Right tool for the job

Desired student outcomes has to be top of mind when choosing the right tool or product in the classroom.

Hammer hitting nail

A number of years ago Dave came home to find me hard at work hanging pictures. We had recently moved to a new home and I had committed to hanging the pictures by the end of the weekend, so there I was working away. Dave had seen some of the recently hung pictures prior to getting to me and he commented positively on their placement and the fact that I was getting the work done.

Poor tool choice

And then he noticed the screwdriver in my hand. Perplexed, he couldn’t help but ask why I needed a screwdriver. Of course I had an answer. “I was looking for the hammer and when I couldn’t find it, I chose the tool that could allow me to bang a nail into the wall. I was on a mission and I wanted to get on with the job, and while not ideal, the screwdriver could do.” Yes, I had hit my thumb a couple of times and hard plastic wasn’t nearly as effective as a hard metal hammer head…

If you think about it, it was a stupid choice (I am allowed to say that about myself). I made a trade-off that wasn’t close to optimal (and I knew it at the time), but I did it so that I could get something done. When you think about household tasks or building a house, many specialized tools are fit for that purpose. It’s the same for education technology as well.

Tablet use in education

Having pioneered the interactive whiteboard category with the introduction and broad dissemination of the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, I am often asked what I think about the relatively recent introduction of the iPad and other tablets into the education environment. Does the iPad displace and make the interactive whiteboard irrelevant? For me, this is a simple question with a straightforward answer – the tools are complementary, each with its own purpose and preferred application.

Consider how many school jurisdictions allocate class time among whole-class, small-group and individual activities. The interactive whiteboard is largely a whole-class tool, although there are instances where a small group may use it as a station. A tablet or computer is primarily an individual device, although small groups may share it. Both of these tools have been developed with a specific use scenario in mind, and a wholesale substitution one for the other does not make sense in most instances.

Impacting student outcomes

We can think about the question on another level as well: what about the resources that support both initial adoption and use as well as teacher competence in using the tool? Buying a product is the simple part of an acquisition and deployment process (even recognizing that money is hard to come by). Getting teachers to mastery in its use to positively impact student outcomes is a whole other matter.

Making the right choice

iPads/student computers and interactive whiteboards can work well together. It’s important to determine the learning outcomes to be supported and choose the tool that has the best chance of delivering them. This isn’t about one technology being better than another so much as it is about matching the tool to learning outcomes. With that as the top consideration, making the right choice is much more likely.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.