MOUNT VERNON — 21st-century technology is invading local school districts. One example is an electronic, interactive whiteboard that makes typical dry-erase boards, as educational tools, about as obsolete as slate blackboards and chalk.
Some districts, such as Centerburg, have units which are portable and shared among classrooms. Other schools, such as East Knox Middle School, have wall-mounted units which remain in the specific classroom.
Electronic whiteboards typically consist of a projector which displays computer video output onto what is, in essence, a very large computer touch screen. Digital writing implements can be used like traditional whiteboard markers, and, depending on the accompanying software, the lessons can be sound-enhanced and tailored to match individual student learning styles. The multimedia aspect enables teachers to relatively easily enrich their standard lessons and pull in relevant information from the Internet.
Jeff Lavin, Knox County Career Center principal, said that although a few of the lab teachers use interactive whiteboards regularly, they are used mainly in the academic classrooms at KCCC. He said the whiteboards provide teachers with an efficient way to deliver notes and other information.
“The lessons — slides of notes and voice recordings — can be saved and accessed later by students,” Lavin explained. “Students gain experience with using the technology when giving presentations and speeches.”
That interactive nature of whiteboard technology is what makes it such a valuable educational tool, according to Don Foos, teacher of middle school math, science and history at The Alternative Center. The Alternative Center uses the SmartBoard brand of interactive whiteboards.
“During a history lesson,” he said, “you can put video clips of relevant materials up on the screen and show those just when you’re talking. You can also, on the spur of the moment, access reference materials. There have been a number of times when we’ve been talking about something and I’ll just type it up on the computer and there’s a [video] clip of that topic.
“For math, there are manipulatives specially designed for SmartBoards. With those, the teacher can interact with the kids. They can come up and actually use the manipulatives in a way you cannot do with overheads. There’s a whole bunch of resources on line that are specifically designed for SmartBoard — any subject you can imagine. There’s more and more specifically designed to have the kids interact with it. So they can come up and play review games and stuff. It’s kind of cool.”
One of the big points of whiteboards, Foos said, is that capability for student interaction.
“They can come up and touch things,” he said. “It’s good for teachers because you can face the kids, and you can show them [the material], especially online. But they can also come up and do it as well. That gets them moving and active. Any time you get kids moving and active and feeling they are doing something positive; they’re more geared up and more tuned in [to the lesson].”
Although interactive whiteboards do not exactly pay for themselves, there are some financial benefits to using the technology.
“They are able to save paper costs and those sorts of soft costs because we can do a lot more on the whiteboards and have to do less with worksheets,” said John Marschhausen, East Knox superintendent. “They can also replace workbooks in some instances, because kids can go up to the whiteboards and work there. Another thing that helped offset costs in our case is that with the whiteboards and projectors, we didn’t do TVs and DVDs and VCRs.
“In the case of our new middle school, the [SmartBoard] projectors replace the TV; they replace the old pull-down screen. Because our computers are our tuners and our DVD players, we are actually also saving money. We used to subscribe to United Streaming and to some other video sources. Now we just use YouTube and a lot of the free news services. In addition to the paper and the worksheets and the workbooks, they can save some costs that way, too.
“There are a lot of hidden benefits to using interactive technology,” Marschhausen continued. “Everything you write up there can now be saved in a Word document or a PowerPoint or a PDF file and sent to whoever you want to send it to or saved for whatever purpose.
“It used to be that teachers would have kids sign the class rules,” he added. “This way, the kids go up and sign on the whiteboard that they understand the class rules and the teachers can save that on a file. The other thing it can do is, if a student is absent, you can save everything that’s written on your SmartBoard and e-mail it to the student as an attachment. So, even if there was a class activity where classmates were going up and writing things up there, the teacher can save the class work and send it to absent students.”