With tech, there's no turning back for teachers

Tech is now allowing teachers to write on their whiteboards without turning their back to the class, writes Paul Gardner
20th January 2021, 12:32pm
Paul Gardner


With tech, there's no turning back for teachers

Edtech: Screen-mirroring Technology Allows Teachers To Annotate Their Whiteboard While Still Facing The Class, Writes This Teacher

As part of my daily wander around the school, I had found myself watching a marvellous biology lesson when something fundamental struck me: the teacher was not turning around to write on the board any more.

Instead, they were writing directly on to their tablet and it was appearing on the whiteboard behind them, while also appearing on the screen of learners engaging remotely.

As I thought about this more, it dawned on me that, without realising it, a small but notable change in the age-old teaching dynamic had occurred. One with potentially huge impacts.

Teachers facing the class

Let me explain a little more. In our setting in Dubai teachers have been hosting classes on school premises since the beginning of September. 

However, a proportion of students have chosen to access lessons from home. No doubt teachers across the world are used to a similar set-up, catering for those in-school and at those home simultaneously.

Because of this we have relied heavily on our use of Microsoft Teams and OneNote to ensure we can provide a near identical learning experience for remote students and those in class.

This means they regularly share their screens and when they need to write something on the board for all to see, they use the Microsoft Whiteboard function on their tablets for those at home and mirror this on the traditional projected whiteboard in the classroom, directly from their tablet.

So, such as in this biology lesson, if a teacher is annotating the make-up of a cell or creating a diamond 9 causition on their device, they're doing it while facing the class, not facing the board.

Is this a big deal? I think it is.

More chances to engage

This small difference has a marginal but noticeable impact on relationships and feedback.

When staff are able to look up between small annotations or marks on their whiteboard, they are able to read the body language of their class far more easily than when performing a full body turn when at a traditional board.

A split-second squint of an eye, a shuffle in their chair or the crossing of a student's arms can often be a missed signal if you are facing away from your class.

A timely intervention at that point can be crucial for students who frankly tend to spend far more energy hiding their lack of understanding than trying to address it themselves.

In spending time in other lessons where teachers are now always facing the front, I have noticed that teachers, who are skilled in picking up on these small signals, are indeed spotting them, identifying the misconceptions and addressing these issues in the moment.

And of course, this helps to reduce the opportunity for distraction among pupils when the teacher's back is turned - however briefly.

Teachers' passion for their subject area is never more evident than when in the midst of a detailed explanation - whether this be explaining the parts of a volcano or annotating a passage of a key literacy text.

This is something I've picked up on in my observations.

This isn't lost on students - they see it, too, and it helps them to buy in. There is a far better chance the students will be engaged and hooked into what the teacher is saying, and ask questions.

Marginal gains through edtech

Now, you may be thinking that this is hardly revolutionary stuff - and you'd be right.

However, this is about marginal gains. Anything that boosts engagement, helps us to identify misunderstanding or confusion and improves behaviour is to be welcomed.

Now these changes won't be huge and they won't happen overnight. But that's OK. You can think of it like an ISA: all you have to do is wait for this to mature in your school.

The pandemic has caused disruption in education in a way that hasn't happened for a long time. The introduction of technology to redefine learning, in the absence of traditional classrooms, has created change.

Maybe not on the ground in your school, but in the minds of teachers and leaders about how we do things.

So when schools inevitably do adopt the use of interactive and transformational software either in place of or alongside exercise books in your school, this is an incidental gain you won't have to work for.

For me, these benefits that we have "accidentally" uncovered are the silver linings of the pandemic and will benefit us for many years into the future as technology becomes an increasing part of the traditional teaching experience.

Paul Gardner is secondary school deputy headteacher at DIS Dubai. He tweets at @DubaiDeputy

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