This story was originally published on Oct. 1, 2013, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
A teacher standing at the front of the room at a chalkboard is one of the iconic images of education. Smartboards and other digital technologies, however, are changing how classrooms are structured, how teachers teach, and how students learn.
“We’re all about increasing student engagement and achievement,” Neil Currie, director of education marketing with SMART Technologies, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s about student achievement at the core. We have research that shows that interactive whiteboards increase student engagement, and the more engaged they are, the better results you’re going to get.”
‘Touch Is the Essence of What We Do’
A key component of smartboards, smart tables, and other technologies finding their way into classrooms is the touchscreen. Being able to touch a screen to write words, enter numbers, access links, and otherwise interact with content helps students of all ages learn, process and understand information.
“Touch is the essence of what we do,” said Currie. “It is so important. Kids want to be able to touch and to collaborate with other students. That’s the driving force behind our products — interactivity.”
Along with touchscreens on whiteboards and smart tables comes the ability to save work for future reference or to share with parents.
Students and teachers “have the ability to work on problems and lesson plans and save them,” Keith Taylor, senior vice president of sales and marketing with Unified AV Systems, told TechNewsWorld. “That gives them the ability to save what they want, and parents can review it with the kids later on in the evening.”
Teachers who use systems from SMART Technologies have access to SMART Notebook software, which gives them the ability to put together lesson plans that are seamlessly integrated with the classroom’s screens.
“It’s a teacher-specific version of PowerPoint,” explained Currie. “Teachers can create lessons using Notebook and share them with the class. It’s really about enabling a seamless transition.”
SMART Technologies’ systems also can be integrated with an iPad app, and the company plans to offer more cloud-based and device-agnostic mobile options in the future. As some schools migrate toward BYOD — Bring Your Own Device — students will be accessing these systems with their own tablets and mobile devices.
“That’s where the future is,” said Currie. “We see more of these student devices in classrooms, and we see a great fit with our products and software.”
Engaging the Mobile Generation
Digital technologies are also changing the way students and teachers communicate in the classroom. Devices, apps and software are being developed to let teachers give pop quizzes, check to see how much students comprehend, and determine when they’re ready to move on.
ExitTicket, for instance, allows teachers to ask questions and see exactly who understands what.
“Instead of spending 15 minutes reviewing homework, they’re determining whether the student got the idea from the day before,” Scot Refsland, CEO of EdStart, which markets ExitTicket, told TechNewsWorld. “That saves time from grading the day before, and it immediately gains time for the teacher to review the concept or move forward.”
ExitTicket was first used in Leadership Public Schools, a network of public charter high schools in the San Francisco Bay area, and it is now in schools across the country. Students use a mobile app to communicate with the teacher, who can see and respond to their answers to questions.
A key to this system’s success, according to Refsland, is that it lets teachers know exactly who in the classroom needs help with a particular concept.
“If it’s anonymous, you can’t do true intervention teaching,” said Refsland.
ExitTicket helps teachers reach students, which in turn helps students to succeed.
“ExitTicket addresses the mobile generation, and it engages them in technology that they love,” explained Refsland. “I’ve seen many turnaround cases where we’ve had students disengaged in the back of the room become straight-A students. It gives them engagement they’ve never had before. It allows the teacher to do true differentiated instruction, because the teacher knows exactly who answered what and why.”