Smartboards As A Resource Tool To Enhance Skills Education Essay

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Introduction

Endorsed and funded by Government, interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are becoming increasingly popular in schools in the UK (Higgins et al. 2007) and internationally (Kearney and Schuck 2008). Originally developed for business use IWB have become a common feature of all classrooms in Wales during the last six years, since the Welsh Assembly Government announced details of a 9.9 million grant to provide an IWB for every school in Wales (Kennewell and Morgan 2003). An IWB is a large touch sensitive display board onto which the computer image is projected, the image can be controlled by touching the surface of the board with a pen or finger. It is possible of write of draw on the surface, print the image off or save it electronically. Computer images can also be annotated drawn over and the annotations saved. IWB had been identified as a useful tool from a pedagogical perspective as they exhibit features which promote:

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Advocates of IWB technology have suggested that 'Interactive whiteboards open up whole new ways of using ICT to support teaching and learning' (Davidson 2002). It is not clear however whether this means that there is a change in pedagogical approach as a result of using IWB or that tasks within established teaching approaches are technically better supported. In Wales the promotion of the use of IWB in classrooms has occurred alongside a shift in policy for early years education. The phased implementation and evaluation of the new foundation phase in Wales (Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales 2004) is currently being undertaken. The new foundation phase emphasises the importance of 'well-planned play' in stimulating indoor and outdoor environments although this concept is not clearly defined within the documentation.

Literature Review

Play has been emphasised as not only pivotal in primary-school age children's development but as central to good learning (Moyles 1989; Wood and Attfield 2005). Nevertheless, after the launch of the National Curriculum as well as the National Strategies for Literacy and Numeracy, early years teachers seem to have experienced some pressure to develop a subject-based curriculum and a more formally-based pedagogy. As a consequence of this, young learners have been pushed into learning in what are held to be inappropriate ways (Bennett, Wood, and Rogers 1997): for example, rote learning in literacy and numeracy tasks not to mention over-emphasis on formal whole class teaching, deskbound and sedentary activities. It has been strongly argued that these kinds of approaches could contribute to increased anxiety and cause a negative impact on young learner's self-confidence and motivation in learning (Sharp 2002).

The curriculum's foundation phase, most notably, delays more formal learning approaches until following the age of 7 years and also aims to encourage a balance of child-centred and teacher-led tasks. Central to the new foundation phase is an ethos centred around socio-constructivist approaches to children's learning. This ethos is reflected in the findings of the EPPE and REPEY studies (Sylva et al. 2004). As a part of this policy initiative, foundation level teachers were being asked to review and reshape their practice according to a more informal, holistic and play-based pedagogy, including Reggio Emilia (Katz and Chard 2000), Te Whariki (New Zealand Ministry of Education 1996) and those implemented in the Scandinavian countries (e.g., Swedish Ministry of Education and Science 1998).

It is widely known that using a theory of play as part of a portfolio of teaching strategies can be problematic in practice (Manning and Sharp 1977; Bennett et al. 1997; Wood et al 2005). When the aim of developing young learner's ICT competence (Kennewell et al. 2000) and using fresh , multi-modal presentation technologies such as IWB, is added to this, it is obvious that these teachers in particular have an unenviable task in developing a pedagogy that meets the aims of current government policies.

There are contrasting opinions concerning the relationship between ICT, play and learning for children of this age. Some educationalists view ICT as a threat to playful learning (Cordes and Miller 2000), whilst others regard it as another tool or toy (Clements 1994; Plowman and Stephen 2003; Facer et al. 2003). The latter view is upheld by the finding that children are often identified as having high levels of technological expertise within the home, learning to network computers, programme videos and use mobile phones through play. A number of studies (Downes 1998; Sutherland et al. 2000; Sefton-Green 1998; Facer et al. 2003) have all acknowledged features of learning about and via ICT in the home, which are in sharp contrast to their experiences in school.

