Book Review: The Monsters of Education Technology

As background, here’s a brief summary of my relationship with Educational Technology, from c. 2003 to the present:
My EdTech Arc
Thanks to my Twitter Archive and apps like TimeHop, I’ve been frequently exposed to my EdTech Pollyanna stage. There sure were lots of excited exclamation points

In the more recent past, I’ve been feeling a bit more like the EdTech Curmudgeon:

  • “Hey, have you heard about this tool? Students can make digital flashcards!” Me: “Ummm…”
  • “Look this tool that automatically grades ScanTron tests!” Me: “Ummm….”
  • “Check out these Khan Academy videos! Students can totally get extra help!” Me: “Ummm….”

Usually I don’t say much when friends and colleagues bring up questionable tools. I mean, that’s pretty much exactly where I was c. 2008. Though I do try to bring up issues with the tools, or their parent companies, or (most often) the type of teaching and learning these tools reinforce when there’s an opportunity, usually I just end up feeling like Debbie Downer in a room full of excited cheerleaders.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed reading Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Educational Technology so very, very much.
The Monsters of Education Technology
Audrey Watters self-describes as the Cassandra1 of EdTech. As she notes about herself in the book:

"I don’t tend to talk about ed-tech revolution and disruptive innovation unless it’s to critique and challenge those phrases. I don’t give ed-tech pep talks, where you leave the room with a list of 300 new apps you can use in your classroom."

You're not going to walk away from Watters' writing feeling like a world beater: able to revolutionize the whole education in your classroom tomorrow. Instead she stares deep into the soul of so many Silicon Valley edtech startups and finds them to be empty.

But this is an important thing. Education technology has been, and- apropos the Cassandra comparison- will continue to be lauded as “the way” to “fix” what’s “wrong” with teaching and learning today. It’s flashy. It’s shiny. It looks futuristic and fancy to administrators and politicians. Unfortunately, so many of the tools simply replicate or reinforce questionable practices from our past. Instead, Watters challenges us (emphasis mine):

“To transform education and education technology to more progressive and less programmed ends means we do have to address what exactly we think education should look like now and in the future. Do we want programmed instruction? Do we want teaching machines? Do we want videotaped lectures? Do we want content delivery systems? Or do we want education that is more student-centered, more networked-focused. [...] And instead of acting as though ed-tech is free of ideology, we need to recognize that it is very much enmeshed in it.”

When schools adopt new technologies there often isn’t much thought given to the pedagogical or social implications the new technologies bring to the classroom. Very little consideration is given to what the tools really add to the learning process over already existing tools (besides being shinier and newer), and even less consideration is given to how this might affect who we are as humans, as Watters describes in her critique of algorithms designed to grade student essays:

"We have no laws of ‘ed-tech robotics.’ We rarely ask, ‘What are ethical implications of educational technologies?’ Mostly, we want to know ‘will this raise test scores?’ ‘Will this raise graduation rates?’ We rarely ask, ‘Are we building and adopting tools that might harm us? That might destroy our humanity?’"

Despite the picture I’ve painted so far, Watters goes beyond simply prophesying doom upon humanity at the hands of educational technology. Though deeply skeptical and harshly critical of most educational technology, she isn’t anti-technology.

She champions technologies that give students agency. Technologies that places students in control of their own learning.  Technologies that promote learning outside the artificial structures society has created in schools and universities. Clearly one of her favorite ideas is an initiative started at the University of Mary Washington, called a Domain of One’s Own. UMW gives each student their own domain- not just space on a university server- but a domain they can take with them after they graduate:

“Their own domain. Again, the word matters here. Students have their own space on the Web. A space for a blog or multiple blogs. A digital portfolio for their academic work that can become a professional portfolio as well. A place to store their digital stuff in the cloud. Moreover, a lesson on the technologies that underpin the Web. HTML. CSS. RSS. It's not quite “hosted lifebits,” but it’s a solid step in that direction. The initiative represents a kind of open learning – learning on the Web and with the Web, learning that is of the Web. ‘Domain of One’s Own’ offers a resistance to the silos of the learning management system and to the student as a data mine. It highlights the importance of learner agency, of learning in public, of learning together, of control over one’s digital identity and over one’s educational data, and the increasing importance of digital literacies."

