Life and soul of the party

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Jack Kenny argues that the data projector is much more deserving of the central position in a classroom than the whiteboard

The projector, not the interactive whiteboard, is at the hub of the presentation work going on in so many classrooms. Want to transform the classroom? The projector is the first essential.

Watching lessons where interactive whiteboards are used gives an interesting perspective. Sometimes the board is used well, but too often the full potential is not exploited. The key word is "interactive". The fact is that you can probably be as interactive without a board as you can be with one.

In the first instance it is important to define what you mean by interactivity. Who is the interactivity for? The teacher? The children? Is this interactivity aimed at bringing out one or two children during the course of a lesson so that they can touch the board while the rest sit passively? If this is the case, then isn't that a pretty shallow view of interactivity? Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens in many classrooms. Surely interactivity should be richer than that?

Whiteboards can encourage passivity. True, television has done that. You watch some classes and the teachers, enraptured by their own fluency, can forget the art of questioning. Children can calculate that the odds of being asked to trundle out to the board to touch a link or drag a word into a gap are so remote that they feel safe in retreating into day-dreaming.

Something else is needed.

This is where the projector comes in. Of course, a plasma screen has a superior image, does not need expensive bulbs and does not have a beam to avoid. But where the projector scores is that you can adjust the size of the image to the room. Size of image does matter to children, particularly for literacy. The large image packs a visual punch. It also means, and this should not be underestimated, that the school has kudos in the eyes of the pupils for having a technology that is not yet seen in many homes.

The second essential is the screen. You don't have to wait until you can afford a board. A great deal can be accomplished with a plain screen, even a white wall. A teacher with a class sitting with a laptop discussing an essay that is projected on to a screen, making changes as the discussion proceeds, is highly interactive.

Look at the tools that can be used in conjunction with the projector radiating out from its central hub. The radio mouse, the infrared keyboard, the Tablet PC, voting slates and the Class Pad wireless graphics pad that a teacher can hand around the class all contribute to drawing in more students, and giving more interactivity. Maybe the most effective of all is the least technological: a marker pen and laminated card for each student on which they can write their response to questions. This will involve the whole group.

Consider how much more you can achieve with a Tablet PC linked wirelessly to a projector and a simple screen. The Tablet means that the teacher is free to roam the room and hand it to the most appropriate child. This is putting interactivity firmly in the hands of the student and the teacher.

You could even try adding RM's Class Pad to the technological mix of computer and screen. Site it in the middle of the teaching group, and the wireless pad - which uses Bluetooth technology - will give teachers and children the ability to use the pen like a mouse to annotate and highlight a projected image anywhere in the room.

However you arrange the room around the hub of the projector, you will not get away from the fact that content, not style, is king. Stating the obvious, the best set-up is going to be dependent on the quality of the content that is run. One disturbing feature is that many teachers seem to feel that the kind of work that would be derided if it was in a textbook gains respectability when it is displayed on a board. Tired old worksheets do not become scintillating and stimulating when they are projected large and in full colour.

Shirley Hackett who leads the ICT team in Dudley, where they have more data on the impact of ICT than almost anywhere else, remarked recently: "With interactive whiteboards, what we are seeing is an impact on teaching. We have not yet seen the impact on learning." Challenging! Could that be because the use of the interactive whiteboard that we have seen so far confines the interactivity largely to the teacher?

Whiteboards

BulletPoint Stand A60X22

Tel: 0845 606 7600

www.interactivewhiteboards.co.uk

Cambridge-Hitachi M80

Tel: 0845 606 7600

www.bullet-point.co.uk hitachiboard.html

Espresso Education B82

Tel: 020 8237 1200

www.espresso.co.uk

Interactive Education W30

Tel: 0870 043 4024

www.interactive-education.co.uk

Interactive Whiteboard Company Q40

01275 815910

www.iwb.co.uk

Pearson Knowledge Box X34

Tel: 0870 607 3777

www.pearsoned.co.uk

Promethean V60

Tel: 0870 2413194

www.promethean.co.uk

RM X10

Tel: 08709 086969 (Primary),

08709 086868 (Secondary)

www.rmplc.co.uk

SMART X26G40

Tel: 020 8213 2100

www.smartboard.co.uk

Whiteboard user tips

* You don't have to use the interactive whiteboard for the whole lesson

* Use the board for things that an overhead projector or a blackboard

cannot do

* Ensure that the height of the board is governed by the height of your

pupils

* The font that you use should be large enough to be seen at the back of

the class

* Try using a wireless keyboard so that you can work away from the screen

and so can your pupils

* When you construct work, try to create it so that it fits on to the

visible page to avoid scrolling

* Don't just put re-versioned worksheets up for display. Try to make the

material dynamic

* Page design and balance of colours is even more important than when the

material was on paper

* Poor worksheets remain that even when projected

* Ensure that interactivity means that all students are involved

* Use work written for a whole class, rather than work designed for an

individual user

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