Breakthroughs in Educational Technology – From the Humble Blackboard to the Indispensable Smartboard

If you enjoy wandering around the Internet in search of insights into the explosion in the use of technology in traditional classrooms and industrial settings, YouTube should make you feel like the “kid in the candy store.”

On a recent visit, we stumbled across something interesting in a video entitled A Vision of Students Today. A graphic towards the end of the video displayed the following comment about a revolutionary breakthrough in educational technology in the classroom. Here is the quote:

The inventor of the system deserves to be ranked among the best contributors to learning and science, if not the greatest benefactors of mankind.

The author of the statement was an American educator named Josiah Bumstead. The year was 1841. And what was the “system” of which he spoke? The humble blackboard/chalkboard!

One could speculate that as far back as the time of the Ancient Egyptians, a few people responsible for teaching realized the value in using visuals in the classrooms of the day, but the technology simply was not available. Pigments and wall drawings took time.

In that context, consider how revolutionary the advent of the chalkboard was. It freed good teachers from the prison of their lecture notes and allowed them to “think on their feet.”

If you think back over the course of your life to the teachers who inspired you, among them there was surely one or more who were veritable wizards at the chalkboard.

They dazzled us with their enthusiasm and the speed with which they displayed their words of wisdom for all to see. What’s more, from time to time they actually asked for our input. Remember the thrill you felt the first time your own words appeared on the chalkboard? Good teachers knew not to filter what we had to say. They accepted our thoughts and up they went on the board. And great teachers gave us the ultimate thrill – the opportunity to write on the chalkboard ourselves.

It has long been an axiom of educational practice that seeing words as well as hearing them leads to better learning. Today, research on how the brain learns confirms what many have believed for more than one hundred years – active involvement of students in the learning process facilitates learning.

In its day, your own words appearing on a blackboard was a significant facilitator. Brain-based research now tells us colors and sounds enhance visuals even further. Although the cleaner and more visually appealing eraser board long ago replaced the chalkboard, it still lacks the appeal of a well-designed PowerPoint presentation. Or does it?

PowerPoint presentations with the most dazzling graphics and sounds imaginable can still suffer from one major drawback – whose words appear in the presentation? In effect, the implication here is that in at least one aspect, students scribbling their own thoughts on an eraser board is superior to a pre-prepared power point presentation.

And today we have the twenty-first century version of the chalkboard available to us – the Smartboard. In essence, it’s a chalkboard linked to a computer. If you have never heard of one, or seen what they can do, pay a visit to YouTube and be prepared to be amazed.

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New Teacher Tips – How Teachers Can Use Educational Technology Successfully

Educator, trainer, and presenter, Thomas Crawford talks about educational technology and how new and seasoned teachers can start using it more effectively in their classrooms.


Hello Thomas, I want to thank you so much for taking time to take part in this interview. You just came back from the blog conference in Seattle. Can you give our readers a conference brief on some new insights on educational technology happening for new and seasoned teachers? The conference was the T + L (Technology and Learning) event by the NSBA.


Schools are moving very quickly into the 21st century. The T+L conference sponsored by the National School Board Association (NSBA) allows educators, administrators and school board members to have access to the most current and insightful technology available to them. It is more than a vendor fair. It is an opportunity to share and discuss innovations in information technology through round table discussions and forums.


What advice can you give new and seasoned teachers who are just starting to express an interest in using educational technology, but don’t feel 100% comfortable using it?


Teachers can learn the technology by using it and not being scared from it, which makes things a lot easier. We tell our students that practice makes perfect. The same goes for us. I always tell teachers to ask for help if they need it.

Teachers should spend time getting to know any online learning resource or computer program before implementing it in their classrooms. Therefore, practice and asking questions is the key to adapting with any new form of technological instruction. Start small and use your colleagues as resources


In many of the schools I teach, I see whiteboards collecting dust and teachers are simply not using them. Can you explain why this is so? What are some alternatives?