This is an idea that seems so simple yet powerful. It’s something that could be done even at the high school level- maybe students don’t receive their own actual domain, but students could be given a space somewhere online where 1) they are in control and 2) that can be taken with them once they’ve graduated.

Audrey Watters’ work is simultaneously deeply informative, insightful, troubling, and hopeful. I highly recommend The Monsters of Education Technology and pretty much everything she’s written online at Hacked Education to anyone working in or near an educational setting.

The book is available directly through Audrey Watters’ website in a variety of print and e-book formats. You should definitely buy it.

"Indeed humanity and learning are deeply intertwined. They are intertwined with love, not with algorithms." - Audrey Watters

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  1. Cassandra of classical mythology was given the gift of prophecy, but when she spurned Apollo’s love she was cursed to always prophesy truthfully, but never to be believed.     (back)

Critiquing the CAPSS Recommendations for School Reform

I want to make my classroom the best learning environment possible. Most of my posts on this site focus on lessons, assessments, or ideas on how to improve the learning environment inside my classroom. Improving our individual teaching craft is one of the easiest places (not to say it's necessarily easy) as a teacher to effect change.

However, as I've worked towards improving what happens in my classroom I've frequently run into obstacles. These obstacles were primarily exterior to my classroom. Sometimes they were school or district policies, sometimes national or state requirements, and sometimes they were the result of how we, as a culture, have historically structured this thing we call "school." Most of these policies and structures were created with good intentions in an attempt to improve our schools and our children's education.

Given my generally negative experiences with "traditional1" instructional models and structures, I've found myself more and more interested in systemic school reforms. How can we create modern schools and structures that leverage the advancements in technology and access to information to provide students with an education that prepares them to be active participants in our nation's democracy, economy, and society?

It was no surprise when an editorial in our local paper titled Major Restructuring Recommended for Schools caught my eye. In it, the author briefly describes the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) new report, "Recommendations for Transformation," a list of recommendations to transform the state education system "so it is able to meet the needs of students in the future." Naturally, I downloaded, read, and critiqued the full 36 page report (here's the official download link [pdf file], here's a version with my commentary [pdf file]).

My critique of the CAPSS recommendations

The report includes 134 individual recommendations for action across ten broad categories. I won't go into them all. Instead I'll give a brief breakdown of each broad category and get more specific around recommendations of particular interest.

The tl;dr version

This is a long article. For those of you thinking, "I'm can't read this whole thing. There is too much," let me sum up. Speaking in sweeping generalities, I applaud the CAPSS recommendations. In many ways the recommendations are progressive, forward-thinking, and focus on the best interests of students instead of on things that would be easy to implement or get through the political process. Recommendations such as competency-based advancement, standards-based assessments, and integrating out-of-school learning experiences into the formal education process suggest that CAPSS is interested in totally reworking what we mean by "school." This makes me happy. Too often reform movements are limited by the inertia of history and that-which-already-exists. CAPSS is clearly trying to overcome this inertia. Schools that followed the recommendations in the report could be student-centered environments that have a laser-like focus on student learning, support and integrate learning experiences that occur outside the classroom, remove conventions of little educational value (e.g. letter grades, traditional homework, and adult-friendly-but-child-poor assessments), and make schools an intrinsic part of their community.

And yet CAPSS puzzlingly makes recommendations that would make schools larger, less personal, and less a part of their community. Consolidating districts might save some money- which is an important consideration- but this seems to fly in the face of entire other sections of this report (For example, Section 2: Make it Personal; Section 4: Retool Assessments & Accountability; Section 8: Involve Students & Parents). Creating fiscally sustainable school districts is important, but eliminating small community schools in favor of large regional schools fosters disconnect between the schools and their community, students skating through schools unknown by their teachers, and an overall less personalized educational experience. Furthermore, many recommendations are so general that they're simply platitudes without any real meat to them (i.e. "Engage parents as partners in their children's education."). More detail and explanation is needed as to exactly what many recommendations are actually recommending. Lastly, how about some references? Surely (hopefully) the CAPSS group that created the report relied on more than the four citations included in this report- three of which are statistics on current educational practices. Nowhere do they cite sources to support their positions- either in this report, on their website, or any other report provided at their website.

