If you’ve had a child in school over the last couple of years, or know of someone that does, you’ve most likely seen the new, state-of-the-art interactive whiteboards. And while the crank in us might regard these as nothing more than another step in the evolution of technology, there’s reason to believe that these whiteboards are far superior to their old-age counterparts in a number of ways.
Though the first interactive whiteboard was officially introduced in the early 1990’s, it’s only been within the last 5-10 years that they have been embraced by the mainstream educational system, primarily because new research has shown them to dramatically increase learning comprehension. Though the whiteboard and accompanying LCD projector are nothing new, the software that connects the two is, allowing the teacher to manipulate the screen with a touch of the hand or click of a pointer.
One example of this is seen in a class on geography, where the teacher projects a map of the African continent, and then asks the classroom to pick a location they would like to visit. Kenya is voted on by the class, and the teacher simply selects Kenya, and immediately is presented with a range of options including topography, animals, climate, and more. This not only saves time, but keeps the students continually engaged and learning.
But this technology is more than just fancy imaging: in a world where smartphones and instant messaging dominate kids’ attention, the push is to use that as a force for good instead of fighting against it by using antiquated techniques. The attention span of a child is normally two to five minutes times their age, so for a class of eight-year-olds, you have anywhere from 16-40 minutes max to engage their brains. Spread out over a full school day, and that rate drops substantially.
Research has continually proven that multi-sensory interaction and engagement is the key to help children learn, and this is especially true for whiteboard instruction. A 2010 study using students from different disciplines asked them to comment on what they liked or disliked about using whiteboard technology. Overwhelmingly, the respondents remarked about the level of interaction they had with the lesson, as well as even references to how it felt more like a game than school. Being able to change variables in a car crash simulator, for instance, allowed the students to quickly see different scenarios and how they changed with different variables.
This interactive technology can be used for a variety of different purposes outside of simple classroom instruction, for instance:
Group problem solving
Virtual field trips
Graphs showing individual progress
Lessons used by substitute teachers
Further research backs up the claims to overall efficacy. The University of Wisconsin reported that visual aids, specifically interactive types, increased learning rates by nearly 200%. Student retention went up 38%, according to studies performed at Harvard and Columbia Universities, and the Wharton School of Business claims that the time it took to explain problems dropped 15%. That same 2010 study mentioned earlier also stated students’ self-reporting themselves 20% more capable of learning than with traditional means.
The one drawback with this type of software is one that has plagued educational institutions since their inception: money. With many teachers struggling to provide even basic visual aids for their classrooms, the introduction of highly advanced software can lead to a strain on school budgets that are already heavily taxed as it is. However, many companies make the argument that these technologies can reduce teaching costs in the long-term.
Fortunately, the myriad of tech companies that are lining up to fill the gap in this marketplace is increasing daily. At the time of this writing, there are at least six different companies that provide this service (SMART, Promethean, Mimio, Numonics, eInstruction, and Polyvision), each with their own version of the software and different price points to match.
With the ability to engage classrooms on a deeper level, the specialized learning that can be adapted to students with learning disabilities, and the convenience and flexibility that interactive technologies allows, there’s little doubt that it will continue to find its way into the local school system. How quickly and what grade levels, however, remains yet to be seen.