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It has been postulated that children develop their ICT capability in informal settings via a process of bricolage (Papert 1996), and it seems that learning about and through ICT is a domain of study that may be particularly suited to learning through play. Much anecdotal evidence indicates that learners develop ICT knowledge, skills and understanding from activity with ICT that has characteristics of play, however little research has been undertaken to establish whether this approach might be exploited (and if so, how, and how effectively) in classrooms with young children (Klerfelt 2004). Previous studies which used IWB technology, highlighted the potential of play as a useful pedagogical approach when working with learners across a wide range of ages and abilities. These studies illustrate that a technological play environment is potentially valuable for reflection, leading to the development of an understanding of concepts and processes. This development of understanding may contribute to development of learners' ICT capability as outlined in the formal curriculum specification for ICT in England and Wales (Department for Education and Employment and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 1999; Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales 2004). ICT capability is characterised by Kennewell et al. (2000) as a combination of specific routines, techniques and processes together with the concepts and higher-order skills required to recognise opportunities to use ICT; to solve problems with ICT; and to develop processes and techniques when working with novel technologies.

IWBs and UK Education Policy

As a key UK Government initiative to establish ICT as a core curriculum aid in primary schools, the Interactive Whiteboard has been brought into classrooms at a speed which puts the UK among the world leaders for the technology. Although a current estimate of the incidence of IWBs in schools can be difficult to quantify exactly, 94% of primary schools in England and Wales possessed at least one by 2005, an increase the 2004 figure of 63% in The median allocation of IWBs by primary school was estimated at five in 2005, in contrast to only two in the preceding year (Becta 2005; 2006a, b). The vast majority of primary school pupils in England and Wales will have had a degree of experience in their use by now. The phasing in of IWBs has been overtly associated to the goal of increasing attainment by enhancing pedagogic practice, in other words, as a teaching aid. Robust assertions that IWB usage would 'transform' or 'revolutionise' teaching practice in primary education were stated by both policy-makers and manufacturers. The guiding tenet seems to have suggested that the phasing in of IWBs would have direct benefits for learning. However, as has often emerged with other IT initiatives, there exists a risk that the introduction of this costly and potentially invaluable item of educational aid is 'technology-led' in place of being 'education-led' so that it enhances the professional needs of teachers as well as the education needs of children to a greater degree than existing educational tools. Initial research on the introduction of PCs to schools has indicated that a technology-led medium of introduction has a tendency to create problems, particularly with regard to teachers' adoption of the technology as a teaching tool. (Dawes, 2000; Hennessy, 2006).

Pedagogical Uses and Theoretical Background

There is a relatively strong argument that IWBs offer teachers some unique benefits. For example, HD quality mixed media presentations can assist in meeting the elevated expectations of media-savvy young learners who have gained from their social networking milieu outside the classroom and thus aid the teacher in engaging and maintaining their focus. It may appear a more or less superficial observation but IWB technology enables image and text to be selected, visualised, moved, marked up and transformed in manners that analogue classroom VDU technology cannot. This fact is of potential pedagogic significance. The technology enables teachers to cycle to and fro through current and preceding lesson material, recycling relevant information when and if needed (as recorded by Smith et al., 2005). IWBs are easily networkable to other forms of ICT peripherals, including laptops, which can then be managed by children, allowing information to be authored and distributed in novel methods.

A sociocultural perspective highlights the significance of tools and technologies in the social processes of learning (Säljö, 1999). According to Vygotsky, tools may have both psychological and social/cultural functions: "By being included in the process of behavior, the psychological tool alters the entire flow and structure of mental functions. It does this by determining the structure of a new instrumental act, just as a technical tool alters the process of a natural adaptation by determining the form of labor operations" (Vygotsky, 1981, p.137). One interest is in the impact of a new tool on social practices which are concerned with promoting children's learning and psychological development. A sociocultural perspective provides a suitable conceptual vocabulary for examining this phenomenon. It also raises awareness that tools may not simply facilitate cognitive and social processes, but have the potential to transform them in fundamental ways (Wertsch et al., 1993). The nature of those 'fundamental ways' merits attention: it could be that changing the qualities of the learning resources presented to children leads to new kinds of engagement and hence to different perceptions and understandings; it could be that radical changes to teaching styles ensue, with other unforeseen effects. Guided by this perspective, our interest has focused on the possible transformation of patterns of classroom interaction as representations of the process of teaching and learning

