well. Meanwhile, though my respect for both is beyond measure, I must stand closer to Gary Stager than to Alan November on this issue.

    Mark L. Miller, Ph.D.

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