Blackboard, Whiteboard, now what?

It all started with the humble blackboard and we have just accepted it in various forms as teachers ever since. Remember the unbearable sound made by the teacher’s chalk squealing against the blackboard the obnoxious frequency still makes me clench my teeth.

Blackboards have been a popular sighting in classrooms credited to James Pillans, headmaster and geography teacher at the Old High School in Edinburgh, Scotland (Resilient educator 2021). James was a great teacher, his idea in 1801 would have been causing all the right buzz, fellow teachers would have seen an immediate and meaningful impact on their classrooms if they followed suit. The innovation from James is now 220 years old yet, the fundamental idea of a teacher explaining a concept with a visual aid has not changed. The blackboard has merely been substituted, becoming the whiteboard in the mid-1900s (one and a half-century later). The plain white rather than blackboard allowed Roger Appeldorn’s idea of an overhead projector to become acceptable in classrooms around the 1960s (Royer 2002). The overhead projector was fundamentally our attempt in education to electrify the blackboard.

Many teachers spent time and effort to laminate the teaching materials, bringing in two or on a lucky day three different coloured fine-tip pens to annotate over the laminated sheets. Most will still have memories of how the overhead projector beamed onto the entire classroom wall. This ran well for some time until Bill Gates gave us the PowerPoint in 1990 (Gaskins 2012), wow, now we had a game-changer in our hands or did we? The PowerPoint was never invented for classroom teaching, instead, it was for sharing business ideas- allowing for sales pitches rather than teaching, hence the term ‘death by PowerPoint.’ Teachers around the world tried to take a tool that was designed to keep the human mind occupied for 10-15 minutes and shoved entire lectures…click, click, click.

While the human race has had tremendous innovation and success with some notable achievements like the first car in 1908, instant coffee in 1909, Monopoly board game in 1934, coloured television in 1940 and faster than sound aircraft in 1947 (Alexandra 2019) we have no comparable leaps or bounds in our education sector to compare! No, don’t say PowerPoint!

Please don’t get me wrong, many teachers have done well to adopt this technology in their classrooms and we all have benefited from this new, more flexible technology than our previous friends in the blackboard, whiteboard and the overhead projector, but we need to ask ourselves, how long can we now run with this newer, dynamic and flexible overhead projector (after all that’s all the PowerPoint has really replaced right?)

Everyone is innovating – what about our classroom?

For this, I will need to use three examples that have certainly delivered for their customers and done well (let’s leave the student is a customer discussion for another day). First, we should learn from our most trusted gadget, the smartphone. If we have progressed from having two tin cans connected by string to relay messages, to a smartphone that can do almost anything imaginable, what is our comparable innovation in teaching? Second, think media- it’s available on-demand, social and traditional. Netflix, Stan, Disney (I can’t even keep up) allow for on-demand viewing, social media allows for user participation, you can consume and create, and of course, you have traditional means to cater for a large audience with various requirements. What is our answer to such ways of sharing content in education? Finally- technology which plays a role in the previous two but the new and evergrowing capabilities of technology has lead to cloud-based computing, faster than before connections, data and information mines, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the list goes on, how can we harness the energies and revamp our education, how can we leverage the tools from today?

A classroom for 2021

So, what should our classroom look like in 2021? There is no one size fits all, but there certainly could be a one thought pattern that can guide all! Teachers should not be directors of a classroom rather be part of the class and ‘facilitate’ sessions. We should use the gadgets our students have, leverage the smartphone or the tablet. No, don’t start from scratch, there are endless apps and websites that often explain the basic ideas well. Don’t reinvent the wheel, please, we already have that so you should be able to enjoy the ride and get going!

Change your mindset, the post-pandemic classroom has been changed forever, don’t expect every single student to be in-class to benefit, instead work on methods and ideas that will allow for concurrent learning. The content should be available in the classroom while simultaneously online for anyone else around the world, and yes record it, allow for on-demand viewing as well. Think like Netflix, why do students binge-watch a show? How can we spark that interest and willpower for binge learning? As you have most likely experienced, Netflix shows are binged as they leave you wondering what happens next? You have a connection with the characters, while this is not easy, but a similar mindset to course content could really excite the student cohort and take everything to the next level.

Technology, the ship that can keep it smooth sailing or get you stuck in a storm very quick (may even have some unforeseen ice-bergs), so should I be safe and not bother with technology? Well, ships are ‘safe’ docked at a harbour, but only at home and beautiful when at sea. Technology for teachers is the same, you need to get on! I will share a few ideas here that I have made repeats in my class.

  1. Simulation/Game based – there are a few simulations that I use to allow for ‘game’ based learning and these are free for public use, it is the closest I have been to interrupting students Netflix time, once they are in the game, engaged and seeing real-time feedback they are off and self-learning! Whoooo!! The point of healthy competition is right at home here, competing against fellow students in an assessment in which their actions have direct consequences.
  2. Twitter to know what industry experts are talking about and bring their views into class.
  3. TED containing meaningful discussion on various topics.
  4. JigSpace to walk through complex machines and model in a 3D augmented reality setting.
  5. ExplainEverything is my ‘pocket blackboard’ that allows me to draw ideas/ models very quickly to share with class both face to face and online simultaneously. Yes, I hear you, is this not just an electric ‘blackboard’ connected to the internet? Yes, it is and when used in short sharp sessions it is impactful and useful.
  6. Kahoot, Debate, Roleplay- fun, informative, engaging activities. This method allows for instant feedback to my students.
  7. Voice-command ‘Okay Google’ or ‘Hey Siri’ – at your own risk but often this is great to get a point across or have a laugh. As facilitators, we are only supporting a session and soon the students will not be with you, so help them develop skills and the mind to use the tools that will always be in their pockets, yes, you always will have a calculator and phone on you when you are working, stop lying (haha).
  8. Youtube- Yes, why reinvent the wheel when it’s there, instead I join the ride! Many well-presented videos that explain concepts- allowing you as the teacher to pick up the discussion for deeper learning on the back of verified videos.
  9. Blog – free to use blogs allows students to research and present the ideas via a blog that can be validated by people around the world, all of a sudden the student’s audience has gone from ‘you the teacher’ to anyone around the world. You will see a sudden change in attitude and effort from many students.

I won’t make a list of 10 because that would be too mainstream, instead leave you with a small note, all of the above-mentioned methods work for various types of learning and content, you need to make a call on what will work best, needless to say- too much of anything is bad so moderation is the key, keep changing it up, also some of the ideas require planning and permissions so please use at your own discretion.

Finally, the teaching thought pattern that has worked well for me allows for the following

  1. On-demand content viewing – all classes are recorded for students to watch if they need at a later time, one less thing they need to worry about.
  2. Flexibility to join class remote or in-person, concurrent learning
  3. Engaging assessments that either create healthy competition, what happens next situation or allow students to create content and share it through YouTube, Blogs or social media.
  4. Student-centric assessments and teaching with the right help from technology.
  5. Knowing the students and understanding their needs!

Thank you & happy teaching.

Photo by Pixabay on

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