The white and the wrong way

Many teachers are still uncomfortable with interactive whiteboards. But help is at hand. Caitlin Davies previews some of the products at the annual BETT educational technology show
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's time to confess: do you actually know how to use an interactive whiteboard? And if you do, do you really like it? While 92 per cent of British secondary schools and 63 per cent of primaries now have interactive whiteboards, many teachers are uncomfortable with these and other information and communication technology (ICT) products. But whiteboard technology is here to stay and if you want to get ahead of the game, then book your ticket for the annual BETT educational technology show at London's Olympia.

It's time to confess: do you actually know how to use an interactive whiteboard? And if you do, do you really like it? While 92 per cent of British secondary schools and 63 per cent of primaries now have interactive whiteboards, many teachers are uncomfortable with these and other information and communication technology (ICT) products. But whiteboard technology is here to stay and if you want to get ahead of the game, then book your ticket for the annual BETT educational technology show at London's Olympia.

The theme is "take hold of the future" and the show, being held from 12 to 15 January, is expected to attract 550 exhibitors, thousands of ICT co-ordinators and teachers galore. For the 24,500 visitors who attended last year's show, it was a chance to compare and test the latest software and hardware products.

Teacher training is said to be top of the agenda for 2005, and this includes training in how to use ICT equipment. At last year's show, the Education Secretary Charles Clarke announced an extra £25m funding for whiteboards, so it's not surprising that hardware companies and software developers are eager to display their latest offerings. Already four different whiteboard products have been short-listed for BETT awards.

The Department for Education and Skills argues that whiteboards can help teachers deliver exciting and engaging lessons, whether by including video clips, using the internet or making interactive presentations. And while the technology is relatively new, research from the University of Nottingham found that, if used effectively, whiteboards can improve grades. Meanwhile, at the Special Needs Fringe, held at the nearby Hilton hotel from 12 to 14 January, there's an ICT seminar on using interactive whiteboards as motivational tools for pupils with severe learning difficulties.

Ideally, the boards can increase teaching time (by presenting web-based resources more efficiently), increase student motivation (partly through the novelty factor) and allow teachers to share and re-use materials (although it's not clear how much of this is going on). And because teachers are faced with such an array of whiteboard products, the website Schoolzone recently launched a new evaluation service that "looks at content performance to help teachers decide what to buy for their boards", explains Elizabeth Collie, the business development director. But as popular as whiteboards have become, training is still an issue and not everyone knows how to use them. So in January this year, London's City Learning Centres (CLC) began training 1,700 local teachers. "Teachers have told us that once they use a board, they don't want to go back to chalk," says Zia Mehmet, the chair of CLC. "I'm going to BETT because, although I know the latest boards, I want to see the software."

Training is also needed in the use of other ICT products, especially when teachers are so pressed for time. "I'd love to have more time to learn ICT, but when you work 50 hours plus per week, there's only so much you can fit in," says one teacher on the website tagteacher.net. "Other professionals are not expected to train themselves in their own time on their own computer, are they?" ICT can be unreliable and frustrating, work can be lost, printers stop working, pupils crash the system, software may be bug ridden... the list is endless.

Perhaps if you need inspiration for more exciting lessons, it will be easier watching television. The BETT show is also the platform for the first public appearance of Teachers' TV, Europe's first television channel for the teaching profession. The channel, funded by the DfES, will broadcast 24 hours a day, every day, and will be "rolled out" early next year on Sky, Freeview and other digital platforms. Ideally, teachers will have access to the channel at school and at home. Programmes will include Ease the Load, a magazine series focusing on work/life balance, and What If?, in which a panel of teachers role-play difficult situations. There will also be an interactive website with downloadable resources. Andrew Bethell, the director of programmes, says teachers used to be suspicious of television but reactions during a pilot study "make it clear that if the programmes are realistic and relevant, they will find time to watch. We think BETT is the ideal place to connect with early adopters of Teachers' TV, who will be pretty intrigued by what we have on offer".

education@independent.co.uk

Comments