Clinging to relevance: Interactive White Boards (vs. tablets/iPads)

I came across this graphic today when looking up general pictures of Interactive White Boards this afternoon:

Doesn’t this look wonderful?  Each student with an iPad, and the teacher with an Interactive White Board? Note that each iPad shows what the teacher is teaching.  The actual image comes from SMART Technologies, discussing a new app called Exploriments (link).  As nice as it looks, it is an outdated model attempting to allow IWBs to cling to relevance.

There are a lot of problems with IWBs.  They’re fantastic compared to a traditional white board or chalk board, but in terms of modern technology, they’re outdated.  My high school, opened in 2009, is full of them.  And sadly, technology “shifted” (I’ve blogged about this many times) and it will be years before our school will be able to change directions in terms of technology (our large district of seventeen schools has sixteen other schools to at least bring up to the level of our technology first).

Some IWB issues:

  • They can be incredibly expensive.  The system we use costs more than $8000 to purchase and install.
  • The IWB has to be tethered to a computer.
  • The teacher has to turn away from the students to interact with the board.
  • The board is generally a single touch device.  Some are two-touch devices (in halves), others are four-touch devices (with special pens).  Some newer products are truly multi-touch, but they cost much more than the IWBs.
  • LCD projectors never seem to be bright enough, are highly inefficient, and bulbs burn out.
  • The ultimate goal in most IWB deployments is for students to be creating content and teaching each other.  With single touch devices, this doesn’t happen.
  • Although all the IWB manufacturers offer resources and device specific programs, most teachers (and administrators) don’t use those resources (even if they can find them) because creating your own content is almost always faster than revising someone else’s content.
  • Furthermore, the device-specific programs are often buggy, simplistic, or limited, and teachers (and administrators) fall back on “tried and true” applications like PowerPoint or Keynote.  These applications, of course, don’t involve the “interactive” features of the device-specific applications, so the entire focus/goal of “interaction” is lost.

My opinion is that IWBs have outlived their potential.  That doesn’t mean that if you have an IWB that you should throw it out, because it will probably be years before you can replace it with something else (the public and the corporate world has no idea how educational technology works or how slowly it moves).  But if you’re planning to buy an IWB, don’t.  Not unless it can act as a bluetooth input device for a tablet computer.

This image is deceptive, and is a way for IWB companies to keep selling their wares:

You don’t want to be a teacher that is restricted by an IWB while your students have iPads.  In this case, you want an all-iPad environment where you can broadcast your iPad to all the iPads the room (some apps already do this), and you mirror your display to a large LCD/LED TV in the room (minimum of seventy inches).   Why the LED/LCD TV?  It will cost less than the IWB system, it will last longer than the VGA projector (the bulb or the projector).  Don’t buy a Plasma TV (burn-in issues).  If you need to go back to the TV to point out things, as you would with an IWB, you can…or you can simply interact with your iPad and walk around the room.  Imagine the ability to teach from anywhere in your room (In music, this is a bit harder, particularly for those of us that teach performing ensembles, but you know what I’m saying).

Again, the components for the classroom of the future:

  • iPad for each student
  • iPad for teacher
  • 70 inch (or larger) LCD/LED TV
  • Apple TV (or other AirPlay device for streaming)
  • Capable Wireless Network

Even a teaching environment with the last four items (iPads not in the hands of students) is a better scenario than an IWB setup in 2011-2012.

**Note much of the content of this blog post hinges upon the release of iOS 5 in October, 2011.

Minnesota’s Favorite Sight-Reading Method

Bruce Phelps was the director of choirs at Anoka High School, and has a tradition of excellence in all his choral endeavors.  Without a doubt, part of his success was his commitment to pedagogy–the teaching of sight reading and music theory included.

Bruce created a series of sight reading exercises that are used throughout the state.  When we opened my high school in the Fall of 2009, I made sure that we had Bruce’s Sight Reading Method on our shelves.  At the time, all the files were created on a software package that Mr. Phelps no longer had, so with permission I recreated some of them in Finale and sent them back to Mr. Phelps.

I was pleased to learn this evening that all of his materials, including Set I and Set II of his Sight Reading Method, are available for purchase in digital format.  For $60, you are e-mailed one of the sets, and you are free to use the music as you choose.  Yes, they can work with school purchase orders.  You can display it on a SMART Board, put it on iPads in your classroom, or even (gasp!) print them out.  I like the SMART Board method (although we have to turn the lights off in our classroom to have it bright enough) as you can look at your students while they sight read, versus having them each look at a piece of paper.

We also use the sight reading exercises from Mr. Phelps’ series for choral auditions.

If you’re looking for a great sight reading method, in digital format (he can send you the paper copies if you need them), check out the Phelps Music Company website.  There are even some sample exercises in PDF format.  These resources are used at many (and I mean MANY) schools in Minnesota.  Also, honor the purchase agreement.  Don’t share this digital resource with others if they haven’t purchased it–this is a situation where the “developer” themselves gets paid for their work, and rightly so.

By the way, look for the Renaissance of sight-reading this year.  One of the key components of SmartMusic 2012 is the inclusion of (vocal) sight-reading–a skill needed by all choir members, and by all music majors.  The best part?  Assessment mainly by computer.  One of the killers for my sight-reading methodology (we try to sight-read daily, although it doesn’t always happen) is finding time for assessment, which is often impossible in class.  This solves that problem rather nicely, as kids can take the assessment on their time.