Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interactive Whiteboards for Technophobes

NOTE: THIS IS NOT MY STANDARD HISTORY BLOG, BUT PART OF A PAPER I PRESENTED TO ENCOURAGE HISTORY TEACHERS TO EXPAND THEIR TEACHING REPERTOIRE. I PROMISED TO MAKE IT AVAILABLE ON LINE THOUGH WITHOUT ILLUSTRATIONS UNTIL I CAN GET A PROPER VERSION POSTED ON THE HTAV WEBSITE...

A presentation for the History Teachers Association of Australia conference (July 2009) by Nigel Davies of Medieval Education.

The first thing I ask when talking to a new group of teachers, is how many schools have interactive whiteboards? I then ask them to keep their hand up if they have regular access to these board’s, and then to keep it up if they feel that they have had adequate access to training. I usually get about 70 or 80% response to the first question, dropping to 40% of the second question, and finishing with less than 10% for the third question. In fact my staff were recently presenting at the school which had an entire wing of interactive whiteboards, but when we got students up to actually use them hands on they were amazed because their teachers had only ever use them as data projectors.

One of the reasons there has not been better take-up of this new technology in the classroom is that teachers are frightened of looking like a fool in front of their much more technologically literate students. In fact, this is missing part of the point of these new tools. Teachers should be willing to go into the classroom and ask the students to help them explore the new toys. I can pretty much guarantee students will be keen to play.

The starting point is to be able to put together two or three simple pages that add value to a lesson. Note, I’m specifically not suggesting that the interactive whiteboard be the entire lesson. Instead, I suggest that you use the interactive whiteboard to engage students in the lesson, and to assess their understanding of it.

My preference when you start is always to choose a topic that you know well, preferably with video clips or props that you have used before. That way you know what you are teaching and you know what information you want the students to get back from the lesson. So the use of the interactive whiteboard becomes simply an issue of designing a couple of pages to measure whether the students understand that information.

Measuring responses does not involve complex design on an interactive whiteboard. Usually it involves a simple set of multiple choice questions that can be ticked or crossed; or a simple graph that students can add points or lines to; or a simple map that students can add written or drawn information to; or a timeline that people can move dates around on; or any other form of feedback device where our students can take turns to make choices that the rest of the class then gets to vote on and discuss. In practical terms, a teacher is ready to use interactive whiteboard technology when they know how to add some lines or dots or dates to a page. Nothing more complex than that is required.

The sample that I give below is taken from one of our popular topics called “A Woman’s Place in Western History”. After giving the students a brief discussion about the various categories of subjection or equality, I present some with a grid where they can take turns trying to decide how women’s status changed over the centuries. Usually I pick a ‘volunteer’ - often the person who seems to be paying least attention - and asked them to move one dot. I then get the class to vote on who agrees, and ask some of those people to give reasons why; followed by who disagrees, with more reasons. Sometimes I go as far as adjusting the dot upwards or downwards by having people drop their hands when they think is that the correct point.
Usually if I give them a grid that looks like A (below) to start with…

INSERT GRAPH OF YEARS 0 TO 2000, WITH 8 DEFINED PERIODS TO ASSESS WOMENS STATUS, FROM PROPERTY, TO ADJUNCT, TO JUNIOR PARTNER, TO EQUAL. (THE PERIODS WOULD BE ROMAN, DARK AGES, GERMANIC, FEUDAL, BASTARD FEUDAL, RENAISSANCE, ENLIGHTENMENT, AND 'MODERN' - POST 1800)

They give me back agreed that looks like B...

STUDENTS ALWAYS DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE FROM LOW STATUS TO STEADILY IMPROVING...

Of course the sub point of my topic here, is to try and convince students that history is not linear. So after they had agreed on something that approaches a straight line, I move on to demonstrating a more accurate (if somewhat simplified) perception of how history really developed for women in Europe - C:

I REVEAL A LINE THAT PEAKS IN VIKING PERIOD (WHEN WOMEN HAD RIGHTS SUCH AS DIVORCE ON THEIR OWN TERMS), DECLINES STEADILY UNTIL 1750'S, AND CORKSCREWS UPWARDS THEREAFTER...

The rest of the lesson can then develop around whatever evidence I wish them to absorb. I like to include some video clips, or props, or reference to websites or photocopied texts.

Naturally I remove the above screen before we break into discussion groups and then get them to try and reconstruct it at the end of the session, with each group having to give a reason for where they put the dot for their period.

You will notice that my preparation time for this lesson was to grab a graph from the resources available on any interactive whiteboard, add a dozen dates and descriptive words, and copy eight little red dots. I then copy the screen three times. The first page is A, for them to adjust as seen in example B; the second I’ve pre-adjust to look like C; and the third is a repeat of the A, to see how they rebuild it at the end of the class.

This use of interactive whiteboard is not technically difficult. It takes very little time or skill to put together screens such as this to back up a good existing lesson plan. What it does do, is make a great difference to the attention, and retention, of the class.
More students, with more learning styles, are willing to have a go when you use an interactive whiteboard. More importantly, “volunteers” can be dragged out from the less attentive students, with less emotional stress than in a normal classroom environment. Most importantly, using a simple technique like this - and lots of voting - will let you know during the lesson whether the point has been understood. You will not need to do follow-up lessons, set tests, or spend time doing marking. You find out that there and then whether you are had an effective lesson, and you fix it on the spot if necessary.

Of course this is only a starting point. High end users hardly ever use the proprietary software, having moved on to having students assemble online resources to answer whatever issues arise in class. But baby steps…

Properly used, interactive whiteboards are easy, fun, save time, and make a teacher’s life much, much, simpler.

3 comments:

  1. An alternative to the interactive whiteboards are Glass Dry Erase Boards at www.GlassDryEraseBoard.com. Great for the corporate clientele. One of a kind and magnetic, too!

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  2. How about an article on the curtural and historic differences between Australia and New Zealand.

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