My experience with an interactive board

Interactive BoardAt the start of the school year I was fortunate to have an Interwrite Board installed in my classroom. The Interwrite Board is an interactive board (IB) that works in concert with an LCD projector. Another well known IB product line is produced by Smart Technologies. Both allow teachers to control a computer by marking on the board. My board uses a pen that doesn’t leave behind real ink but it can allow me to draw, move objects around and control any software on my computer.

Here’s how I’ve been using it so far:

  1. demonstrating software: Teaching science demands the use of software for data collection, data analysis, graphical analysis, and video analysis. The IB has helped students become familiar with new software. They seem to pick up new software much faster once they had a chance to manipulate and control it with the interactive pen.
  2. practice problems go digital: My students in physics often work in small groups to solve and then present assigned problems using a white board and dry erase markers. This process has always had tremendous pedagogical advantages. Now the process has improved even more because I take pictures of their white boards and project them onto the IB for discussion.
    There are several advantages to this process:

    • the white board is bigger
    • the work is saved for continuing the next day, an absent student or review at a later date
    • while the students can annotate their white board in front of class with the interactive pens, I can interact from the back with mine (I also have the AirLiner from Smart Technologies)
  3. Create Podcasts: Work done on the IB can be recorded (audio and video) and posted to the web for further discussion and review. You can see examples of my videos here.

Here are a few reasons I like using the interactive board:

  1. I can look at my audience when using it. In the past, when I needed to demonstrate software for example, I was forced to look at the computer screen. I wasn’t looking where the students were looking. There is a disconnect here that is similar to the one when you are staring at the top of an overhead projector while your students eyes are focused behind you. Now all of us are looking at the same thing.
  2. The ability to save, go back and start over. I save so much time with the IB because I don’t have to erase things. If problem seven brings up new questions in problem one I can pull up question one in a flash. New questions come up? Click new page and off we go. It’s like an endless chalkboard that doesn’t show the faint, half-erased work of the hours before. I still have a chalkboard- over twice the area of the IB. I use this for things I want to keep up long-term, quick calculations for students in lab, and of course the “please see me” notes.
  3. It is a better drawer than me. I use the lines, shapes, clip art and endless colors to drive home our discussions. When I teach vectors, the colored arrows can be copied and slid around to explain things like vector addition. This is a huge time saver and something I never could have done with chalk.
  4. Students are eager to use the interactive board and feel privileged to have it in their classroom. I know that these sensations will probably subside as the technology becomes more commonplace but right now I have students asking to use it. Having students proud of what their school is providing is a good thing.

Google’s new presentation app has room to grow

Google PresentationsGoogle has just released a presentation program that runs right in your browser. Now you can create and share presentations online. With the addition of presentations, many are claiming that Google Docs now has three tools (they also have a word processor and a spreadsheet program) that can rival Microsoft Office.

Rival? Not really. While I like the ability to work together with people all across the Internet to create a slideshow, I’m disappointed with Google’s new tool. After uploading a PowerPoint file, I saw that its functions are quite basic. Google’s PowerPoint ‘wanna-be’ has a long way to go.

He’s what I think Google’s presentation software needs:

  • Animations and transitions: If Google really wants to stand out, they need to add a little motion. (The folks at SlideRocket are doing exciting things in this area.)
  • An easy way to embed slideshows: The whole point of putting a presentation online is to share it with a wider audience. Where is the button that shows me how to embed my presentation into my website?
  • Sound would be nice: Let’s face it, without the presenter many slideshows are quite boring. Google needs to add audio so the presentations can at least have narrations.

For now, Google’s presentation program is just a toy. It’s worth looking at and it might be fun to dream about what it will someday become, but I don’t see anything useful here. If you want your presentations online, I suggest you create them offline with PowerPoint or Keynote (or OpenOffice for free) and then share your work at SlideShare.

Make some noise with SlideShare

Just a day after I posted my article about sharing presentations, SlideShare added what we’ve all been waiting for— audio.

SlideShare, a site that allows you to upload and easily share your presentations, has created Slidecasts. Take any mp3 file from the web and synchronize it with your SlideShare presentation. They have an easy-to-use synchronization tool that makes the process a snap. (Watch their screencast for instructions on how to use the tool.)


Here is my first Slidecast:

It should be noted that SlideShare doesn’t support presentations with animations, so this isn’t the best tool if you are looking to demonstrate software. Another shortcoming is that SlideShare doesn’t let you upload your audio to their site. You’ll need to post the mp3 file somewhere else.

All in all, Slideshare is a free and simple tool that just got better.

More than one way to share your presentations

Last week Brian Bartel and I presented at NSTA’s National Congress on Science Education. We discussed the basics of online communication. There were about 25 people at the session but I love the fact that I can still share the information through a variety of ways online.

  1. plain old html outline
  2. video of the presentation at Google Video
  3. presentation slides at SlideShare
  4. video synchronized with slides at Zentation

Zentation appears to be the best tool. Synchronizing was a little quirky at times but the final product was worth the effort. They provide a variety of ways to embed your presentation on your own site. I choose their small Flash-based version below.

Research doesn’t favor notes via PowerPoint

Recent research on cognitive load theory suggests that PowerPoint is doing more damage than good.

From the full story in The Sydney Morning Herald:

It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time.

Professor John Sweller states:

It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.

slide1If you wish to use a PowerPoint presentation, consider using it as a visual aid. PowerPoint should not be used to display only text. If you have notes to present [top slide] consider using images to emphasize your points [bottom slide].

When thinking about this topic, I’m reminded of this comment one of my colleagues wrote a few months back: “I love PowerPoint, but for me it’s used to enhance my instruction, not remind me of what I need to say.”

slide2Her statement took me back to a book I read several years ago by Clifford Stoll title, “High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don’t Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter title The Plague of PowerPoint:

Want to make a splash at your next public talk? Know your material so well that you can speak off the cuff, without computer, laser pointer, or video projector. Scribble your important points on a chalkboard and emphasize them with your voice. Face your audience, not that computer monitor. Throw out that tired clipart and the cliches about the explosion of technology, the challenge of the future, and the crisis in education. Let me hear your voice, not a pre-programmed sound effect. Show me your ideas, not someone else’s template.

Stoll has a point. When was the last time you walked away from a lecture and said, “wow, that lady’s PowerPoint was awesome!” You can read the entire chapter here.

The bottom-line is that PowerPoint is a great tool when used correctly. When used poorly it can be boring or distracting.

But you don’t have to delete all your shows. Here is a tutorial to help you improve your presentations.