Are teachers on (white)board?
Last year the Education Ministry started a rollout of over 1,800 interactive whiteboards. Over a five-year period all primary and secondary state schools will have a whiteboard in each classroom.
The interactive whiteboard is a large touch-sensitive board that, in combination with a computer and a digital projector, can facilitate interactivity and student engagement.
Many hailed the introduction of this device as a positive asset in line with the e-learning strategy for Malta. Others see this as yet another hurried initiative that imposed yet another thing for teachers to do.
The interactive whiteboard has the potential of engaging students to become active participants in learning. It can support students through presentations of multimedia content that aids in information processing and retention.
As with any resource used in the teaching and learning process there are leadership implications that need to be taken into consideration. Research shows there is much more to the effective use of this technology than simply ensuring teachers have access to this equipment.
Research carried out by Derek Glover and colleagues at Keele University highlights some important implications of using interactive whiteboards in the classroom so as to ensure there is a link between technology and pedagogy. In this research the authors point to three progress-ive stages to help develop the concept of interactivity:
• Supported didactics – At this stage, teachers were observed making some use of the interactive whiteboard but only as a visual support to the lesson, not as an integral strategy for conceptual development. Here, the teacher is the focus of the classroom following traditional approaches with minimal pupil input.
• Interactive – The interactive whiteboard is used to incorporate elements of the lessons that challenge pupils to think by using a variety of verbal, visual and aesthetic stimuluses. Here the interactive whiteboard becomes the focal point of pupil attention and used primarily to illustrate, develop and test discrete concepts.
At this stage the interactive whiteboard is integrated into the teaching and learning but its full potential has not been developed. There is also evidence of collaboration between teachers.
• Enhanced interactivity – It is at this stage where teachers exhibit a change of thinking and seek to use the interactive whiteboard as an integral part of most teaching.
It is at this level of use that teachers integrate concept and cognitive development in a way that exploits the interactive capacity of the technology.
Teachers are aware of the techniques available, feel competent to use it and are able to develop lessons in which pupils are given the opportunity to respond to the interactive whiteboard’s stimulus as individuals, pairs or groups, with enhanced active learning.
This technology is used to prompt discussion, explain processes and develop interactive activities and testing these by varied applications. At this stage teachers use it to support their differentiation efforts with students and seek to use it to create opportunities for pupils to move around and interact with their peers.
It is also used to link the verbal and visual elements of the lesson with the spatial (or 3-D) aspects to better represent the dynamics of the data presented.
For teachers to progress to the enhanced interactivity stage, school leaders need to invest in appropriate training opportunities.
It is not enough to invest millions of euros in buying the equipment and giving basic (three hours) of training. One needs to ensure that teachers are given one-on-one and group support to help them understand better how the technology can be used to support a pedagogy that puts the pupil at the centre.
It is also here that we move away from a top-down approach to teacher professional development to the model propounded by the Education Act that sees the colleges taking a more direct lead in nurturing the appropriate climate for ongoing professional learning for educators.
Research has highlighted the need for teachers to have a better understanding of how such technology can be helpful in individualising learning.
For this to be possible teachers need to better understand how pupils learn – how individuals best make sense of the world around them and then to develop the technical and pedagogical skills to use this and other resources to offer a range of responses to meet the individualised needs of the pupils under their care.
To avoid going back to an era, which we all hope remains in the past, leaders need to:
1. Introduce such initiatives in a gradual manner ensuring that teachers are given time to absorb the changes such technology entails;
2. Train a teacher in each school who can act as a technical reference point to colleagues when they need technical support;
3. Organise professional development that provide gradual and individualised coaching in the effective use of the resource linked to a whole-school understanding of the learning process, learning patterns and individual pupil needs;
4. Encourage teachers to assess the impact of the device on their pedagogy on a regular basis;
5. Allow pupils to use the board frequently to share their learning and to participate in the evaluation of their learning through the device.
While we believe this is a step in the right direction we need to ensure we have teachers on board so as not to abort good initiatives, and this can only be achieved if there is true leadership that supports them in their task of educating.
Teachers are not robots. We need to respect their individual pace and support them in every step forward. We need to ensure that in all we do we put the child at the centre, not the device.
Technology should be one of the tools in a repertoire of resources used by the teacher to support learners in their construction of knowledge and taking charge of their own learning.
Mr Calleja and Prof. Bezzina are from the University’s Department of Primary Education and Department of Education Studies respectively.