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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 11:20 GMT
Too much technology in the classroom?
By Hannah Goff
Education reporter, BBC News

There was a time when teachers stood in front of the class, with chalk poised on the blackboard while pupils scribbled away furiously.

Now teachers' presentations have to

compete with the expectations raised by the technology children have at home - iPods, Playstations and home computers.

Teacher demonstrates interactive white board
The boards can cost up to 3,000 each

But they do now have their own multimedia technology in the classroom, in the form of interactive white boards (IWBs).

These are a virtual one-stop-shop that acts as an overhead projector, television, DVD player, photo album, computer and depending on your software - much, much more.

Ministers were so excited by the technology they gave schools 50m in 2004 to install them in their classrooms. Now nine out of 10 schools use them.

But some teachers were not so excited - as it meant they not only had to master a whole new way of teaching but the software and hardware that went with it.

Suffolk's Castle Manor School has, like many schools, embraced the technology and now has 25 IWBs.

Every Monday it holds a virtual assembly, featuring student achievements in a news bulletin shown in classrooms on the white board.

But is it useful for the nitty gritty of teaching?


Drama teacher at the school and white board evangelist Steve Powter thinks so.

"Rather than sitting behind desks and looking at a piece of paper, the pupils can play with things on screen and move things around.

"The kids are used to it. They walk into a room and if the white board has something written on it they follow it instantly."

He acknowledges that most of the time teachers use it as a glorified over-head projector, but says in the right hands it can save lots of preparation time.

Previous lesson plans can be accessed, re-jigged and re-used at the touch of a button, he says.

But Elizabeth Baker, a teacher from a school in west London, says the unreliability of the technology brings extra burdens.

A lot of teachers do say there's too much emphasis on all singing, all dancing lessons
Stuart Coe

"There's always this awful thing when you have planned that lesson on the IWB and something goes wrong because there is something wrong with the system.

"You either have to be extremely organised and plan two lessons - one on paper and one on the white board - or you have to depend on all your resourcefulness as a teacher to pull something out of your hat."

Although she acknowledges white boards can be "fantastically interactive" tools for the teaching of languages, for example, much of the time they are simply being used for a power point demonstration, she says.

"I don't think the learning that goes with that is any more valuable than it would be with a few flash cards and the teacher talking."

This is in part, she says, because teachers are only just beginning to look at the different ways in which they can be used.

What about books?

Director of software manufacturers Maroonsoft, Stuart Coe, says it can be a daunting task for teachers, who are not so IT-literate and confident as the class they are addressing, to use technology with which they are not very familiar.

"There are lots and lots of menus and options and trying to remember them after you've had a training session can be hard.

"Teachers tell me they struggle to remember where that tick box is or spend time saying; 'Now how did I do that?'

"It's practise, practise, practise in order to get it into their heads."

His company has responded by creating IWB software, called Lessonpad, that focuses on the basics.

Teachers are competing for children's attention

Mr Coe adds: "If you do listen in school staff rooms - a lot of teachers do say there's too much emphasis on all singing, all dancing lessons that entertain the students.

"And some say, 'why do we have to do that?'"

"But if you think classes are competing with all the Playstations and X-boxes that the children have.

"If they go to school and all they've got is a text book and they're not used to that well you can see the school will have a problem."

Alyson, a teacher in training who does not wish to be named for fear of damaging her career prospects, says IWBs could have a more malign influence.

"Children's worlds are so electronic already - schools should be a relative place of peace away from all those electronic goods."

'Pupils' language'

She says if the students were doing a project on spiders - they would have a picture of thousands of spiders running across the board.

"What they really should be doing is going outside and putting their hands in the dirt.

"Children should be able to find pleasure in simple things. We shouldn't make it all Disney-like every time we come to school.

"Their books are falling apart but they've got this great big, brand spanking new white board at the front of the class."

She argues the 3,000 cost of each board could be better used reducing class sizes or funding an extra floating teacher.

And costs can be an issue.

Head teacher of Shenfield High School in Brentwood, John Fairhurst, says it's all very well wanting an IWB board in every classroom but keeping up with the demands of ever-changing technology is costly and not fully funded.

"The costs of offering the latest technology that parents, children and the government expect us to use has increased massively."

But head of e-learning at Bonus Pastor Catholic College in Lewisham, Gareth Heatley, says it's all about speaking to the pupils in their own language.

"In the past teaching was pretty much didactic - it was all done one way.

"Now, with personalised learning, experts accept that pupils like to learn in different ways.

"It's about bringing subjects alive for the pupils and technology has really helped us to do that."

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