Since February this year I have been on an Ed-Tech conference whirlwind tour, taking Comarker to conferences in Ashland, VA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and next month, Victoria, BC. The best part of all this mileage has been the meeting teacher and administrators. These educators have inspired us to keep working to improve our essay marking technology with their openness to new ideas and technologies, and their willingness change the ways they teach when confronted with a changing world.
One aspect of these conferences that has been disappointing has been the vendor areas. These halls are the carnival midways of the conferences, and attendees are lured in with the promise of prizes and raffles, and once inside, they realize why the lures were necessary. Unfortunately, these rooms and halls are filled with tools that are, for the most part, no better than the 20th century tools they are meant to replace, yet they are, universally, much more expensive. Emblematic of this disturbing reality is the glut of interactive writeboards in the marketplace (I counted more than ten IWB vendors at the NCCE conference in Seattle).
The problem with interactive writeboards (IWB) in that they don’t seem to help teachers teach anything that you couldn’t teach with a projector and a whiteboard. For a few thousand dollars (from about $1000 to $7000) a classroom can have an IWB, that solves none of the problems that students have when trying to learn things that weren’t already solved by 20th century technology:
- erasable marker
- overhead projector
- tape player
The old white boards cost $40, last for 25 years, and, when coupled with a netbook ($300) and projector ($400), replicate 90% of the function of the interactive writeboard. It seems to me that that would be $740 well spent because none of those systems lock teachers into a pedagogical style that doesn’t suit the ways they already teach. Moreover, there is no training required ($0). And according to the educational resource trainers I have met in my travels, training recalcitrant teachers is the biggest problem schools face when trying to update their technology.
In my classroom, this simple set up is where I stop: projector, laptop, and whiteboard. If I wanted to add interactivity to my whiteboard it would be as simple as game of Wii Tennis or Bowling. With a wiiMote ($50) and a copy of the Smoothboard software ($30), anyone can create their own IWB. This garragiste IWB comprised of a laptop, projector, and WiiMote duplicates 100% of the functionality of an off the shelf interactive writeboard. The home made solution is eight-and-a-half times less expensive than many of the proprietary IWBs, replicates all of their functionality, and is just as easy to install and train teachers to use. Does it seem crazy to anyone else that a technology that shows no impact on student learning (according to a study published in 2007 by the School of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies, Institute of Education, University of London) should occupy so much of the elearning marketplace and be so grossly overpriced?
Obviously this rant has little to do with our little formative assessment web app. We think that Comarker solves real problems for teachers, students, and administrators. But, what I have learned on the road is that educators need a rubric to assess the technology that is being sold to them. Without a good rubric, schools will continue to exhaust their budgets on “21st Century Teaching Tools” like interactive writeboards, and thinking that they are doing right by their students. I hope to flesh out that rubric on the blog over the next few weeks.