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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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