Advance screening

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Edison predicted that movies would replace text books. Gareth Mills wonders what he'd have made of whiteboards in this introduction to a five-page focus on projection technology and how it's best used in classrooms

When Edison filed the patent for the phonograph he had more than one idea about how it might be used. In an article from 1878 he listed some of the possible uses of his new invention. They included office dictation, talking books, teaching elocution, speaking clocks, preservation of endangered languages and distance learning. Some way down the list came the reproduction of music.

His invention, however, changed our view of the world. From the first wax cylinder to today's digital multitrack studios, the phonograph proved to be the first step in transforming the way in which we create, capture and listen to music.

The latest technologies finding their way into classrooms include interactive whiteboards and projection devices. Can we expect these new technologies to transform the way we approach teaching and learning? If we were to compile a list of possible uses, what might we include?

New technology often starts by imitating the old. The first movies were filmed stage plays. It's not surprising then, that our initial uses of the whiteboard sit comfortably with traditional models of the teacher as presenter. Yet even at this straightforward level these technologies can add value to classrooms. By incorporating rich multimedia content, such as video clips and animations, lessons can become more engaging and stimulating. Content can be made more accessible. An animation of a beating heart, for example, is easier to understand than a still picture. Dynamic presentation also helps students cope with more abstract concepts, such as the movement of molecules as a liquid is heated or cooled.

Creative teachers are already finding new ways to use the technology. Some describe the ability to annotate diagrams, pictures and charts as particularly useful. Others rave about the benefits of capturing brainstormed ideas to save and distribute to pupils. What's more the ability to create, share and re-use resources, while initially time-consuming, can ultimately help reduce workload. Research carried out by the BBC suggests that teachers welcome the ability to customise and re-purpose resources, so there's also a balance to be struck in terms of using "off-the shelf" software and creating DIY resources.

Interactive whiteboards, however, don't necessarily lead to interactive teaching. Anyone who has attended a conference and suffered the tedium of "death by animated bullet point" will know that technology itself does not necessarily eliminate the excesses of monotonous "chalk and talk" approaches. Interactive teaching should take a variety of approaches including explanation, demonstration, modelling and evaluation, it has to encourage involvement through questioning, dialogue and active participation.

The most powerful uses of technology often happen when you put the tools in the hands of learners. So think of the whiteboard as a tool for pupils as well as for teachers.

In one school I visited, pupils took photographs and short video clips of experiments they'd carried out in class. Groups compiled short trailers of their investigation which were used as starter activities in subsequent lessons. This acted as a powerful reminder to pupils by making connections to previous learning and setting the scene for the next lesson.

In another school, pupils used the projector to demonstrate a computer model. As they explored the model the pupils provided a running commentary describing the thinking behind their decision-making. By "thinking out loud" they encouraged others to focus on the nature of the thinking and not just the mechanics of running the software. This raised the quality of subsequent discussions.

ICT has always been used to modify and improve work. Gathering together exemplars of work for collective review and discussion can be effective when using a whiteboard. Illustrating good practice is a useful way to support assessment for learning strategies.

Every so often a new technology captures the imagination of teachers and provides a jump-off point for the wider application of ICT in their teaching. Past examples include media-rich CD-Roms or access to theinternet. One of the most reassuring pieces of emerging research is that the use of presentation technologies can inspire teachers to think about pedagogy and to incorporate a wider range of technology into their practice. Whiteboards can act as a Trojan Horse for a raft of innovative approaches to teaching and learning using ICT.

In an area often filled with extravagant claims it's useful to remember another Edison quote. In 1922 he predicted: "The motion picture is destined to revolutionise our educational system and in a few years supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks." We can all get it wrong.

Time will tell if the whiteboard will replace the blackboard but clearly it's already offering new ways to enhance learning.

Ultimately, as with all technology, it's the way that you use it that is most important and thanks to the legacy of the phonograph I can still hear a scratchy Jimmy Lunceford from 1939 singing "It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it... and that's what gets results!"

Gareth Mills is principal consultant for ICT at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority


* Make your teaching interactive: interactive whiteboards help but the teacher is still the catalyst

* Put the pupils in the driving seat, let them capture, prepare and present, as active participation makes for powerful learning and develops self-confidence

* Pick and mix; explore off-the-shelf resources for particular topics and involve pupils in creating DIY resources

* Scribble and annotate: use the "scribe"' facility to highlight key features of pictures, charts, maps, diagrams and text and then use annotations to bring together pupils' thoughts, views and ideas

* Save and share: build a library of resources to use in lessons and for independent work outside school WEBSITES

* ICT AdviceEnter "What is an Interactive Whiteboard?" into the search box on the home Becta

Enter "Purchasing Interactive Whiteboards" into the search box on the home page

* E-learning CentreUsing Interactive Whiteboards eclipseResourceswhiteboards.htm

* TeacherNetDetails on the Government's whiteboard initiative educationoverviewbriefing currentstrategyinteractivewhiteboards

* DfES Guidance for the Interactive Whiteboards Funding ict_activecomposite.cfm?partid=560

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