Willingham: The unrealized promise of whiteboards
My guest today is cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?”
By Daniel Willingham
Reporter Stephanie McCrummen wrote an excellent piece in The Washington Post on Friday on whiteboards in classrooms. The story said that a view is emerging that the large amounts of money schools are spending on instructional gadgets are not necessarily improving student performance.
Perhaps in an effort to be fair, she didn’t really go far enough.
Whiteboards are one of the few recent electronic innovations that have been well studied in the classroom. There have been ample opportunities for study because Great Britain has invested heavily in them--almost every school has at least one.
The outcome of those studies echo what the chief executive of SMART Technologies (a leading Whiteboard company) said: Teachers and kids say that they like whiteboards a lot, and both say that kids are more engaged in class because of the whiteboard. In fact, this effect is quite large--pretty much everyone who is in a classroom with a whiteboard thinks it helps a lot.
But that does not translate to better classroom performance.
A recent study sheds light on part of the problem. The researchers didn’t ask kids “does the whiteboard make class more interesting?” Instead, they asked kids, “Did you like your math class this year?” without referring to the whiteboard. They posed the same question to kids in classrooms with a whiteboard and to kids without one.
Kids who had a whiteboard in their class did like math class more, but the effect was puny--much smaller than when kids were asked about the whiteboard directly.
It seems, then, that kids like whiteboards very much. There is a powerful “gee whiz” factor.
But it doesn’t do much to make kids like math more, at least as whiteboards are currently used.
More generally, liking something that happens in school is certainly good--it’s hard to imagine a pedagogical method succeeding if teachers and students uniformly hate it! But liking it is not enough to ensure that it translates into better learning.
What is perhaps most remarkable in this story is that enormous sums of money are being spent on this (and other) technologies without correspondingly thorough and thoughtful professional development.
In many districts, the technologies have simply been plopped into teachers’ classrooms with minimal or no support. Little wonder that they are not being used as effectively as they could be.
Dismal as this start was, there are thousands of teachers who have made excellent, creative use of whiteboards and other “gadgets.” Prowl the internet for an evening and you’ll find the websites where they share what they have done and are doing.
How much Race to the Top grant money would it take to identify these teachers and give them a taller podium from which to broadcast their findings, and perhaps release time to conduct professional development for their peers?
Yes, yes, I know that these methods would be unproven in controlled studies. And sure, those studies ought to be done. But in the meantime, there the whiteboards sit in classrooms.
If the London bookmakers are interested, I’d like to put five dollars on home-grown professional development for whiteboards versus merit pay.
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| June 14, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories: Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Technology | Tags: educational technology, smart boards, technology in schools, whiteboards
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