Often, whiteboards are misused. They become a very expensive display device and their potential is not maximized. In addition, whiteboards loose a lot of interactivity and student engagement because the placement of the whiteboard. In many elementary classrooms it is often too high and out of students reach. As a result, students are not engaged and discipline problems can occur. There are some cost effective ways to deal with the issue by using a projector, wireless slate. This way, the teacher can move around the classroom and still maintain some degree of interactive control.


You spent a great deal of time in London working with some of the online educational resources. What are your observations and insights about how teachers use educational technology? How can US teachers improve their understanding of information technology in the classroom?


I worked in a primary school in London. Teachers like to share and they like things that are free or inexpensive. In the UK there is an abundance of teacher created web based resources that are readily available. The government even put together free web based resources for teachers. The more teachers used these resources, the more confident they became about creating their own. Here in the US, teachers can experiment with different resources from around the world to gain understanding of how the Internet and its resources can be used effectively in our own classrooms. We can learn a lot form what International organizations such as ISTE and BECTA (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) have to offer.


What makes an instructional design successful in terms of its ability to engage learners?


A successful instructional design is one that addresses all the needs of the students and has a multi-sensory approach. By this I mean it has a highly interactive web based activities, audio-video components at the very least, and is also easy to follow, understand and navigate.


Please share with our teachers the features of your website and how teachers can differentiate their instruction to cater to English language learners, (ELLs) group instruction and working with students of special needs. What makes it user-friendly and accessible for ALL teachers?


In addition to curriculum from a host of content providers that include full courses with assessments and individual learning objects, the IQity platform allows teachers to custom design classroom assignments, lesson plans or units to meet the needs of individualized learning style of single students, small group and large mixed ability classes.

In fact, custom designing lesson plans helps with the classroom management piece by catering to individualized instruction. Teachers can design multiple assignments based on a students IEP. There are several hundred schools using our platform successfully with positive results. Schools use IQity as a platform for a full time digital school, additional course offering and even credit recovery.


Great! Well, thanks very much Thomas for this interview.

Thomas: It was my pleasure and I hope new and seasoned teachers alike find this information useful.

Make Your Teaching Sparkle. Teach for Success. Make a difference in the classroom.

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The Current State of 21st Century Education Technology 2011-2012 – Paving a Road to Success

Remember filmstrips, movie reels, overhead projectors and transparencies? These are the “tech tools” that I remember from my school days. Not an interactive anything anywhere. It was simple. Teachers and professors had to decide between blackboards or overheads, black, blue or maybe green ink and that was about it.

We’ve come a long way from those days, and in many cases new technologies have quickly replaced the old. There is however a wide variation on how advanced school districts are in terms of their education technology implementations. One thing is clear; no matter how limited resources are, all school districts have formed a set of goals around education technology. If we expect to reach any of these goals, we have to understand the underlying factors that can affect the character and complexity of a problem. These factors will in turn affect how we approach a particular problem and the solutions that are applied to reach our goals.

From a 30,000 foot perspective, there are commonly three key components to an education technology solution; Hardware, Software and Training (the often forgotten, but many times most important component).

In today’s education tech world, you will not get very far without the three vital components mentioned above. These are however, merely the tools that we will use in reaching our educational goals. If you were to place all of the best hardware, software and training materials in a room, they would not magically yield higher test scores, achievement and graduation rates all by themselves.

You might think that what I’ll be saying next will have to do with people and how they can be the difference makers. This of course is true, but the actual focus should be on what these all important people are doing (and unfortunately in many cases not doing) in order to achieve our collective educational goals.

Many of us have lost sight on the “education” in education technology. It’s right there in front of our eyes and we still manage forget that this is about properly educating students and enabling them to reach their fullest potential.

The following list contains some of the most common pitfalls that we see on a day-to-day basis as education technology integrators. These are the processes and activities that have proven to be inefficient, ineffective or counterproductive to education technology goals.

