I work for a company that manufactures touchscreens. It’s an amazing company and it makes extremely cool technology and I love my job. It’s a bit of sales, a bit of training, a bit of business development, a bit of technical support and other bits besides.
So why write a blog with a title like this? Because if you ask a school the big existential question: ‘Do you need an interactive touch screen?’ and they say “no”, then that is pretty much the end of the conversation, particularly if they have some good reasons to back this up. Doesn’t matter how cool your swag is, if a school doesn’t want it, then you’re out of the game.
So why complicate things with this question; surely all schools and all classrooms need interactive touch screens?
The reason for posing the question is twofold.
Firstly quite a few of my formative years were spent doing research into ed-tech and one thing you learn doing research is to question everything. So asking big questions like ‘do you really need an interactive touch screen?’ is a powerful thing to ask in the edtech research space, because it challenges orthodox thinking and forces you to think again about the fundamentals of what ed-tech is meant to achieve. If the answer is ‘we need interactive touch screens because our interactive whiteboards are all old and breaking down’ then more thought is probably needed.
Secondly, on occasions a prospective school or college will ask the question of themselves: ‘Do we actually need interactive touch screens’. They do represent a cost, and like any cost it needs justifying. A budget will always outstrip the amount of things it could be spent on, so every purchase is competing with every other, tough decision need to be made.
Answering the question
My instinct when faced with a big question like: ‘Do you need interactive touch screens?’ is to interrogate the teaching strategy of the school or college. What kinds of teaching do you want to see happening? How are teachers to spend the precious time they have with students and which kind of behaviours and practices do you want to promote and which ones do you want to discourage or even proscribe? Once you have an answer for that you can get closer to an honest answer to the question. Now the question of the teachingf strategy is one for Senior Leadership Team (SLT), or at least it should be. The SLT should work to set the teaching strategy of the school and then put in place the correct support so teaching staff can implement this strategy. An SLT which does not spend a good proportion of its time thinking about teaching and learning and how to improve it, is not doing its job.
Does your teaching strategy include talking to the whole group?
I think it would be very rare for any school or college to have a teaching strategy which did not involve the teacher talking to the whole group, for at least some part of a lesson1. This is so basic an assertion that I doubt it gets explicitly covered in teaching strategies, it’s simply a given that the teacher will stand at the front and talk to the class as a whole, at the start of the lesson and once again at the end. So once thjis decision has been made you can ask the question: ‘When the teacher is doing that, how do you want to support them?’ Of course, ut is possible to talk to a group without any audio visual aids. a lot of the most popular TED talks happen on a blank stage with nothing but the speaker and a spotlight. But often teachers need something on the screen, it may be they are setting up group work and need the instructions, or are explaining a concept and need the formulae up there, or teaching a historical idea and have images and illustration which help.
Once you have decided that it is desirable for a teacher to spend at least some of the lesson addressing the entire class it becomes a necessity to have a screen to display a computer image at a size that all of the participants can see.
So we have got some of the way there.You have at least decided that to support your pedagogic strategy you need a display screen.
In the next blog post, we’ll take a look at whether it needs to be interactive or not.
1: It is very easy to imagine a situation where a teacher did not ever address all of the class together. If the classroom is a ‘flipped one’, then the whole class instruction would be created by the teacher and then delivered to the students to access outside of lesson time. So the teacher could make a 10 minute video on the structure of the periodic table, and use a learning environment to deliver this to the students who all watch it individually in their own time. The classroom time is then devoted to them working through a group or individual activity the teacher sets with the teacher visiting each group or individual and supporting them according to their need. I know of no school where this happens though.