A great alternative to Interactive Whiteboards

In this post Ian McNaught, Director of e-learning at Majan College reports on the college’s recent experience with an Interactive Whiteboard iPad app. You can see an example of this technology in action in the video below.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Interactive Whiteboards (IWB). On the one hand, it’s not hard to see they genuinely have some great potential in the classroom and there is plenty of research reporting them to be popular with staff and students (curiously “popular” is a more common adjective used to describe them rather than “effective”!). However, they are beset with two major problems: 1) They are very expensive and 2) they are not portable.

Why we’ve never invested in Interactive Whiteboards

Being expensive, it is rarely possible or sensible to equip every teaching room with the equipment, but because they’re not portable  access to them is limited (I realise there are some portable options, but because of the time they take to set them up before a class can start I don’t count these). Using them effectively takes some practice and experience, therefore easy access to them is essential. Unless every single classroom is equipped with the technology, a teacher may be in a position of having to plan two lessons, one for when they’re timetabled in an IWB equipped classroom and another for when they’re not, or settling for the lowest common denominator and failing to get the best out of the technology and relegating the IWB to being a $3000 PowerPoint clicker! If the IWB classrooms are under heavy demand (as you would expect) when can teachers get access to the technology to practice?

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

For these reasons and more, we’ve resisted buying IWB’s, despite being attracted to some of their features. Now however, we’ve discovered technology which is much more affordable, completely portable and offers all the major features of an IWB (plus a couple of unique ones of its own). This technology is called Doceri, it comes in two halves – a desktop application (for PC or Mac, costs $30) and a (free) iPad app. At a basic level Doceri works as a remote desktop application allowing you to control the screen of the PC you are wirelessly connected to (usually the one connected to the projector), but beyond this it allows you to control PowerPoint,  annotate on the screen, create diagrams and graphs and take pictures using the iPad camera (or importing from the gallery). It also allows you to record your presentations using the built in microphone making it the easiest lecture recording applications I’ve come across.

While there are certainly a few areas where a true IWB would be better than Doceri, many other factors tip the balance in Doceri’s favour. Below is a summary of the biggest advantages Doceri has over an IWB.

Cost

Even if you were to buy an iPad for every classroom or teacher, it would be substantially cheaper than equipping the same number of classrooms with IWB’s, plus you have all the other functionality built into an iPad. Even with a limited number of iPads, staff can get a lot of use out of it due to how portable an iPad is.

Flexibility

IWB’s are limited to projector screens small enough for a user to reach to all four corners. Doceri has no such limitation, it can be used in small teaching rooms and huge lecture theatres.

Access

Staff who have their own iPad can download the free iPad app and use this in any classrooms with the $30 software installed. This software can even be used unlicensed and for free, but with a watermark on the screen. This means staff can practice using the software in the comfort of their office or living room, rather than having to practice out of hours in an empty classroom.

Interactivity

Despite their names, IWB’s are designed to enhance rather than replace what is a very teacher-centric pedagogy. All the action takes place at the front of the classroom and students who wish to interact have to walk to the front, taking valuable time out of the session and leaving out those who may not have the confidence to “perform” in front of their peers. In contrast, an iPad can be handed round students without them getting out of their seats and more students can participate without taking time away from the learning process.

We’d love to hear of any other innovative technology people are using in their classrooms to enhance the students learning experience.

Contextualized teaching and learning

A lot has been written in the ESL literature about taking into account the social and cultural context of the learners, however very little has been said about the pedagogical implications of contextualized teaching and learning. Education has never been a sterile endeavor, separated from society or from the culture in which it takes place. In fact, the purpose of education is to form responsible, highly skilled members of society hence the idea that cultural and social values do not belong in the classroom is proving to be unrealistic and even detrimental to the success of the teaching and learning process. Nevertheless, incorporating cultural and social knowledge in education remains a challenge particularly in an era of intense globalization and massive standardization. This challenge is even greater in the case of English language teaching where oftentimes internationally published teaching and learning materials have to be adapted to the local context. So how can an international language be taught effectively by incorporating the local context? Here are a few ideas:

a) Go “glocal”. This means that international materials can be adapted to the context by association, comparison and contrast. Thus when a global issue such as pollution for example is discussed it can be referred to as both a global and a local problem by providing examples from the international and local arena.

b) Develop a cultural awareness.  As educators we have the duty to keep educating ourselves about the culture and society we work in. This in turn helps students relate to the issues we bring to the classroom and enhances their motivation and involvement. It also ensures the building of good rapport between teacher and learners.

c) Go for gradual exposure. Education is about learning new things and broadening minds but this cannot happen overnight. Research into retention in learning has shown that activating prior knowledge also known as schemata is the first step in introducing new ideas and involving learners in discussions on global issues.

Finally, learners are very much anchored in the 21st century which means they expect more from their educators in terms of individual attention, knowledge of their learning styles and the use of technology. Education is no longer about knowledge but about what one does with knowledge, how it is used towards one’s personal and social development. Learners have the right to know why what they are being taught is important or why it should matter to them hence grounding education in a local context while keeping a global outreach is the way forward. Contextualizing teaching and learning is about remembering that we, either educators or learners are ultimately citizens of the world, the different bits and pieces of a global tossed salad  and not the unidentifiable ingredients of a melting pot.