I think CAPSS took a step in a positive direction by making many forward-thinking recommendations for the future of education in Connecticut. While none of these recommendations are binding, it heartens me to see an organization of this sort making progressive recommendations. It gives me hope there will be enough momentum to effect some real and positive educational reform in the near term. However, portions of the report conflict with the overall progressive theme- pointing towards deep elements of hesitation toward the large- and in my opinion needed- education reforms.

If you'd like a more detailed breakdown of the 10 categories of recommendations made in the CAPSS report, read on!

1. Raise the Bar

There are essentially two recommendations here: (1) Create "ambitious, focused, and cohesive" education standards, and (2) provide a system that measures student learning and promotes students through school based on content mastery instead of seat time.

  1. Standards. Question: There already are state education standards, how are these standards different? Are these different than the Common Core Standards? Further, the recommendations specifically focus on standards for "college and career readiness." Those are important goals, but I'd also like them to focus on helping students become effective participants in a democracy. On the whole I'm skeptical of the standardization movement. The report spends a lot of time recommending greater flexibility. In my experience standards tend to inhibit flexibility. Have students who are really interested in a topic not included in the standards? Sorry, no time for that- it's not in the standards.
  2. Content mastery. This is one of those bold recommendations that I love. Essentially, they support the idea that as soon as a student shows mastery of a topic they can move on to a new topic. 13 years in a classroom does not necessarily make an education. In this model, students would be able to advance more quickly or more slowly depending on their individual content mastery- they wouldn't have to wait until the end of the year to move on to the next topic. This is essentially standards-based grading on systemic steroids. However, they fall short on proposing what School would look like under this system. How would mastery be determined? How does it impact the organization of classes at schools? These are big questions that need some serious thought for this to be taken seriously.

2. Make it Personal

This thread focuses on creating student-centric learning environments. Of any of the 10 sections, I like these recommendations the most. The two main ideas in this section:

  1. Advance students based on mastery. This restates some ideas from the last section. I still like it. They're still vague on details, offering only, "Establish flexible work schedules," and "Allow credits to be awarded based on mastery." I have a hard time visualizing how this would work in reality, but perhaps that's because I've spent the last 27 years in the existing system. I'm worried by the recommendation to develop a variety of assessments and projects to allow students to demonstrate mastery. This sounds like they'd be state-standardized affairs, which if they're anything like existing state-standardized activites, would be horrible. These should be developed locally (while being shared publicly for other educators) based on individual student needs.
  2. Flexible learning environments. Yes. Please recognize that plenty of valuable learning takes place outside school. The integration of this informal learning with our formal education is much needed. This should go beyond counting a family trip to the Grand Canyon as an educational experience. If a student can diagnose and fix a car's electrical system, spending three weeks in a classroom learning about basic series and parallel circuits is a waste of their time. Schools should partner with and validate our students' out of school educational experiences.

3. Start with Early Childhood

This isn't my area of expertise, but I think the proposal to provide quality preschool for all children starting at the age of three is one of the biggest no-brainers in education reform. The payoff to society don't manifest for nearly two decades, but there is a seeming wealth of research that suggests preschool is a very good thing. I have some concerns with the recommendations similar to "Develop a system of accountability for providing language-rich, challenging, developmentally appropriate and engaging reading and mathematics curricula." The focus on reading and math smacks of No Child Left Behind, and suggests an emphasis on tightly structured learning environments. In the words of Alfie Kohn:

...the results are striking for their consistent message that a tightly structured, traditionally academic model for young children provides virtually no lasting benefits and proves to be potentially harmful in many respects.

