Goodbye chalkboards, hello digital collaboration

December 4, 20174 Minute Read

Close your eyes and go back to your school days. Are you imagining a teacher standing at the front of the classroom, writing on a chalkboard and giving a lesson about a topic you maybe wish you’d forgotten about entirely?

That vision of the classroom speaks to many of us—and for decades, it’s how everyone was taught. A teacher stood in front of the room, dictating lessons, while students sat and (hopefully) listened. But technology is changing the traditional classroom to benefit all types of learners. Digital collaboration through interactive whiteboards is revolutionizing how teachers and students interact. Powered by a projector or flat-screen TV, you can use this interactive tech in different modes. Need a traditional whiteboard? Go right ahead. Ready to get students on their feet and collaborating? Write using special digital pens, load up learning games, or use other innovative solutions.

Adapting in a world of screens

Interactive whiteboards are becoming way more prominent in classrooms, with Thierry Karsenti reporting 100 percent adoption in the UK, 97 percent in Quebec, 83 percent in Denmark, and 55 percent in Canada overall. There’s no denying their popularity, and they’re changing the way classrooms connect. Students play learning games, write on the board themselves, and even use their creativity in fresh and exciting ways.

The biggest benefit of these interactive smart boards? They cater to each of the four learning styles: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. Before, students heard a lesson and saw what the teacher provided on a board. Now, they can get up and learn by actively writing and contributing, hear their peers as they learn alongside them, and see how the lesson evolves on screen. The Thierry Karsenti report found that simply having access to the internet in classrooms increased student motivation and made teaching more effective, as long as there were no technical problems.

A few years back, Education Week found the traditional classroom dynamic immediately changes with digital collaboration technology. Following a lesson on the Pythagorean theorem in Lonnise Gilley’s classroom, writer Kathleen Manzo noted that students would jump out of their seats to come up to the board. When you were learning about Pythagoras in ninth grade, do you remember a single kid excited to be called up to the board? All right, maybe one or two—but definitely not an entire class.

Teachers find they need the boards to capture students’ attention in a world where they grow up attached to screens from almost the moment they’re born. It also means they can bring in multimedia from across the internet and use it directly in class. The whiteboards require teachers to make an adjustment to how they’ve always taught; they’re learning to stand away from the front of the classroom and enable students to interact with the board and the material on their own—making them peers in the classroom while the students learn.

Changing teaching roles

One UK study by Becta found that the digital whiteboard also made it easier for students to keep track of what they’re learning in their heads. It said, “Many [students] said that sometimes hearing something out loud from the teacher did not explain it clearly to them, but looking at the same idea expressed in a different format, i.e., on the interactive whiteboard, would often help to clarify this for them.”

The most interesting adjustment is that the teachers often assume an entirely different role altogether: co-learner, rather than leader. The teacher mediates and guides the learning, but through the technology available, students lead the lesson on the digital whiteboard.

These interactive technologies can help create a “flipped learning” in classrooms, where the teacher becomes a facilitator while students collaborate, coach, and instruct each other. Due to the ability for more than one student to interact with the board, it rearranges that teaching relationship. Instead of hearing from someone employed to teach you, it’s far more valuable to learn from peers. With this tech, classrooms can also see beyond themselves. Interacting with other classrooms hundreds of miles away over a video call and learning with students they might never have met adds diversity to education.

A shift beyond the classroom

Digital whiteboards aren’t siloed in classrooms, either; they’re out in the world, bringing collaboration benefits into business. Google recently launched a new project called Jamboard, a 55-inch touchscreen whiteboard built for collaboration in the workplace, both remotely and locally. Microsoft also launched the Surface Hub in 2016, a giant flat-screen that offers similar features.

Digital collaboration is changing the way we learn together, and it starts in the classroom. The ability to pull up multimedia, interactive lessons, and other course material has transformed the way students interact with both their teachers and their peers. As the tech gets better, it’ll become even more standard in modern classrooms. Even teachers who’ve been teaching for decades love the tools after spending some time with them.

At the end of the day, keeping an open mind about these new tech trends and tools can benefit your classroom and your office. You just need to show you’re willing to let go of the old and usher in the new.

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