1. Having no goals to begin with – This situation is all too common. A school district is hard-set on implementing and/or upgrading their education technology resources, but nothing is tied back to curriculum goals. The purchase and installation of projectors, interactive whiteboards, response systems, classroom sound systems etc is not the implementation of a solution, it’s simply a purchase. Avoid asking yourself “now what?” once the smoke has cleared. Achieve this by creating a real implementation plan that is tied to long term educational goals and state standards. All of the best education technology hardware manufacturers have researched education requirements in detail and have designed their solutions accordingly in order to help schools reach these goals through the use of their products. Ask your technology provider questions related to your educational goals and only engage with those who understand your goals and can tell you how their products will help you reach them.

2. Cookie cutter approach – Let’s outfit every classroom and every teacher with the same exact technology tools. And let’s not stop there, let’s do it all at once so everyone is happy and nobody feels left out. Makes sense – right? Well not exactly. Administrators and Tech Directors don’t want to hear grumblings about inequities or create an environment of haves and have not’s even for a short period of time. This would be disaster – or would it?

One of the best examples I can think of is interactive whiteboards or IWB’s. These boards are incredible tools and can greatly enhance a learning environment when implemented properly, but the addition of this technology tool is not always a “no brainer” in all learning environments. Companies like SMART Technologies and Promethean may disagree, but in the end, if the educational goals of their customers are being met, it will be a win-win situation for all involved – especially the kids.

This is a trend that is difficult to break. It is fairly easy to understand how this has come about since politics can many times trump logic.

Learning activities can vary greatly from room to room and from subject to subject. The learning goals for math will likely vary greatly from the learning goals in science class versus foreign language classes. Science room environments may vary even further based on whether you are dealing with Physics, Chemistry or Biology.

The variances can run even deeper based on other district based requirements, room arrangement or teaching style of an individual teacher.

Taking a step back to do some real analysis and planning may help you and your schools get on a more accurate track in terms of matching technology tools to actual academic goals. To say that “we’ll figure that out later” adds to the risk that you will leave a critical requirement unaddressed.

3. Making all decisions from the Top Down – Not that you would do this, but too many Tech Directors or IT Managers make district wide decisions without gathering any input from the end users of technology. In this case it is of course teachers that would help drive accurate requirements from the bottom up that would complement the decisions being made from above. This will no doubt take more time and effort, but in the end it will likely uncover more detail and accuracy to your requirements that will help minimize risk and decrease the chances that you’ll miss a requirement or waste time and money spent re-working your initial solution with an unplanned “Phase 2” of your implementation.

4. No Training or Professional Development (PD) Plan – You might be lucky enough to have a real go-getter on your staff that takes the ball and runs with it, creating your training program in the process. These self starters do exist, but you can’t count on training and PD taking care of itself. Full adoption and use of new technology tools requires planning AND management of the plan. If done correctly, your educational goals are met and everyone comes out looking and feeling like a champion.

5. No metrics – How do you show that your plan has been successful? Part of proper planning is establishing a pre-determined method of measuring success via a set of well chosen metrics. Not everyone loves numbers by nature, but I’m betting that everyone will love them when they definitively show that planning and implementation has led to success.

6. Buying solely on price – Hopefully you have not grown completely cynical when it comes to value. If you spend the time talking to your prospective sales people and service providers, you will see a wide range of offerings presented to you. If you want to do what’s best for your schools, you will spend some time calculating the true cost of a solution where the physical hardware is only one component. If you make your decision solely on the price of hardware, you might be doing a great disservice to yourself, your schools, your project team and your students. Some of the most important value differentiators will have to do with service, support, training and professional development. A quality solution provider will not only sell you the hardware, they will pro-actively support it. They will work with you consultatively and open an ongoing dialogue with you and your staff to assist in reaching your goals. Many providers have dedicated Education Consultants on staff that are familiar with state and federal education goals. This further enables you and your team to map education goals to the use of education technology tools in the classroom.

