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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Technology Combined with Good Teaching Leads to Success

Interactive whiteboards are the future of educational strategies, and without proper adoption of these and other technology tools, teachers are doomed to become dinosaurs in their practices.

Who says so? Educational research and practice expert Robert Marzano.

As he spoke at the CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference earlier this month, he warned educators, however, that although there are "no silver bullets," there are "silver BBs," and a teacher must decide which combination of silver BBs is best for his or her classroom.

But, unquestionably, the use of the interactive whiteboard and its voter-response technology is a true breakthrough in education.

The Research

Marzano recently divided 85 educators into two groups: One taught a lesson to students using interactive whiteboards and the other taught the same lesson using standard, more traditional tools. His data was undeniable:

  • Of those classrooms employing the boards and using the voting technology, there was an immediate increase of 17 percent in scores.
  • He also found that if a teacher had been given 20-30 months to hone his or her skills, there was an average 20 percentile gain.
  • The sweet spot, he says -- the perfect storm of student achievement, according to his findings -- was when a teacher was trained to use the technology, had used it for two years, and did so 75 percent of the time. That profile shows a whopping 29 percentile gain in scores.

But he warns that there is such a thing as too much technology. Marzano told the audience that beyond this sweet spot, dragons await in the form of diminishing returns in improved student scores, thus proving, he adds, that you clearly "can't take the human being out of teaching."

A Balance Is Best

To get the most out of the interactive whiteboard, a school district can't just give it to a teacher, and can't just give it to any teacher. The district has to train that teacher. And Marzano was quick to point out that weaker teachers require professional development in the use of both interactive whiteboards and effective teaching. Success comes in finding that sweet spot and using it properly. He emphasizes that, statistically, this successful strategy only works if

  • there is clear focus on content, not just using bells and whistles -- the technology proves merely distracting otherwise.
  • the voting component is in place, keeping track of students who are getting it and those who aren't.
  • this student feedback is used formatively to help guide future instruction.

Having Marzano carrying the technology standard is exciting. It proves not only the legitimacy of these strategies but also that all of us, even the best educational practitioners, can evolve in their own theories.

It is also comforting to have such a godfather of educational practice reminding those before him in the trenches that, despite the negative press about education, statistics continue to prove that "if you give magic BBs to teachers who want to hone their craft, great things can happen."

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Mark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,

I am a SmartBoard user, and have been for the past 3 years. The technology has become so much a part of my classroom practice and that of my students that I can truly say that the board has become transparent. Teacher, student and visitor presentations, in many ways, come alive--provided that there is life in them to begin with!

Our district has plans to introduce many more of these boards into classrooms in then next few years. Currently, they are in the hands of some of our "early adopters", and I think that is a good thing. Networking among users has been started, and that is a good thing as well.

A few cautionary notes. First, I don't believe that interactive whiteboards are a strategy, in and of themselves. I think that we take a wrong turn when we make the mistake that any technology is anything but a tool.

Second, the interactive whiteboard will support any teaching style. It doesn't necessarily demand a new way of teaching. I have seen teachers use the technology as a glorified chalk board; I have seen others use it as an interactive multimedia centre. I think that the technology itself, while it will support transformational practice, doesn't necessarily demand it.

Finally, I think that we have to be very careful to define what we mean by success. If success means improved performance on standardized tests, that is one thing. If success means the development of deeper understanding, critical thinking ability or something that is beyond the measuring capability of the voting components of interactive whiteboards, then we have to encourage teachers to move differently with this technology.

While I respect the work of Robert Marzano, I don't think that any one individual's endorsement proves the legitimacy of any strategy, practice or way of thinking. Legitimacy comes from within the classroom, the place where theory and practice come together on a daily basis.

Thanks for starting this conversation...I think that it is an important one!

HeatherWolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for your astute comments, Mark. You're right, of course. They are a tool, but a darn engaging one and also one that models some skills that students should know how to do. Just by watching the teacher and each other use the wand, click onto fields, open and close files, minimize, etc...on a daily basis, integrates these mini-lessons organically. And these are lessons that not every students gets otherwise. Additionally, using the voter technology in a formative, reflective manner is key. Using the board can't cease at the end of the lesson. The information gathered must be then used as data to develop lessons, reteaching strategies, and differentiated methods to reach students. But the board makes the gathering of that data easier and quicker which, thus, makes it easier to do our job - that of teaching all students.

I agree too that Robert Marzano is just one voice, but he's an influential one and one that represents a family of educational leaders who are just coming around on ed tech. Nevertheless, the important point here is to know that we can all adapt to use effective tools, just so long as we are open to that change.

If I had written a post that said, "Hey David Warlick just said ed tech is great!" or "Ted Lai loves podacasting," we'd all say "Duh!" Marzano adds some credibility to the argument. I'm not saying he's totally objective, but I'm glad he's on our side!

Thanks again for your comments. I love the dialogue.
-Heather

Dr. Chris A. Heidelberg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the things that I have found in researching Edutainment and Convergence is that it does not work well when the front line instructors have not been trained properly and just as critically there has to be a level of confidence in this approach by everyone involved. I have been using free mainstream social media tools to teach my communications classes how to do everything from conduct qualitative research, scholarly papers, critical thinking, analysis, and of course creating digital content for broadcasting and narrowcasting. Please keep up the good work because combination of great teaching and technology combined with a pragmatic and flexible philosophical approach at the highest levels will bury the highly questionable academic testing results. I will not get into high stakes testing in this post; however, I think that while standardization is a great Utopian goal it leaves out the very human quality that many who oppose technology blended learning argue that is needed.

HeatherWolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You bring up a lot that could be their own posts, Chris. The only point I want to focus on here, however, is the issue of "there has to be a level of confidence in this approach by everyone involved." I think I beg to differ. Here's why.

I am always challenged by technology. I have confidence in the purpose and outcome of well-used technology used formatively, but I struggle with its use all the time. Because of that, I find that many tech tentative teachers will talk to me because I remember what it was like earlier in my career when I let some fears shut me off to using these strategies. It takes time to learn any tool, and tools seem to change daily. So it isn't confidence with the technology that's important, but confidence in the importance of its use that it.

Besides, I don't mind if the kids know more than me. It's a rich lesson onto itself to model one's own learning.

Thanks for the comments. Much to chew on.
-Heather

Mark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,

I suppose that I should read Marzano's research before making any further comments. Do you have a reference?

There is one thing that I thought peculiar. Perhaps you could clarify. There was a reported "immediate" gain of 17 percent, but given two to two and a half years of time and training, there was a 20 percent gain. Is this an additional 20 percent gain (i.e. 37 percent gain), or was it a 3 percent gain over the original 17.

Are you able to clarify?

Mark

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