I recently had a chance to see and try out the “Activwand” from Promethean designed for use with their electronic white boards.
This wand is definitely cool and fun to use, making one feel a bit like Harry Potter. For shorter students or teachers, it can be handy to permit a longer reach to the upper portions of the electronic whiteboard. It also lets the instructor-of-the-moment stay further out of the projector bulb’s light and cast a smaller shadow on the board itself.
While the wand DOES do magic things when it touches the board, unfortunately we found the command “Wingardium Leviosa” had no apparent effect. Perhaps if we activated universal access features for speech commands on the attached Apple computer this would have produced a result, although I doubt actual levitation is on the feature set yet for ANY electronic whiteboard. (If you talk to an enthusiastic sales person, however, they may assure you that “it’s coming” as a soon-to-be-released feature.)
This “magic wand” and whiteboard experience begs a very basic and important question regarding educational technology, however, which goes beyond the “cool” factor. Is it pedagogically desirable and fiscally responsible for school administrators to spend money on technologies like Activwands and student response systems which predominantly reinforce traditional models of teacher-directed instruction? I contend the answer to this question is NO.
Student response systems are very popular items now at educational technology conferences. One of the more advanced examples is Promethean’s “Activexpression” student remote:
These devices, again, are “pretty cool,” but the functionality they offer is essentially the same as the website service PollEverywhere when students use their OWN cell phones and SMS messaging. PollEverywhere is free to use for polls with less than 31 responses. How do commercial electronic response systems compare? My first question when I saw the Activexpression devices in action was, “How much do they cost?”
The Academic Superstore lists a set of 32 for about $2700 today, which is about $85 each. Yes, these devices DO permit full-text responses, but so does PollEverywhere when students have their own cell phones. MY primary response to commercial electronic response systems like these is the same as it is for the Harry Potter-esque Activwands: I’m NOT impressed. These merely reinforce traditional, teacher-directed instruction. These devices do not offer the same potential to transform and constructively disrupt the learning environment in our schools as laptop computers do when they are given to EVERY student in the spirit of OLPC. I’m not an advocate for merely replacing analog teaching strategies with digital ones and keeping pedagogy consistent. I’m an advocate for the learning revolution, which means I support transformative changes in teaching and learning. Technologies which simply streamline existing administrative functions or support teacher-directed instruction, like the tools above, invite a big yawn from me.
The announcement of Palm’s new Pre operating system at CES this last week is a lot more exciting to me than electronic whiteboard wands or student response systems are. Unlike the iPhone or iPod Touch, the Palm Pre does allow users to copy and paste text. Like the iPhone, the Palm Pre has WiFi access and will permit users to utilize a mind-blowing array of diverse web applications running from “the cloud.”
The best investment in student learning, from an equipment and curriculum standpoint today, is in Netbooks which permit users to not only access and consume media in various formats, but also CREATE and PUBLISH media in diverse formats as well as communicate and collaborate with others. See my December 7th post, “iPhone and iTouch video out functionality, 1 to 1 Learning, and CCC Pedagogy” for more on this.
How can we get our school board members and legislators to understand this? Let’s stop wasting millions of dollars on devices and tools which reinforce the 19th century model of teacher and textbook delivered curriculum. The 21st century is here, including an exponentially growing array of digital curriculum and web apps. We need to empower learners inside and outside of schools with tools (i.e. laptops) which permit them to fully participate as netizens in the 21st century.
If you missed CES in Las Vegas this year (as I did) check out Palm leaders John Rubinstein and Ed Colligan’s presentations about the Palm Pre via video.
The digital learning landscape has just changed again.
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