The Dangers of Visualisers

Let me ask you two questions. The first one is easy. How do you, as a teacher, use a visualiser? I’d imagine one might offer that it’s a great way to show the page of a school textbook or if one is embarrassed to admit you use textbooks, one might say it’s great for showing the whole class a piece of art or a science experiment. A teacher might even tell the story of the child who brought in a ladybird and how he was able to zoom into the jar and count its spots as a whole class. Others might say that it was a great tool for peer assessment, in that we can stick a piece of writing under the visualiser’s camera and the class can tear the pieces, critique, their classmate’s piece of work.

Image from Glow Scotland

The second question is a little harder. How do the children in your class use the visualiser as a learning tool? For me, there really isn’t an adequate answer.

In all the examples above, all children are engaging in the same visual stimulus be it a book, a science experiment or a piece of art. I would argue that better learning would take place without the visualiser in all these examples.

Starting with the science experiment, who is actively engaged in the experiment while the visualiser is being used? In most cases, the whole class is staring a a big screen and the teacher is at the helm doing the experiment. Sometimes, a teacher will call one or two children to the visualiser to join in. However, the majority of the class are still learning passively. They may as well be looking at a video. While it might be more work for the teacher, every child in the class should be actively engaged in science experiments, preferably in groups and preferably with a problem to solve.

What about the peer critiquing of a classmate’s piece of work? Why not let every child critique their peer’s work at the same time while the teacher walks around the room, questioning, prompting and providing the scaffolding for criticism? Why have the teacher in control of picking a piece of work that they like or dislike?

If you are using the visualiser as a way of magnifying the school textbooks… well… at least you’re saving paper. I won’t go into the whole argument around textbooks here.

As for our ladybugs, ants and spiders trapped in their 6-year-old captor’s jam jar, apart from having to go through the humiliation of seeing their body parts enlarged on a big screen, what use is the visualiser? In fairness, this is where this piece of equipment might have some merit. The visualiser can act as a stimulus for conversation and learning. Does this sound familiar?

It comes back to the projector.  For example, the value of a projector attached to a laptop with access to the Internet is that it opens up the whole world to students as a stimulus. The large image that the projector gives acts as a window to anywhere. This window should give children opportunities to want to learn more about what they see. I don’t believe it should be used to teach children some sort of lesson. The subtle difference between the window used for learning and teaching might be summed up in the following scenarios of the same lesson. This is a real life example I experienced at a conference where the participants had to use digital media to help children learn to solve a problem about litter. Both lessons started in exactly the same way.

The participants were going to show a video of a river in a Third World country. The river was filled with rubbish, the water was brown and foamy and there were a couple of rats scurrying around. Both groups wanted the children to see how this could happen in Ireland if we were not careful with littering.

The first group decided that they would make another video showing this. They went outside with a video camera and got someone to throw bits of paper on the ground. After a few minutes, the ground looked full of litter and they believed they had got the point across to children. They then added a couple of statements about how littering causes water pollution, vermin and so on and were satisfied with a lesson well wrapped up.

The second group intended to simply show the video. They then proposed that the class would be divided into groups and they would be given two tasks. First, they were asked to identify the problem in the video and how they thought this could have happened. Secondly, they were asked to create a video to teach people how to avoid a scenario like this happening.

Most teachers would recognise that the second option gives much higher order thinking skills to children. It gives them opportunities to create their own learning based on their own experience. They haven’t been told what to think.

Image source: Terwilliger911 on Flickr

The only positive use of the visualiser is to create that same window for children – the stimulus for learning. The problem is that the opportunities are much more limited than an Internet connected projector because one is restricted to things that are only physically available in the room at the time – for example, the ladybird in the jar, a piece of art, an article in a newspaper, etc. When one can scan in any static image and display it on a projector with good planning, it leaves the visualiser with few opportunities. In fact, in the primary classroom, apart from some insect fighting for its life in his glass prison, I can think of few other dynamic opportunities to use a visualiser. Here are all four of the opportunities I have found:

  • Show a live object
  • Zoom in deeply to a small object
  • Show a 3D object that doesn’t scan
  • Double up as a web cam for video conferencing

The first three of these are simply stimuli for learning, in my opinion. The final item isn’t really what visualisers were invented for and it’s just opportunism on my part for utilising them in this way. The one good thing Mary Hanafin said when she was Education Minister about ICT was that technology doesn’t make a bad teacher good. A visualiser in the hands of a bad teacher is just another tool for the sage on the stage.

Last Update: Aug 9, 2017  

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19 thoughts on “The Dangers of Visualisers”

  1. Children do like showing their artwork off to everyone on the big screen, and it also helps using the visualiser when you’re doing papercraft (Origami), to show how a copy book should be properly ruled, how to do the knitting you’re trying to teach etc.

  2. Children do like showing their artwork off to everyone on the big screen, and it also helps using the visualiser when you’re doing papercraft (Origami), to show how a copy book should be properly ruled, how to do the knitting you’re trying to teach etc.

    • I like the idea of the Post-It Notes, Julian. Good idea! Perhaps there are other crowdsourcing ideas like that that could work.

    • I like the idea of the Post-It Notes, Julian. Good idea! Perhaps there are other crowdsourcing ideas like that that could work.

  3. I like the idea of the Post-It Notes, Julian. Good idea! Perhaps there are other crowdsourcing ideas like that that could work.

  4. Interesting article. Couldn’t agree more that technology can’t transform poor teaching. As with all tools the use needs to be tailored to the intended outcomes. I have a positive experience of using the visualiser particularly in peer/class assessment; haven’t experienced the ripping to shreds yet! Guess it depends on how you frame/encourage positivity in the classroom. Thanks for the read.

    • Thank you for the comments. I wonder would Nigel’s find be a fair option. Why spend €500 on a visualiser for the same effect as a similar product for less than €100?

  5. Interesting article. Couldn’t agree more that technology can’t transform poor teaching. As with all tools the use needs to be tailored to the intended outcomes. I have a positive experience of using the visualiser particularly in peer/class assessment; haven’t experienced the ripping to shreds yet! Guess it depends on how you frame/encourage positivity in the classroom. Thanks for the read.

    • Thank you for the comments. I wonder would Nigel’s find be a fair option. Why spend €500 on a visualiser for the same effect as a similar product for less than €100?

  6. Hey Simon, just thought I’d chime in having used the IPEVO Point 2 View today. Impressive (and affordable!) alternative to expensive visualisers, particularly for primary level: http://theinsidelane.tumblr.com/post/5802738924/review-ipevo-point-2-view-usb-camera

  7. Hey Simon, just thought I’d chime in having used the IPEVO Point 2 View today. Impressive (and affordable!) alternative to expensive visualisers, particularly for primary level: http://theinsidelane.tumblr.com/post/5802738924/review-ipevo-point-2-view-usb-camera

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