4. Retool Assessments and Accountability

Now we're getting into some meat. The CAPSS report suggests standardized testing should be de-emphasized. I'd be willing to bet they'd suggest eliminating standardized tests as we know them were it not for the current national education environment. Props to them for that.

Here's a selected summary of their suggestions: (1) Provide a variety of assessment formats, (2) Assess students as they're ready to be assessed (instead of everyone at the same time), (3) Get assessment results back to students & teachers quickly so they inform instruction, and (4) Make the goals of all assessment transparent. It seems like they're saying one thing here. Yup, it's Standards-Based Grading.

In fact, they do mention SBG by name in this section, but they recommend making it "part of assessments." I'm a fan of SBG (as evidenced by previous posts), and I think this is a stellar recommendation.

I do have some hesitations with their recommendations, despite their SBG-like nature. For one, it's pretty clear from the language used they're not discussing day-to-day classroom assessment. They're discussing a new form for state standardized2 tests. I'm unclear on what this would look like, but it does sound like an improvement over the current system, though I'm skeptical it would come to pass in this improved manner. Another hesitation rests on the description of incentives for high performing schools. The report clearly recommends moving away from punitive measures, yet in my mind, providing incentives to high-performing schools is nearly indistinguishable from punitive measures against low-performing schools. Finally, the report lists subject areas for "base academic accountability." I take that to mean, "These are the subjects that will be assessed," or perhaps more clearly, "These are the subjects we think are important (things that are valued are assessed)." Notably absent are the arts and physical education- meaning the cuts to art and phys. ed. programs we see happening today are likely to continue were these measures put into place.

5. Offer More Options and Choices

Or, the section with the title that most poorly represents its contents. A better section title? "Consolidate School Districts." Their basic argument seems to be that having the current (supposedly high number of) 165 Connecticut districts creates an environment where it is difficult to align state and local initiatives, is economically inefficient, and fosters racial and ethnic isolation. While I agree that you can save some money by consolidating services like busing or food service, you also lose a connection with the community when the district encompasses many, many communities. Having worked in both small and large districts, the small district was much more connected to and valued by the community3. It may be more expensive to have small community districts- and that's not a small obstacle- but it would be worth it. It should be noted that reworking the state education system in the manner recommended by this report would also be expensive. In addition smaller districts would help schools be more flexible, personal, and transparent. Those adjectives would be a fair summary of the recommendations of this entire report, so why include this section?4

6. Reform Leadership

This section makes a lot of recommendations about the relationship between the State Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education as well as the roles of school boards and superintendents. That's a little bit outside my area of expertise, but I do like this statement from the introduction to the section:

Currently, organization and policy making for education are based on bureaucratic assumptions of hierarchy, centralized decision making, standardization and inspection. These characteristics limit individual discretion, depress creativity and foster stasis, not change.

That certainly describes my experience teaching in Connecticut. Despite completing my Master's in Secondary Education project by designing and implementing a student-centric, student-driven project5, I was told I couldn't continue the project unless all the science teachers wanted to use it. That's not exactly how one fosters innovation and creativity...

7. Boost Quality

This is a huge section with 26 recommendations for action ranging from incentives for attracting quality teachers, to improving teacher education and professional development, to revamping teacher tenure as we know it. I'm going to limit my analysis to the recommendations for professional development and teacher evaluation. I think restructuring the current tenure system is a major issue that deserves discussion, but that'll have to happen in another post so it doesn't turn this already lengthy review into a ridiculously long review.