7. Thinking your planned solution is “good enough” – This might apply when buying a car or home appliance when added cost is usually associated with “bells and whistles”, but a classroom is not about getting to point A to point B or how white your shirts can be. True adoption of education technology in a classroom can be a tricky goal to meet and adoption must come with real results like increased test scores and graduation rates. If you are heavily constrained by budget, I recommend creating the best solution possible and starting with one room. If you don’t have the funds to complete an entire room, do it in well thought out phases with guidance from your education technology integrator (remember that thing about added value? – A perfect example). If you continue this process over time, you will end up with quality learning environments in every room vs. a watered down “solution” in each room that yields no actual results.

8. Thinking you are “done” – This relates directly to #7 above. It’s important to have a mindset of constant improvement. New and improved technology is constantly being developed. This can offer great opportunity, but it can also create confusion. In the ‘one room at a time’ scenario above, it would be of added benefit to re-evaluate your plan as time progresses. This will give you the ability to fine tune your solution over time. For this reason, it will be important to pay attention to feedback from end-users of technology enabled classrooms. There may be a new and improved technology available or you may have realized that you “over-bought” in a particular area and can then adjust your plan accordingly. Ideally, there will be no changes at all and simply a confirmation that your plans and system designs are sound. If you reach the end of an implementation and everything has gone according to plan, you are still far from being done. As with all technology, there are the elements of hardware maintenance, support and an ongoing training/professional development plan. If you have specific plans in place in all of these areas and actively manage to your goals, your chances for success will be greatly improved.

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David Urmann Co-Author: Wasim Ahmad Basic PLUS Author | 2,043 Articles Joined: June 30, 2006 United States The West New York School District – Giving Importance to Educational Technology

School districts in United States handle public education of all government-funded schools. Among the many school districts in America that gives importance on educational technology is the West New York School District. They believe that it is a cumulative process that helps students achieve their fullest potentials in the IT world.

They believe that educational technology will attract many resources, opportunities and good communications in the local and global communities. They are committed in preparing the students to work in the ever changing technological pace and growth with regard to all aspects of life. They see to it that all the students, teachers and staff are competent enough to use IT tools, to communicate well and solve delicate problems easily.

West New York District’s Technology Plan

The district’s technology 2007-2010 plan is an approved document wherein the members of the West New York School System are committed to meet the needs of the urban student population. It aspires to enhance each child’s love of learning, to potentially develop a feeling of self-confidence and to help recognize the positive nature of their cultural diversity.

The success of the plan relies on the system implementation and equipments to be used. The district’s technology infrastructure includes 13 sites that act as the Network Operations Center. The 25MB internet connections and 10/100 Ethernet Cisco switches are connected in rooms to accomplished data and voice management. The district also acquires an AS/400 mid-range computer in used by the central office business department to handle the district’s human resources and financial management.

A software program called SERTS works in requisitions, orders and inventory that supports an on-line survey system and its website. The site includes updated educational information and uses also uses ConnectEd to send personalized messages to the parents, staff, faculty, and students. The district facilitates telecommunications and wireless network to over 2,200 computers and laptops for the students and faculties. All the employees have e-mail accounts that connect through a Microsoft Outlook Web Access web mail.

Resources and Implementation

Students from kindergarten to the sixth grade are equipped with computers. A formalized computer instruction is administered for the first graders. They are scheduled to use the available resources in their media centers or computer laboratories. The class can entirely use laptop computers to integrate technology in classroom discussions. All the fourth year students are evaluated for computer literacy.

Middle school students such as seventh and eighth grades have state-of-the-art classrooms with computers, large screen TVs, streaming videos, VCR and DVD. The student’s media centers are equipped with wireless laptop computers, multi-media projectors and digital cameras in their large computer laboratories.

However, the high school students have eight computer labs, a portable wireless laptop station and an Interactive Television classroom with an extensive range of elective computer courses. The students are given opportunities to enroll in the Intermediate Computer Applications to receive Microsoft Certification.

West New York School District had plans for 2010 to expand technology services and inventory. This will also maximize student academic achievement by maintaining and upgrading the district’s wide technology in the next level. Technology maintenance is also one of the main focuses in preparedness to the growing technology of computers. All these goals are foster with the full support of the staff, students, parents and the community for a better tomorrow.

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