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It's the Teaching, Not the Technology

An article in Education Week yesterday highlights the need for those of us in the field to constantly seek opportunities to share the importance of effective professional learning. The article, "Teachers Hold the Real Keys to Whiteboard Effectiveness," focuses on the growing use of interactive whiteboards in classrooms. The most important aspect of this story, however, gets very little mention. It comes via a quote from Patrick Ledesma, a middle school technology specialist, who says that once interactive whiteboards are installed, "teachers will do what they've always done, unless there is training or support to do things differently."

No type of education technology is, in and of itself, effective. Whether the technology is as simple as a pencil or as sophisticated as a program for computer-assisted design, its effectiveness depends on how teachers use it. In spite of what we might wish, the "gee-whiz" features of technology do not automatically translate into effective teaching and learning. Without a skilled teacher, an interactive whiteboard is nothing more than an inert device.

The article described how skilled and creative teachers use whiteboards effectively, but it did not identify or address issues related to teachers' skills in using whiteboards. What skills are essential to use whiteboards effectively? What professional development is necessary (what type? how much? how long?) for teachers to develop such skills before incorporating them into their classrooms? To what extent do school systems and schools engage teachers in such professional development? How do school systems/schools assess teachers' use of whiteboards, their impact on student learning, and the need for continuing professional development? The article does not bring these important issues to the attention of readers. Perhaps those questions have not been considered by the districts that have adopted the use of whiteboards.

Finally, the article quotes one teacher who states that using whiteboards "requires professional development, but just as important is repetitive use." This statement assumes that repetition breeds effectiveness, but that is not the case if a teacher's use of a whiteboard is ineffective from the outset. The only result of repeated bad practice is even more bad practice. What is effective is for live coaching or experimentation guided by a colleague or trained coach who is an expert in using the technology to enhance instruction. In this approach, real-time classroom-based professional development becomes a road to perfect practice.

Interactive whiteboards are now ubiquitous in classrooms throughout the United States, and one hopes that most teachers are using them effectively. An article reporting on whether that is the case, and how school systems and schools are preparing teachers towards that end, and with what results, would be a valuable follow-up. That will be the real story.

Hayes Mizell
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Learning Forward

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