Passing notes on the IWB back channel

As an Interactive White Board (IWB) newbie and the  mercenary Ed Tech man, I thought it a good idea to master the newly installed giant touch screens to prove my learning tech credentials.

It’s quite common to call IWB’s Smartboards, but that’s like calling a vacuum cleaner a Hoover or a spreadsheet program Excel.  You are advertising  the brand name for free.

George @veletsianos kindly brought me up to speed with his IWB lecture. Mining for independent research on IWB reveals little. General consensus amongst the gurus is that this technology give teachers a clever (and expensive) surface with a range of presentation options. Improvement in results (especially in maths) have been reported, but those improvements seem only temporary. The other angle from the research was that IWBs doesn’t do that much for developing a constructivist learning environment. Thus far – not a pretty picture.

Anecdotal accounts from teachers tell a different story from the  research and I found examples of practice (especially at primary school level) extolling the virtues of the technology. It’s clear that teachers that are comfortable with IWBs are enjoying the opportunity to interact with the data and resources in front of the class.

Sadly, all my pre-research came to naught, as I discovered that while the screen and projector had been installed, the IWB had not been calibrated and the software not delivered. So instead of using any of the boards to instruct (we have a choice), I put the BACK into back channel, turned the class round with their rear ends facing the IWB, took up @injenuity ‘s challenge, let go of my PowerPoint and handed out my notes.

Students were introduced to the back channel concept and encouraged to open their laptops, connect with their phones and use their Twitter accounts, the #ukznav hashtag and participate in “note passing” during the lesson.

Things that I learned

I saw a few whispers but no scribbled notes passed around during the class. Perhaps my students are too kind for the salacious gossip associated with notes. Or maybe they did not see the need. A back channel usually requires a bigger class than I had. It’s hard to pass notes electronically when the teacher looms large.  A back channel is suitable when there’s a sea of faces and a wealth of ICT devices.

When using the back channel it’s useful to have an application (such as Todaysmeet) that aggregates your classes Tweets in realtime. I entered our #ukznav hashtag in Twitter’s search and had to ask Pravesh to refresh the page.

It also requires practice to present content and respond to short messages on the back channel. I found it difficult to work through my material and reply coherently to the points projected on the IWB. Doing this in front of a large class that were back channeling properly could be quite scary.

It’s certainly an experiment that I’d like to repeat. With  a choice of projection options I might land up using the data projector and the IWB. I might even mix channels and embed a coupe of Tweets into the PPT presentation. As always, I’d be interested to hear of what you thought / think of these ideas.   Comments are yours.