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It is observed that teachers commonly invited children to become actively involved in the manipulation of images and information on the IWB, writing or make some other contribution to the topic or representation under discussion. We observed children using the representation on the IWB to challenge the teacher's (or another authority's) claims. The introduction and utilisation of such new opportunities for active involvement, which pupils seem to find motivating and enjoyable, could contribute to the development of

a more dialogic pedagogy of the kind extolled by Alexander (2004) and Smith et al.(2005) Collating pupils' ideas on the IWB serves usefully to capture the emergence of ideas from collective activity, such as brainstorming solutions to problems and annotating visual representations. The IWB was also used create continuity between lessons and so enhance the coherence of topics being studied. Such shared representation of content on the IWB potentially may be used to encourage more 'interactive' and 'non-authoritative'

dialogue (Mortimer & Scott, 2003; Scott, et al., 2006). We thus have evidence that the IWB can help improve the quality of educational dialogue - so long as the teacher is already sensitive to the effective use of dialogue and positive about the greater active involvement of their pupils.

It could be argued that many of the activities observed could have been carried out without the IWB. However, the flexible pace of an IWB presentation in whole-class settings is unrivalled by other technologies, with its capacity for users to spontaneously move back and forth between slides in order to progress or revisit previous material. But the actual affordances of the IWB, as with any tool, lie in the users' perceptions of what can be done with it, and what they can add to the classroom environment. Many teachers comment on the affordances of the IWB for resourcing activities in a way they could not have done before due to, for example, increased ease of access to resources and type of resource provided through the ICT systems which included the IWB, whether pre-planned or spontaneous. Simulations of scientific phenomena, the video-presentation of activities that could not be carried out in the classroom, and the possibility of exploring ideas in the moment as well as revisiting events and ideas from earlier in the lesson or previous lessons or longer periods.

The introduction and utilisation of such new opportunities for active involvement, which pupils seemed to find motivating and enjoyable, could contribute to the development of a more dialogic pedagogy of the kind extolled by Alexander (2004) and Smith et al.(2005). An effective teacher is likely to engage in a balance of pedagogic strategies in any one lesson and so employ the IWB in a range of ways. For example, one pupil may come to the front to offer a summary of group activity that is captured by webcam and then discussed by the class as a whole, and groups of children may engage in varying kinds of activities stimulated by the currently displayed resources. IWBs enable teachers to produce a very lively, varied, quite complex and interactive lesson more easily than previously possible, which is likely to have an effect on what teachers realistically can do in the time available. The most effective use of IWBs seems likely to involve striking a balance between providing a clear structure for a well-resourced lesson.

Overall, many studies support the view that new technology, in itself, will not transform or revolutionise teaching. Teachers may use the IWB's technical affordances very effectively, but do so to support an established, conventional style of teaching. There is little evidence that the use of the IWB transforms teaching in terms of the nature of classroom dialogue and the use of specific pedagogic strategies (a conclusion also reached by Smith, Hardman & Higgins, 2006). However, I would argue that effective teachers should not be expected to have their practice transformed just because some new technology has come along: it is more appropriate that a new technology should be judged in terms how well it helps professionals do their job. Judged in these terms, results support the view that, in the hands of effective teachers, the introduction of the IWB into British classrooms has already had positive outcomes. The effective use of this tool will be assisted if examples of good practice, like some of those observed, are shared amongst teachers, and if all teachers train to become adept users of the technology. But the potential of IWB technology for supporting more innovative types of interaction in the classroom will only be realised if their use is related to the development of teachers' effective use of dialogue and pupil involvement in the

classroom. It will be interesting to see how this British pioneering initiative influences the take-up of this technology elsewhere in the world, where its use in classrooms is still rare.

