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Students getting "smart" through use of interactive whiteboards

Students getting

Chalkboards and trays full of broken chalk and chalk dust are becoming obsolete in classrooms across the country, as more teachers and school districts make the shift toward incorporating educational technology in the classroom.

The use of interactive "smart" boards -- first introduced to education in the 1990s by Smart Technologies of Calgary -- is on the rise. A recent study of teachers from kindergarten through the 12th grade by PBS LearningMedia found that six in 10 teachers routinely use interactive smart boards to expand and enhance lesson plans. And they aren't just for kids, either. College professors on campuses throughout the nation have turned toward use of interactive whiteboards to provide a richer, fuller learning environment for students.

What is a smart board?

Smartboards are interactive whiteboards that operate off software running on a host computer or a tablet device such as an iPad, or they can be used to present material from websites, DVDs, CD-Roms, VHS tapes or television sets. Many educators use interactive whiteboards to run presentations or emphasize lecture points through use of videos. Whiteboard manufacturers also produce a host of educational software, such as digital flashcards, math lessons and similar content that help students interact and engage in the material.

Smart Technologies is just one edu-tech player delivering interactive whiteboards. Other educational technology manufacturers include Promethian, Mimeo, Epson, eInstruction, Egan TeamBoard and Panasonic, which in late January introduced its Panaboard interactive whiteboard line with embedded PCs.

Growth in popularity

School administrators and teachers across the country rely on interactive whiteboards to increase student learning. Teacher on Special Assignment Robert Horter of Alachua County Public Schools in Gainesville, Florida, has assisted with the installation of more than 700 Epson interactive projectors in the district. The Wyndcroft School in Pottstown, Penn., has interactive whiteboards installed in every classroom, says director of communications Amanda Arkans. And schools across the county are receiving interactive whiteboards through charitable donations.

Nearly 60 percent of K-12 educators polled in the PBS survey routinely use interactive whiteboards, and teachers are clamoring for more educational technology in the classroom. More than three-quarters of teachers polled say edu-tech helps them motivate students to learn, as well as respond to the different learning preferences of their students. Seventy percent of teachers say these teaching resources allow them to do more than ever before in the classroom.

Alicia Levi of PBS Education says technology is a critical part of learning and teaching in today's classrooms.

"Teachers need access to high-quality digital content to keep pace with schools' investment in interactive whiteboards, tablets and other devices to maximize the educational benefits of technology in classrooms," she says.

App store learning

Interactive whiteboards connected to iPads are changing the way lessons are delivered, says Mike Sullivan, a veteran Spanish teacher for the Weston Public Schools in Weston, Mass. Sullivan routinely uses interactive whiteboards in his fourth- and fifth-grade Spanish classes. He delivers learning material through an iPad and a variety of Spanish-learning apps, such as Noyo Spanish and Mindsnacks Spanish. Students learn about geography through Google Earth, and they use a program called Screenchomp to complete different hands-on projects displayed on the smart board.

Interactive whiteboards and higher education

College educators routinely say they enjoy using interactive whiteboards in the classroom for a variety of reasons, most of which don't include the opportunity to provide expanded content. Professors say they can engage more students through the use of infrared or radio-operated "clickers" during lessons, with multiple choice or polling options. Using these handheld clicker devices, students chime in to lecture material, and professors say the anonymity offered by the clickers often appeals to and draws out shy students who typically avoid raising their hands and drawing the attention of their peers. Students also can provide real-time feedback to professors.

Professors also aren't limited to delivering lectures in front of the classroom or at a podium, says whiteboard manufacturer eInstruction. They are free to roam the classroom and deliver more engaging instruction. A study of interactive whiteboard use in college classrooms, conducted by Linda Tate of Shepherd College in Shepherd, W. Va., revealed that many college professors found that using interactive whiteboards helped them engage students in general education material that typically draws lukewarm student interest. Post-course survey results say students found the interactive whiteboards to be a fun and beneficial addition to classroom discussions and lectures.

Use of interactive whiteboards has become so prevalent that some online schools now offer courses on interactive whiteboard use designed to help educators maximize use of these tools in the classroom. As more classrooms bring smart whiteboards into play, manufacturers are expected to increase their offerings of content-rich software and hardware.

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