  1. Professional development for teachers.
    • The report (rightly, in my opinion) makes many recommendations related to preparing pre-service teachers and helping new teachers grow as educators. One of my favorite recommendations suggests structuring a teacher's first year in the classroom as an internship with regular coaching and mentoring by master teachers. If it were up to me, I'd have new teachers carry half of a teaching load, giving them plenty of time during the day to observe other teachers, review and revamp instruction and assessment with a mentor, and generally work to improve their craft. Likewise, the mentors should have a reduced teaching load so they have time to both observe and meet with their mentees during the school day. The current system where exactly zero time is allocated for new teachers to review and reflect on their time in the classroom is a horrible model if we want new teachers to show improvement.
    • A second recommendation states that districts should provide professional learning opportunities for teachers as a part of their regular job- and schedules should be configured to give teachers time to collaborate with their peers. Again, I agree. If you value professional learning and improvement, you should schedule time for it- not make it only something teachers do on their own time (which most do, but it's such a valuable thing schools should be purposefully providing opportunities for their teachers). However, a word of warning: I've taught in a school where the schedule was changed to provide teachers with 70 minutes of "collaboration time" each week. Teachers (including myself) were genuinely excited for this time to share lessons, have quick professional development sessions, and critique instruction and assessment. Instead, it was mandated from above that the "collaboration time" be used solely to analyze student standardized test-prep results. While I understand the importance of standardized tests in our current system, the cost was the loss of time for teachers to share their expertise with each other, learn how to effectively integrate technology, and design cross-curricular projects- all things teachers were excited to use that time to do. The moral of the story is that simply having collaboration time in the schedule doesn't mean it's being used effectively.
  2. Teacher evaluation. As it is, the teacher evaluation system as I've known it is in need of reform. Last year I was observed by an administrator three times- each observation lasting approximately 70 minutes. Outside these official observations, administrators spent about 30 minutes in my classroom throughout the year. Okay, so that's a total of 240 minutes of observation for the entire school year by those who evaluate my performance. For some perspective, I taught four 70 minute classes each school day, and there are 180 school days per school year. That works out to 50,400 minutes of instructional time each school year. My evaluations were based on 240 out of those 50,400 minutes, or 0.48% of the total instructional time. It makes me nervous to think I'm being evaluated from such a position of ignorance6. The recommendations by the CAPSS include creating a standards-based evaluation system with regular performance reviews and including peer review as part of the performance review. As long as "regular performance reviews" includes frequent, informal observations by evaluators and "including peer review" can be expanded to provide students and parents a voice in the evaluation, then I think the recommendations are on track.

8. Involve Students and Parents

Schools give a lot of lip service to including parents and students in the education process. I've never been part of school that has done a good job at doing this. I've known teachers who were really good individually at involving parents in their classrooms and other teachers who provide students a large voice in their own education. Beyond the classroom level the furthest extent I've seen a district or (high) school involve parents is to invite them to serve on committees with little influence that meet at times untenable for most working adults' schedules.

I have no problems with the recommendations in the CAPSS report...other of course than the fact that they're so non-specific that they're just platitudes: "Engage parents as partners in their children's education," or "Create structures that encourage family involvement." Yes, those are good things- but what suggestions do you have for how to do these things?

Let me offer a few quick suggestions.

  1. Use technology to make learning and school happenings more transparent. How? Have administrators start a blog or create an online newsletter that is updated regularly sharing goings on at the school. Share a photo a day. Invite teachers and students to do the same. Let students share their learning and reflections through student blogs (or evening events where students show off projects, etc.). In my mind, these things are the low hanging fruit- They're easy to implement and can cost nothing (depending on the tools used).
  2. Form collaborations with people in the community. Examples?
    • Maybe you have an assisted living community near the school. That's a community with a huge amount of knowledge, skill, and disposable time. Provide transportation to retirees so they can read, mentor, advise, or provide academic support to students.
    • Create a community garden on school grounds that "rents" plots to community members. Have students run the administration and marketing of the community garden. Sell the fruits (& vegetables) of the gardens' labor at a farmer's market in the school parking lot on the weekends.
    • Start a hackerspace in the school for the community. Students in class such as design, computer science, engineering, or any other class where they need to build stuff could be given free memberships and all other students can become members for discounted rates. Hackerspace members can access it all day. Let advanced students lead workshops for community members.

    Ideas like these take more effort and money- but in the end the rewards may pay for themselves. In essence, make the school a community learning center and let the community share its skills and knowledge with the students and vice versa.

