Increasing Interactivity in the Classroom
It was my pleasure yesterday to present at the RCAC Symposium in London, Ontario. The topic of my presentation was “Increasing Student Interactivity – Our Journey Beyond the Smartboard“. I was originally scheduled to present this topic at the 2012 Symposium before it was unfortunately cancelled and so it was with some apprehension that I prepared for 2013 wondering if the topic was still even a relevant point of conversation in Ontario classrooms. My own board has not added to our 500+ Smartboards in the last three years, but have continued to invest heavily in data projectors and, more recently, Apple TV’s.
What I hoped in my preparation was what transpired in conversation. The topic of interactivity in the classroom isn’t a “technology” conversation but a conversation on instructional practice, teaching, and learning and, as such, it is always relevant.
The shortcomings of the Smartboard, and the impact its use had during whole-class or large group instruction, is well documented. My own experience, and the experience of the teachers I worked with, was that the Smartboard perpetuated a “sage on the stage” approach to teaching, had a negative impact on the pace of the lesson, and didn’t lead to nearly the engagement that was initially anticipated. This really wasn’t a shortcoming of the Smartboard but an issue about the teaching practice evident when the board was in use. The more we used the board, the more we realised the conditions that existed when the board was used well – it was student-led, in small groups, with a specific and explicit purpose.
The Smartboard led to a myth around student engagement that was dispelled quickly. Firstly, by understanding what engagement actually is, and that there are three key components (relational, behavioural, and cognitive), we quickly learned that the only one benefiting from the board (compared to a non-interactive, projected image) was the one touching it. The others, whom we were told were engaged watching their friend, were in fact engaged ‘behaviourally’ – no learning was going on but they were sitting as still as possible, appearing attentive, in the hope that they would be picked next.
Clearly the issue of increasing the opportunity for students to interact with the content presented in a class is important, but it needs to be understood why before we can begin to leverage technology as the solution. As much a proponent of technology in education as I am, if there were one thing I could change in the classroom it would be to replace the question “who can tell me …” with “talk to the person next to you about…”. The learning in the classroom, and engagement/interaction with the content should never be optional.
So once we understand the reasons why students sitting passively and being allowed to choose when and whether to interact or respond is not desirable, we can start to look at the ways in which technology can increase these opportunities. In my own board I have observed the following enhancements afforded by technology:
– Backchannels: Some of the most commonly used tools in my board are Twitter, Padlet and Today’s Meet. Each provides a space for students to record their own thoughts, pose questions, and learn from the thinking of their peers. We are close to launching Office 365 for student, including Microsoft web-apps, which I think will quickly evolve as a viable back-channel tool.
-Surveys: Google Forms are a great entry activity to any lesson to allow the teacher to know where to start or immediately address misconceptions, but can also be used at any point in the lesson as a “check-in”. Poll Everywhere is equally as powerful, as well as being a great way to provide an educational context for the use of cell phones.
As well as these tools, the use of the iPad and Apple TV is increasing at a rapid rate, allowing students to interject and project their thinking at any time during the lesson.
When we think about increasing the level to which students can interact with our instruction, rather than be passive by-standers, the root of the thinking has to be about how they learn. Even watching a TV show now is an interactive experience, with every show displaying a hashtag for you to tweet along at home, and some newer TV’s even allowing for your Twitter feed to be displayed on the screen. Teaching should match this while understanding the reasons why – true learning is participatory, not through passive observation.