Sunday Business Post: moving shapes around a screen

Because I always have a lot to say about IWBs, this is a separate article to the main Sunday Business Post article I wrote a couple of hours ago. If you haven’t seeen the other post, basically the newspaper did a seven page sepcial on technology in education. There were 3 articles about Interactive Whiteboards, none of which featured any feedback from schools that are using them. The marketing development manager of Steljes, Greg Tierney, was featured in the main article. Steljes are the people behind selling Smartboards (and they also sponsor an advertisement on Some guy from GoInteractive and another somebody from 3M (huh?) were also featured in smaller articles.

Essentially, Greg was giving the Sunday Business Post a load of information about what Smartboards do, rather than IWBs in general and he did a good job. I feel he was a little bit underselling IWBs as a simple device though. Littered through the article were quotes from Jerome Morrisey, who was defending his claims that IWBs are very difficult to use correctly and aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I just don’t think he (or many people) have got the point about IWBs in Ireland.
Before IWBs exploded into the Irish market, nobody was using technology in the classroom. People would take photocopier lease and other pieces of equipment as such for their jobs. I remember sitting in a bar with a well-known ICT-friendly principal and an educational software publisher, lamenting the fact that less than 4% of teachers used their classroom computer at all. At the time, I was writing software and we had released one of the best software packages for Irish education and we hadn’t even sold 50 copies. In fact, our sales had slipped from our first piece of software, where over 20% of schools purchased a site licence to about 1%. At this time, none of us had an IWB and it wasn’t for another 2 years before this principal got one for about €6500.
And as if by magic, everybody wanted an IWB. And because of this, everybody who wanted an IWB started using technology. All of a sudden this (unfortunately expensive) device had sparked some enthusiasm into using ICT. Over the last two years, as prices have fallen, more and more teachers are blown away by this technology and want them in their classrooms…NOW. With IWBs costing less than €2,500 now, Jerome Morrisey’s denying of putting them into his ICT plan is silly. I don’t care what makes my staff use ICT, because if they use it, they will use other things. So, with each teacher having an IWB, they are also using Internet resources, open source software and hardware such as robots. If it wasn’t for the IWB, they wouldn’t have had the confidence to push on.
One thing I do agree with from Jerome Morrisey is that IWBs are simply about “moving shapes around a screen”. Well, duh! What else do you do on a computer? It’s about what you’re learning while you’re moving those shapes around a screen. For example, if I want the kids in my class to place items of fruit into a shopping bag in order for them to recognise their names inIrish, ratehr than heading off to Tesco and spending a fortune, I can, within seconds, have a shopping bag and 20 pieces of fruit on the screen ready for enthusiastic children to pop them into the bag and say “Cheannaigh mé úll” or whatever. Yes, they’re only moving shapes around a screen but they are more motivated to learn because of it.
This is why I disagree with both Greg Tierney and Jerome Morrisey when they say teachers need extensive training in order to by savvy with IWBs. From giving many many courses in IWBs, I have found that primary teachers are incredibly capable of taking a good piece of IWB software (read Promethean’s ActivInspire or EasiTeach and not Notebook) and creating excellent lessons on a board. I keep harping on to Smart salespeople to simply make a primary school skin for their software but it falls on deaf ears. I guarantee them that it would make their product much more viable for primary teachers. The announcement that Lynx software are releasing their 4th version to be more child-friendly and the fact that EasiTeach software is purchased instead of the native software that comes with many IWBs, I believe, backs me up.
Another concern outlined in the article was a lack of cross-platform compatibility, i.e. you can’t use an EasiTeach resource with Promethean software, etc. There seems to be moves being made in this direction, and without them saying so, I’m thinking that one will be able to create SCORM compliant software on most IWB software very soon.
GoInteractive have a small article, which states that young teachers who have trained in the UK are bringing back the gospel of the IWB and that it is they who are the pioneers of this technology. I think this is rubbish. The pioneers, I believe, are not all under 30. He uses the generational digital divide argument to back up his thoughts but, I see no evidence to support his case. There are far too many graduates coming out of traning colleges with no idea about ICT.
3M, for some inexplicable reason, feature as the alternative to the Promethean/Smart duopoly. There are at least 10 other IWB suppliers who kick 3M’s ass in supplying IWBs. In fact, the article goes as far as saying that 3M want to distance themselves from the IWB market to focus on their projectors (which are very cool by the way).

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