Potential Research Areas

Researchers should be aware of teachers' perceptions of the various resources available to them. They should also be mindful of teachers' and pupils' experiences and preferences in terms of the multiple, foregrounded and combined modes and media through which they explore topics. How material is presented and used in class may vary greatly and for many reasons. Such an exploration would inform a contextualised consideration of IWB use, alongside other resources in the classroom. From the research reported ,the potential benefits of synergies between research and practice are evident. It is apparent that good practice in teaching and learning could be fostered and developed by teachers engaging with or in research.

Research should now explore how a multimodal learning environment including an IWB is used to resource a cumulative teaching and learning experience, by considering the introduction, development and re-presentation of concepts through the use of improvable objects, toward an extended view of shared and individual meaning-making trajectories across a series of topic lessons. With some exceptions (notably Littleton et al., 2010) this is a relatively neglected area of research, and is something needing to be addressed..

Several projects have indirectly pointed out the absence of initial and CPD resources relating to the IWB and this should be a key future research priority. As IWBs are taken up in other countries, comparisons of their educational use in other cultural settings could prove rewarding. The potential of this technology for resourcing students' collaborative activity has also still to be explored (and we have plans to do so). The continuation of this line of research will require the development of multimodal methodologies for studying both the processes and outcomes of classroom interaction.

IWBs are regularly used to facilitate a more instructionist type of teaching than is necessarily suggested by the socio-cultural ethos of the new foundation phase. In a host of situations teaching which uses IWBs is associated with a form of pedagogy in which the teacher sets out to convey a specific viewpoint or opinion and involves the learners in a question and answer schema with the intention of engendering that point of view. It is valuable to reflect on this tendency in relation to both technological and teaching interactivity (Gillen et al. 2007; Smith et al. 2005). While the IWB can enhance deeper technological interactiveness through giving access to multi-modal information, a quicker and more involving presentation it does not appear to be widely used to evince increased pedagogical interactiveness (Alexander 2004; Burns and Myhill 2004). Teachers also value play as a vehicle for learning. Many pupils make comments relating to playing with the IWB during 'playtime'. As the teachers profess to value play highly as vehicle for learning in the classroom, it seems that they are experiencing a divergence of personal philosophy and practice (Bennett et al. 1997). It also seems that the ability of pupils to develop confidence and competence with novel ICT resources through play is also not intentionally being explored with regard the IWB. Studies highlight the potential for developing use of IWB technology and supporting peripherals to support formative assessment, which itself has potential for supporting enhanced pedagogy via increasing the understandings of the process of children's learning (Black and William 2003; Broadhead 2006). This approach, combined with an emphasis on play, clearly places the focus within learning on documenting the process rather than product; on accomplishing assessment with the child rather than upon them. A number of suggestions made by practitioners of how the IWB could be used within the foundation phase pedagogy would fit well with sociocultural principles.

This includes use of the IWB for the:

â- Representation and organisation of ideas.

â- Visualisation and reflection on thinking.

â- Communication of ideas and collaboration.

â- Extension and communication of learning to the broader community and documentation of a more divergent form of pedagogical practice.

A systematic and careful consideration of the potential of employing the IWB in this way with children aged three to seven years within the foundation phase in England and Wales and dissemination of this information would be of interest to practitioners and policy-makers at the present time. Both the decision to invest in and install IWBs in classrooms and to implement a new foundation phase, was determined by policymakers rather than practitioners. Indeed, traditionally, teachers and children have had little control over, or involvement in, the conceptualisation, construction and development of learning technologies for use in classrooms. In this study it is apparent that pedagogy has accommodated to rather than driven the development of IWB use in the early years classroom. Early years teachers would value additional support and opportunities via ITT and CPD with the IWB technology they have available in the classroom. This should allow practitioners:

â- Access to additional peripheral resources

â- The time to develop competence with the IWB technology

â- The opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the sociocultural theories of learning; international perspectives of play and learning which contribute to a novel, emerging foundation phase pedagogy.

â- The opportunity to participate in the consideration of how the development of novel practices with the IWB and complementary peripherals might best afford learning as part of an emergent foundation phase pedagogy.

If early years teachers are afforded these opportunities and the good practice disseminated, then it is more likely that the IWB will begin to deliver on the promise of functioning as a useful classroom tool for both children and practitioners