Great Ideas in education
I recently read one of Bill Ferriter's posts on how Interactive Whiteboards (also called "Smart Boards" in some circles -- here I will refer to them as "IW's" for short) are a waste of money. He made some interesting points about how IW's reinforce a teacher-centered model of education.
I had the opportunity to learn AND teach physics in a classroom that included an IW. In both experiences, I found that using an IW made sharing notes immensely easier -- students were able to easily access the notes online in the same format they had seen in class. That said, I'm not sure that having class notes posted online helps the students to learn better. For that matter, I'm not sure having the teacher give notes in the first place helps students to learn. It's certainly the way things have been done in the past -- it's the way I learned how to do physics, and here I am now with a bachelor's degree in my favorite subject -- but is it necessarily the best way to improve student comprehension? I'll have to revisit the topic of note taking at a later time...
In the meantime, I have to agree with Ferriter's argument that IW's take the traditional model of education and put it in a digital context. In other words, having the IW's doesn't really change the way we teach, it just changes the way we lecture and present. Excellent teaching, however, is a LOT more than just lecturing. In fact, the best teachers I've ever had were the ones that let us (the students) do most of the thinking. Based on my experiences with IW's, I must say that staying at the front of the room all the time makes it hard to give students opportunities to do most of the thinking. What else can a teacher do, though? I mean, with only so much time in the day and with so many things to "cover" in a class, surely we have to some amount of lecturing, right? Especially in physics, where students need to see how problems are solved before they can do it themselves, right?
I don't think we physics teachers have to lecture as much as we might expect. In fact, I think our kids could benefit a lot from using the old-fashioned whiteboards and giving us teachers a break from the front of the room. Take a look at some of the ideas that Kelly O'Shea has implemented, for example. She's got kids actively engaged in collaborative, evaluative, critical thinking activities where they are using mini-whiteboards as a way to visualize and share their thoughts. I've also used mini-whiteboards in my classes and found them to be an asset in formative assessments of my students' learning.
Interactive Whiteboards are a lot of fun to play with and can certainly do some amazing things, but I think the miniature, non-electronic versions do a lot more for my students' learning than the $2,000 variety.