Sunday, December 5, 2010

SMARTBoards vs Tablet PC

One of my colleagues recently got a Tablet PC (IBM ThinkPad) to use in his class.  He teaches senior math and physics and is quite interested in using new technologies at school.  There was discussion among the math department about getting another one, or getting a SMARTBoard instead. So we had a little 'field trip' last week to a neighbouring middle school to see their smartboards in action.  Nearly every classroom in the school has a smartboard, so one of the teachers their kindly gave us a quick overview of how they work, the systems required, the software and an introduction to what you can do with them.  It was an interesting idea and one of our teachers is very keen to get one.

Me... not so much.  One of the benefits that the presenter and our colleague was promoting was "you can get kids up to the board and doing stuff with the smartboard!".  In my experience, when a kid is in grade 6/7/8, going up to the board is COOL!  But when you're 15, um, no way dude.  Rarely do I have more than 5 hands up in class to come up to the board to write on it, I don't know necessarily that this number would increase significantly if I had a smartboard.  Teenagers will be teenagers.  Add to that our district is moving over to linux/ubuntu systems in the next year, and the smartboard technology does not work will with that (mind you, neither will the tablet PC especially) and I'm not ready to jump on the smartboard bandwagon for high schools.  Do any of you use a smartboard at high school? Are the students more engaged in lessons when you use one?

More interestingly though, was what one of my other colleagues starting talking about.  "Well it would be great, but I'd really like to be trained on this. Get a trainer in, spend lots of time with us walking through how to do things, you know because I don't have time and I can't figure this stuff out on my own. It takes too long".  Which I think confirms for me what I have thought about teachers and technology for a while: there are people who are happy to muck around with new technology, learn how to use it, make mistakes, try new things... and there are people who are not.  The former group are those who are going to embrace anything new, and roll with it, and with the way technology is changing in society and schools this is an essential skill.  These are the kinds of people that I want to work with and learn from.  It's not about having an 'expert' come in, it's about everyone becoming an expert and sharing the knowledge that they gain with each other.  I tried to point this last point out to my colleague and she said "But that's not fair to you and the people who spent all the time learning it, I shouldn't be bothering you about this".  My point was that we all need to learn and share, not just one or two and the rest just get to be sponges.

More and more new technologies are going to be coming out in the future in general and specifically in schools.  How do we get teachers to realize that they have to get on board and start trying new things? To not expect 'training'? To get in there and muck around with new stuff?

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