When was the last time you went back to high school? I had the chance recently and was absolutely stunned by the way technology had completely changed the landscape and the process.
If memory serves, school used to be about memorizing data and formulas for the singular purpose of pushing that knowledge back on tests. However, having watched an engaged, creative faculty work with a wondrous device, the SmartBoard from Smart Technologies of Alberta, Canada, it's possible that classroom teaching may have transitioned into an entirely different ball game, motivated by curiosity, rather than just fear of a "C."
A SmartBoard is an interactive, wall-mounted white board that merges the familiar blackboard concept with the data retrieval, information-sharing and storage attributes of a computer. Diagram that sentence on the board for the class and with a tap, send it to the PC of the kid who's out sick or to the computer in the den for homework or the school library.
Clearly, it's useful to be able to mail, store and recall information more exactly and more efficiently than before, but that's a convenience, not a breakthrough. The column-worthy aspect of all this is that finally, educators can employ a technology not simply about letting kids do an old task a new way (calculator), but rather, a bits and bytes based product that fundamentally changes the way faculty can inspire and teach kids to learn and think.
I saw SmartBoards in action during a visit to The Nichols School in Buffalo, N.Y. Instead of a dry lecture on conjugating French verbs, kids in Sheila Zamor's middle school class didn't just learn to "mange fromage," but rather watched as the whiteboard transformed from a hand written grammar lesson to a discussion of how tu, nous and vous would order the different the varieties at the finest fromageries in Paris.
The learning difference between a lecture on sentence structure and a concurrent illustration of where and how that learning would be useful was stunning.
"The SmartBoard has helped to develop visual learners, while supporting aural and logical thinkers. We utilize PowerPoint for flash cards and access to the internet to view video content," Zamor said. "Kids, focus consistently on the board, more than when I used a white board. Students relate to it in a way I had not imagined."
As she explains, it's not just the kids.
"The SmartBoard works as a window to my brain" and gives faculty options for truly creative teaching, she said. "It's simply fantastic!"
Watching malleable minds discover that interesting questions can link quite literally to new lands was amazing. Kids in the class were actually competing to ask questions so they could direct the flow of the conversation, as opposed to the more expected shirking in the back, hoping to avoid Madam's eye.
The technology-enabled ability to write on the board, then pull up the images, draw a line connecting the critical parts of the two, save and transmit all of the above genuinely made the formal teaching part of the lecture much more relevant. It would not be all that surprising to learn that kids in that class went home that evening and, of their own accord, hunted online to discover the difference between Camembert and brie or the regional changes in cheeses of Normandy versus those of Alsace.
"Introducing SmartBoard technology into the classroom has added a whole new level of interactive teaching and learning," Joe Bach, the school's IT director said.
Kids claim that it's easier to grasp difficult concepts using the SmartBoard.
"It has truly enhanced and expanded the learning experience for Nichols students," Bach said.
There have been plenty of false starts with technology in the classroom, but watching kids' faces light up in class because a magical device is inspiring them to learn how to learn suggests we may finally have it right.
Lise Buyer, a longtime Silicon Valley investor, is a principal at the Class V Group, www.classvgroup.com