Do you need an interactive touch screen? (part 2)

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In the previous blog I looked at the reasons why you might need an interactive touch screen. These were about how you are presenting to your teaching group and the kind of teaching actions you want to support. I reached the conclusion that if  you need to present to the entire group then you definitely need a display screen.

But does that display screen need to be interactive? Do you have to be able to manipulate content on the screen or can you just get away with using your computer when showing content to your group? This is an important secondary question, so let’s look at it in a little more detail.

My answer to it is rooted not in technology but in human nature, and in particular the instinctive ways we respond to people around us and what they are doing.  I’ve not been a teacher for many a year, but I have done many many presentations and led hundreds of training sessions so I know a lot about talking to a group of people and the curious dynamics involved in trying to keep their attention and get your message across. One thing I know for sure is that keeping their attention is not easy. People can get distracted if you wander off your message. Even worse, if you say something which is exciting to them they may spontaneously start discussing this with the person next to them, seemingly oblivious to the social expectation that you stay quiet in a ‘one to many’ presentation unless the speaker explicitly asks for your input. So you will lose the group if you are too boring (obviously), but you may equally lose the group if you are too interesting….

Teachers are, in my experience, the absolute all time, undisputed, worst ever for this.  Give a group of teachers just a sniff of a gap in your presentation and they’ll start talking, and then getting them to stop is a Herculean task.

One thing that really helps with sustaiing a groups’ attention is being able to command the room by standing in front of them, using your position in the room and your physical presence as a proxy for your authority.  Put simply  you can command more of the room stood up than sat down. You may hazard a go at sitting on the table if a session is going well, but it is a rare presenter who is confident enough to sit on the normal seats during their presentation, because once that height advantage is lost, the attention of the room is much harder to hold.

Touch screens are a vital tool in the teachers’s armoury as they allow you to manipulate your content and interact with your slide stack or spreadsheet or whatever you are doing whilst stood up. If the screen was a display only device you would have to duck back to where your PC or laptop is, and the minute you go back to that, even if just to type a URL in, you’ve probably lost the room. Your audience may not be deliberately looking for an opportunity to seize the momentum from you,  but something deep and primal in the brain kicks in once the presenter is no longer in the magical zone at the front of the group.

So a touch screen helps you command the attention of the group.  As the group can also see every move you make on the screen, every button you press and so on, there is a sense of it being a shared space and this contributes to the efforts you are making to bring the room along with you through consent, rather than by coercion.

Touch screens are more expensive than displays, but if you are a budget holder ask yourself how much extra you want to spend to help your teachers do their job well.

Work out the additional cost of an interactive screen over a display screen and then divide that by the lifetime of the device. You then have the amount of money you are willing to spend to give teachers’ that help. Or the amount of money you want to save in order to make their already tough jobs tougher still.

 

(Image: Tarek Ali Taha (Own work)

[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you need an interactive touch screen? (part 1)

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This chap is confident that teaching from the front is a jolly good thing….

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.

Footnote

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.

 

Views are strictly my own . .

“These views are all my own and not my employers”

Many people have this statement or variations of it in their twitter biography. And it’s very easy to see why. Twitter is a great tool for both professional networking, and personal socialisation. It is possible to set up multiple twitter accounts, but most people have just the one and use it for both of these activities, tweeting sometimes socially, sometimes professionally and very often in a hybrid format which combines the professional and social in the same way as a coffeebreak at a conference.

This rider about personal views seems quite comforting at first. It appears to set up a buffer between your absolute professional self (the one which gets up and goes to work and is focused on what needs doing and expects a paycheck rather than a P45 at the end of each month), and your private persona who may be a bit feister, a bit more feckless, a bit more knockabout, a bit more random or whatever else you are when you are not ‘working’.  The quasi-legalistic phrase thus functions as a kind of mantra or prayer in the biography of the twitter user, an offering to the gods of social media to ensure that what happens on twitter stays on twitter.

The only flaw with this is…the whole thing.  First off, just because something sounds impressive and a bit legal does not make it so. Secondly how many employers, faced with an employee who brought them into disrepute through their tweets would get scared off by reading ‘tweets are all my own views. not my employers’? In other words, do these words offer any real protection or are they just comforting but ultimately useless.

If you used your twitter account only for personal tweets you may stand a chance of defending yourself, but if you are in that very common space where personal and professional are intermingled so closely that it is not clear where one stops and the other starts, then it would be very easy for your employer to argue that you have used your professional standing to build your network of followers and therefore the same rules on professional conduct should apply to this as to your engagements in real (non social media) life. Lee Davies argues here  in an excellent posting, that personal and professional identities go beyond dichotomy or trichotomy and are multichotomous, that is we construct and present many versions of our selves using social media, and the more selves we have, the more likely we are going to run into problems as Blackadder did in the episode where he tried to have a riotous drinking competition in one room and have his puritan aunt and uncle to dinner in another (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krgUVduKFL4)

I won’t go into the many very real problems which professionals (including teachers) have got into using twitter. Suffice to say that balancing a social media identity for someone working in a school is very hard as public perception of their ‘teaching persona’ will inevitably govern judgements about how they behave on social media.

The issue here is that social media is a phenomenon of the 21st century.  Social networks can be seen as an embodied form of postmodern theory which states that there is no such thing as a single identity, but rather people are created from a constantly overlapping myriad of identities where very little is stable. These identities are rooted not in the tangible physical world, but rather in the slippier world of language, where the discursive structures we create do far more to define us than our physical characteristics. But your employer is not a post modernist, they are still very much of the 20th century and likely to judge your tweets as belonging to a single coherent self, a single coherent self having to account for why you sent particular tweets which have not gone down well with HR.  You could try a Lacanian defence if you do end up in hot water, but you probably won’t get very far.

So I conclude, twitter is like russian roulette.  Somewhere there’s a particular combination of 140 characters that you are going to tweet and seconds later your torso will slump on your computer keyboard as you realise you’ve just pulled the trigger on a live round and shot yourself in the head.  Protecting your tweets is not a solution either, you should still assume with protected tweets that everyone can read them all the time as they can be copied, screen-shotted, RTed and so on despite the protection. The only genuinely safe use of twitter is to never tweet.  The network is so public, so ‘out there’, so resistant to erasure, so difficult to stop, pause or control. Tweets take seconds on the keyboard, but an ill judged one may live with you for years.

Image courtesy of Flickr from cinnamon_girl.  Licenced under creative commons, original is available here.