9. Leverage Technology

This section is surprisingly short (considering the topic), and the recommendations focus around two main ideas:

  • Students and educators should have access to educational resources at any time. They don't quite recommend making broadband internet access a universal right, they do hint at it. I'd agree- though I'm not sure how that gets implemented. The inexpensive computers available today make computer ownership possible for even quite poor families. Paying $30-$50/month for internet access is much less likely to fit into tiny budgets. I also like the recommendation to "leverage online environments [...] for two-way communication, feedback, and collaboration..." Those environments are widely used today (in the form of social network sites), but more often than not are blocked by the schools themselves. It'd be nice to see schools embracing the power of these tools instead of hiding from them.
  • Keep the technology infrastructure up to date. Of course I agree with this, but it's a matter of money. Even though reasonably powerful computers are becoming less and less expensive, it's still a major cost. I'd like to see schools use free and open source software (Open Office instead of Microsoft Office, for instance) or free resources such as Google Apps for Education. These would help keep software costs down and allow for money to be allocated more wisely elsewhere.
  • .

    10. Continue the Transformation Process

    The report makes suggestions on how to avoid reform stagnation at both the state and district level. Several of the recommendations focus on items like changing statutes or education budgets. I don't have too much of an opinion on these items (due to my own relative ignorance on the topics more than anything else). However, two of the recommendations contain a similar idea that I find extremely attractive. Essentially, they say: Let innovators innovate.. One suggests districts can receive waivers for state statues and regulations to experiment with new ideas to improve student learning. The second recommends providing systems for teachers and principals to experiment with innovative practices.

    If you let smart people do creative things- even if those things are outside the state's or school's "mandates"- you'll end up with a ton of great ideas that help everyone in the end (see: Google's 20% time). Instead of alienating smart people and ultimately driving them out of the education sector, you'd be empowering them and attracting more innovation.

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    1. There isn't a single good definition for what I mean here, but think of the stereotypical adult-centric school or classroom. (back)
    2. Clearly the assessments would be less standardized than the existing Connecticut Academic Performance Test or Connecticut Mastery Test, but they'd still be the state standard. (back)
    3. I admit this could simply be due to specific situations in each respective district, but after hearing and reading about other people's similar experience, it seems to be a fair generalization. (back)
    4. For a smart person's perspective on this matter, let me recommend Deborah Meier's article, As Though They Owned the Place: Small Schools as Membership Communities (pdf alert). (back)
    5. That, to toot my own horn, was nominated for a Scholar of Excellence award by my advisor. (back)
    6. I readily admit any administrator worth their salt talks to students regularly and knows more about what goes on inside the classroom than simply what they see when they're personally in the classroom. I still think 0.48% is a pretty sorry basis for an evaluation. (back)

Where I Stand: IWBs

Interactive White Boards, that is. Those technology pieces which are popping up in classrooms all over the world as part of the "modernization" of schools. Let me go on the record. I'm not a fan.

My own district invested heavily- IWBs are now in every classroom in the district and are the focus of the only regular professional development being offered in the district. Since I've gained a reputation as the1 "tech savvy teacher" people are often surprised when I'm critical of them. This post is mostly a way for me to sit down and sort through my thoughts on the matter in the hope that it'll help me when I'm explaining my position to my shocked colleagues.

My story

I was notified that I would be receiving an IWB last fall. I didn't necessarily feel that it would improve what I do in my classroom, so I told the powers that be that I didn't really need one. From my perspective, I was trying to save the district a little money. While it wasn't quite so blunt, I was effectively told I didn't have a choice in the matter: I was getting an IWB.

Once it was installed I started playing around with it. I decided since this thing was already installed, I should try to find ways that it can improve the teaching and learning in the room2. I spent several hours importing existing slide decks, creating new slide decks, learning all the fancy moves, searching Promethean Planet, and so on. I even attended a training session offered at our school.

Perhaps I started out with a biased view that negatively affected my exploring, but in the end I felt less confident about the power of IWBs than when I started.

