School friends. Let me save you $6,000

Google gets into the whiteboard business – Techcrunch

back of the interactive whiteboard
The back is really nice, says Techcrunch

Google is getting into the interactive whiteboard (IWB) business with a product called “Jamboard,” a touchscreen hub built around Google Apps – only $6,000.

It’s only a matter of time before schools get the same sales pitch – you have the free Google suite of tools and apps, you have Chromebooks – this is just a way to extend that investment. OK, so the interactive whiteboards you have now aren’t really being used… well, that’s going to be solved now because these are NEW and BETTER. They are 4K, for goodness sakes! The problem was pixelation!

Techcrunch says, “The board also has 16 levels of pressure sensitive touch and nice little animations that bring small things like erasing to life, as you watch the text flake and fall off the display.”

That’s terrific – what schools need is to bring erasing to life.

We’ve been here before

Six years ago I wrote a post called, “Let me save you $6,162″ about the then “innovative” touch tables that were all the rage at educational technology vendor booths. For only $6,500 you could play virtual tangrams with canned applause when you got the “correct” answer. Now there’s some innovation! Judging by the dearth of touch tables in schools, I guess wiser heads prevailed.

Schools wasted millions of dollars in the last two decades on interactive whiteboards. The reason they were a failure is because they were a bad idea in the first place, not that they didn’t work properly. Gary Stager concisely makes this case in “A Modest Proposal” written in 2011 and still true today. It starts out,

“IWBs and their clicker spawn are a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices. … They reinforce the dominance of the front of the room and teacher supremacy. At a time of enormous educational upheaval, technological change, and an increasing gulf between adults and children, it is a bad idea to purchase technology that facilitates the delivery of information and increases the physical distance between teacher and learner.”

So, sorry that I can only save you $6,000 (per classroom) this time around, but I’m trying!

Repeat after me…. Innovation isn’t buying new stuff.

Let me save you $6,162.48

Wikimedia commons. Ingvar Kjøllesdal. Click for original.
Creation is in the child, not the table

This morning in the Washington Post, an article critical of educational technology tore into the heart of the matter – the relationship between schools hoping that there is some new magic wand that will improve student achievement and the capacity of sales-driven companies to invent expensive “solutions.”

Focusing mainly on interactive whiteboards, the article quotes teachers and researchers who point out that they are little more than glorified chalkboards, and one student who says exactly that.

“There is hardly any research that will show clearly that any of these machines will improve academic achievement,” said Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University. “But the value of novelty, that’s highly prized in American society, period. And one way schools can say they are “innovative” is to pick up the latest device.”

“Or, as 18-year-old Benjamin Marple put it: “I feel they are as useful as a chalkboard.”

The end of the article leaves you with a sobering vignette – the advent of the next wave, the multi-touch table.

“One recent morning, an amiable corporate salesman in a dark suit wheeled into a Maryland classroom the latest high-tech device — a $6,500 table with an interactive touch screen that allows students to collaboratively count, do puzzles and play other instructional games. “We had a first run and boom! They sold out,” Joe Piazza said in his presentation to administrators at Parkside High School on the Eastern Shore. “It was kind of like the iPad.”

In the cinder-block classroom, a few kindergartners sat around the fancy table, working a digital puzzle as blips and canned applause encouraged them. The school officials seemed pleased.

“So,” the district’s technology director asked Piazza, “do we just call you for pricing?”

So, as promised, here’s a shopping list that will provide you with EVERYTHING a multi-touch table does. I’ll even spring for the high quality “classroom” versions.

1 Kindergarten Table – $169.99
Deluxe Wooden Classoom Tangrams – $18.95 (go crazy, buy two) $37.90
Classroom Coloring books – $3.74
Finger paints (classroom set) – $19.90
MathBlaster on eBay – $5.99

I’ll even spot you $100 to go get a collection of maps, human body visuals, and other stuff to lay on the table so  students can point at them. (Actually, if you really are bargain hunting, you can get a lot of this stuff for free on the Internet. Cha-ching!)

Oh, and don’t forget the canned applause when students do things “correctly” – priceless

Total cost – $337.52

These tables cost around $6,500. So there, tada! I’ve saved you $6,162.48

But as I’ve said before, “You can’t buy change. It’s a process, not a purchase. The right shopping list won’t change education.” That quote got picked up in an article by Bill Ferriter for Teacher Magazine “Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards.”

So do yourself (and the kids) a favor – save $6,162.48 today, and in a few short years you’ll be able to say, “I told you so.” when the articles about “tables don’t teach” start appearing.

As the kids say — ur welcome.