The Value of Thinking Out Loud

At the recent ULearn Conference in Christchurch, New Zealand, I was asked (along with many other educators, I hasten to add!) to be part of the EdTalks series. Naturally, I was thrilled to have been asked and readily agreed, although I must admit that in the flurry of preparation for ULearn I really didn’t think about it very much until I got to Christchurch.  Sitting in the foyer of the Chistchurch Conference Centre, quite by accident, I bumped into Matt Tippen, one of the brains behind EdTalks, who said “Oh, so you’re Chris Betcher. Are you ready to record your talk?” I wasn’t, but I did it anyway, and essentially just made it up as I went along.

EdTalks is a project of CORE Education, a leading New Zealand educational consulting and training organisation, and is described on their website as “a growing collection of videos featuring New Zealand and International educators talking about learning. EDtalks is CORE’s contribution to your professional learning; a free database of short video interviews with leading educators and thinkers.”  It’s one of those wonderfully simple ideas – use video to capture teachers talking about what they do, then sharing that with other educators on a completely open, accessable website.

Anyway, as I said, I wasn’t actually prepared for it, and really hadn’t given much thought to what I might talk about.  The topic of interactive whiteboards came up, and next thing you know I was recording a piece about them (Curse that book! I’m getting typecast!)  While I do think that IWBs have a worthwhile role to play, and I think I’ve given a fair amount of thought to how teachers might use them sensibly and effectively, I don’t know that I really want to become known as “the IWB guy”.  Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s the EdTalk I recorded.

The more I think through the arguments for and against IWB technology, the clearer I think I become about it in my own head. It took me a while to get to this point, but I do believe that IWBs are a worthwhile addition to a classroom.  I also don’t think that my opinion is simply based on having drunk the Kool-Aid of the whiteboard vendors, who too often promote the technology as an instant panacea.  It’s not.  I think it’s taken me a long time to get it clear in my own head just where the value proposition lies for IWBs, and where their true strengths are.

Of course, it’s not just IWBs.  The same process has applied to so many other area that I’ve developed a considered opinion about.  It’s really only been this process of “thinking out loud” in public spaces like my blog, my podcast,  or in various other online forums like mailing lists and Nings, that I have managed to hold some of these debates in my own head and come to conclusions that actually make sense to me.  There is enormous value in being challenged by others who hold contrary views and who will debate and raise the level of critical thinking so that the end result, at least in my own head, is something that I can feel happy with.   You know what they say… if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

It makes me wonder… I know many people who don’t/won’t take their thinking into a public space and expose it to the scrutiny of others. How do those people decide where they stand on controversial issues if they don’t blog or write about or somehow share their thinking with the wider audience?

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Value of Thinking Out Loud by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 Replies to “The Value of Thinking Out Loud”

  1. Found this quite interesting. I like your “Teacher lead, but student focused discussions” phrase.

    To be honest – I still struggle seeing how and IWB can provide a much better “window to the world” than a laptop and projector (a standard piece of classroom equipment in my opinion).

    1. While I can see and appreciate that point of view (I held it myself for a long time) I can’t agree with you.

      There are a couple of assumptions I’ll make about what goes on in a classroom…

      1) The act of teaching is somewhat different to the act of learning. While we all want to have classrooms where the students are self motivated and self directed to discover and explore ideas for themselves, the fact is that most students will not discover many of the important truths about the world without assistance from someone who already has that wisdom. And nor should they need to. It took some very smart mathematicians, writers, artists and scientists many centuries to figure out things that seem obvious to most of us today, and the most efficient way to learn these things is not to rediscover them on our own, but to have the key ideas explicitly explained and taught to us by someone who already understands them. Most students will not learn Euclidian geometry or the art of writing a sonnet by themselves. Many of them will have no problem picking up the concept of these things once they have the key ideas explained to them, but let’s face it, most students will NEVER learn these things on their own without guidance and assistance.

      If we accept that there is truth to this, then we need to accept that there has to be a place in our schools for explicit teaching – actually leading our students through the ideas and concepts that are important enough to form the basis of what it means to be educated. Once they have this base to work from, the world opens up to them, in my opinion.

      So, I believe there will always be a place for a situation in our classrooms where a teacher is explicitly teaching – explaining, giving examples, leading discussions, etc – a group of children through a particular body of knowledge. I get tired of hearing accusations of “teacher-centric classroom” and “sage on the stage” every time a teacher happens to be actively and explicitly teaching a group of children. There are time when this is simply the best way to facilitate the students’ learning.

      2) I believe that digital media such as images, video, audio and the web can play an incredibly useful role in making explicit teaching richer, more interesting, more engaging and more flexible. While it’s obviously desirable that a student has access to their own 1:1 learning device (like a laptop) they sort of learning that takes place when individual students use their laptops is quite distinctly different from the types of teaching that takes place in a group situation where the class and the teacher is gathered together around a shared space such as a large screen.

      3) If you accept the previous two assumptions, then the use of an IWB is an extremely natural “gathering place” in a classroom around which these shared conversations can take place. For a teacher (or a student, whoever happens to be leading the discussion at the time) to be able to naturally point, gesture, make eye contact, etc, while also being able to interface directly with the content by clicking and dragging and manipulating it in a tactile way, is, to my way of thinking, a VERY different experience to that of a teacher wiggling a disembodied mouse cursor around on a screen.

      I have taught in classrooms that have a projector, both with and without the IWB. While I agree that the projector is an invaluable part of the whole system (and still worth having just on its own, even without the board) I cannot accept that teaching without the IWB is the same as teaching with it. It IS different.

      If you don’t agree, I suggest you should use an IWB consistently for a month, then go back to teaching with a projector alone. That’s what I did, and I was amazed at what a completely different experience it turned out to be.

      Oh, and I’d have to refute that a projector is a standard piece of classroom equipment… until IWBs came along there were almost NO classrooms (except perhaps computer labs) that were equipped with projectors alone. Most classrooms only got the projector as part of the IWB package.

      I look at it this way… approx cost to fit out a classroom (in Australia) with a projector, screen, speakers, power, cabling, wall sockets, computer etc is about $5000. The cost to include an IWB in that would increase it to around $7000. For the $2000 difference you have a large screen digital hub that the whole class benefits from, that will probably last for the next 5 or 6 years at least. That’s about $350 a year. I look at those numbers and wonder why on earth someone wouldn’t want to include the board! If you want to measure bang for the buck, I think IWBs are pretty good value if they are used well.

      Chris

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