Things they aren't:

Collaborative. I don't get it. I've often seen and heard people describe them as a means to improve collaboration between students. The ability to collaborate on an IWB is hampered by the fact that only one person can use the board at a time. Since most of my classes are 20+ students and there's only one IWB, I struggle with how this can be used collaboratively. Maybe if I had 4-5 IWBs in my room I could make it happen. Most classrooms have had a large-form presentation technology that allows for limited simultaneous use for some time now (hint: chalk/white boards). At least on a whiteboard I could have 5+ students writing at the same time.

Student-centered. IWBs have been touted as helping to create "student-centered classrooms3." I couldn't disagree more strongly. If anything they help reinforce teacher-centered instruction by keeping the focus of the classroom at the front of the room- providing support for large group lectures at the expense of decentralized student groupings. Having students come to the front and drag tectonic plates around doesn't make it student-centered. Many people have pointed to the student-voting systems (ActiVOTE, etc.) as a way to make the technology more student centered. Sure, it's an improvement but, (1) it still promotes teacher-centered instruction, (2) they're not free, and (3) if the saving grace of IWBs are voting devices, couldn't you just do away with the IWB?

Proven effective. I'm not saying IWBs can't do cool things and perhaps even inspire otherwise technophobic teachers into trying out new things. However, many people4 cite Marzano's study as definitively proving IWBs significantly improve student achievement. I disagree, but don't take my word for it: Read Jon Becker's five-part peer review of the study. He knows much more about educational research than I probably ever will.

Transformative. There's been a lot of talk about how technology can transform the educational system through connecting students to information and experts and empowering students in their own learning5. As mentioned earlier, IWBs reinforce traditional teacher-in-the-front instruction. A side effect of this is that they stifle transformative technology from being implemented and promoted. IWBs are often touted because they can be adopted immediately without requiring any restructuring of instructional styles6- which seems to be in direct opposition to many people who justify them as promoting "21st Century skills."

Things they are:

Expensive. OK, so many technologies are  expensive (laptops, LCD projectors, etc.)- what I'm mainly concerned about is the dollars spent vs. improvement in learning. Most of the benefits in going from overhead projectors to IWBs seem to be focused around the LCD projector's ability to project what is on the computer screen. I haven't found much the IWB can add to instruction that I couldn't do with just an LCD projector. Laptops, in my opinion, offer opportunities for more instructional flexibility, student empowerment, and true-to-life experience than IWBs, and thus are preferable (see next).

Only found in classrooms. Unless our students become teachers, it is unlikely they'll ever use an IWB again after graduation. Laptops, on the other hand, are ubiquitous. Teaching students how to use laptops to follow their passions and fuel their learning are skills that can carry over after they leave school.

Things they shouldn't be

A public relations tool. Too often school boards and higher-ups see the shiny, fancy technology that are IWBs and see it as an easy way to improve the public perception of the school. Simply dropping an IWB into every classroom doesn't improve learning, and they shouldn't be sold as such.

Dismissed. While I'm obviously not a big fan of IWBs, I find myself getting upset when I hear teaching simply dismissing them without first looking into what they are and how they might be used. This probably has little to do with the IWB itself than the attitude it betrays. The reason behind my dislike IWBs (at least I tell myself) is because I've spent time investigating their pros and cons- not simply because they're "different" or "new."

Your opinion?

Many of you have experience with this issue and have differing opinions. If you are a big fan, please explain your position to me. I'd really like for IWBs to be a game-changer, I'm just not seeing it right now.

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  1. I'm ready to be a tech-savvy teacher instead of the tech savvy teacher.     (back)
  2. I mean, the Kool-Aid was already in my cup, I just needed to sip it, right?     (back)
  3. Try some Google searches to find multiple examples of this.     (back)
  4. Local administrators, Promethean, other IWB zealots.     (back)
  5. Pardon the gross oversimplification.     (back)
  6. for example, see page 5 in the preview of The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution. I'll admit that IWBs as an easy way of getting teachers to use technology might be their biggest benefit. I'm just not sure it's a cost effective method.     (back)