Fraser Speirs On The Next Great Zombie Technology

You guessed it:

The installed base is now so massive in schools that, like Internet Explorer 6, they will have a long, slow, lingering death. Too many long-term PFI contracts for schools have “IWB in every classroom” written into the contract for the next 30 years. Too many “increase the use of technology in the classroom” development plan checkboxes get ticked simply by screwing a Promethean to the wall and moving on.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Thought inspiring article. My favorite quote, sure to rile some die hard clicker fans was the paragraph just above the one you clipped.

    “Classroom voting systems – a horrible concept designed to replace meaningful classroom interaction with the game mechanics of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – are dead, replaced with $5 software on iOS devices or, hopefully, a more meaningful pedagogy.”

  2. I love my IWB and consider its (judicious) use essential to my teaching. Bring on iPads and everything else, but you’ll have to prise my whiteboards (regular and electronic) out of my cold, dead hands. (Agree with the above comment on voting, though :)

  3. I so enjoy the technology debates that occur in educational spheres. People criticize its use (misuse) while others are happy someone is using it. I, for one, am a lover of using technology and am excited if a teacher is at least trying to use it. I am happy because it is a sign that they are trying to reach out to students. They are trying to do something different in the classroom like teach kids a subject rather than teach a subject to kids.
    Don’t get me wrong. I have developed in my journey in using technology. I do not use technology for technology’s sake. It has to have a purpose just like a textbook, pencil or a pen. All tools, tech or non-tech, can be used to create or eliminate classroom engagement. For example, I use clickers because I want immediate feedback on certain items so that I know how to progress in an activity or if someone is left behind. Maybe someone has figured it out but I can’t sit with 30 students at one time but a quick question can let me know the state of all 30. Checking by pen and paper later that night can be too late. I don’t have an interactive whiteboard but I do have a wireless slate that serves the same purpose. I use it so that I can be mobile around the class and show students how to get through a problem if I notice everyone is stuck. However, unlike writing on a board, I don’t have to walk back to the front of the room. Students also write what they are understanding without having to waste time moving to a whiteboard.
    Before I get on a soap box, let me wrap up my frustration with the current dialogue. My point is can we stop bashing the use of a tool when we really don’t even use the old tools any better. I never hear anyone say get rid of pencil, paper and textbook however I see countless teachers putting these tools to shame. Can we move the conversation from talking about the tools teachers use and focus how students learn and to choose tools that best support that learning.

  4. @Telannia: I couldn’t agree more. Clickers (or IWB) are nothing more than tools like calculators or pencils. They can be used well. As I further my own understanding of the best practices surrounding them, I have found there are levels far beyond the simple rote recall questioning. One of the best articles on the higher levels of clicker use to promote discussion between students can be found here

  5. I had an interesting thing happen this week related to this debate. We are solving quadratics in my Algebra class and this kid had his iPad with a graphing calculator app. It was so much easier to use than the graphing calculator or the grapher app that I usually use to display the roots of the equation (on my Promethean Board). I had him circulate around the class checking other kids work. My iPad is on order and I can’t wait to have it to carry around to check answers.

    I also have voters, I’m not sure about them either.

  6. @Bill Thanks so much for the PDF. I love when I find or receive information on better practices with technology. I believe that is truly where we are at in education. Not what do we buy but how do we transform learning in a way we never could with pencil and paper. We have to keep. Please follow me on twitter at thnorfar.

  7. I wouldn’t say the SMARTBoard is without use. Y’all are right: it is just a tool. But it’s wildly overpriced for that use. I mean, I think Wordle is kind of silly, but at least it’s free. I can’t help but chuckle every time I think of how much a SMART or Promethean installation costs.

  8. @Dan Those board are extremely overpriced. It is also amazing how most of the time you still find the teacher at the front of the room and not the students. I mean isn’t that the real goal. Students using tools to improve their learning.

  9. I am no friend of IWB but the iPad will not replace it. I have given up on this endeavor. Capacitive screens work poorly with a stylus. Mouse clicks translate poorly and screens have to be resized given less realestate on which to write and annotate. palm ignore works poorly. I used a tablet pc with active stylus for 4 years and the wii-mote hack. I like cheap and usefull IWB but the ipad isn’t the answer.

  10. The amazing thing about all of this is that district bureaucracies are incredibly lethargic and loathe to change. For the last year, I’ve been peddling the Wiimote IWB around my district, given several presentations to school leaders, and discussed plans for expansion with the IT office that’s in charge of purchasing IWB’s for use in classrooms. Despite a nearly $100 million shortfall in our budget this coming year, the Wiimote IWB has seen little to no acceptance in any form except the odd teacher here or there that’s picked it up from me. Weber will tell you that bureaucracies are not meant to be nimble, but you have to hope that they’d at least be a bit better than this.

  11. Okay… re: technology in general… it is only as good as the people wielding it. So its pretty much a wash as far as I’m concerned. I prefer it, but I can still do a good job teaching without all the shinies…

    Promethian in specific… I can’t speak to their whiteboards, but their wireless tablets stink. Wacom does a MUCH better job for about half the price. I’m using their tablet this year and if you drop the pen, it breaks… and I have to reset the tablet at least once a day. Nothing destroys the flow of a lesson like suddenly needing to walk across the room and shut everything down. Their avtivinspire program has some neat features… but I can do most of that with microsoft journal… and with much less hassle. And don’t even get me started on how hard it is to write with their tablet – much less sketch a quick graph!

    And honestly? Given the choice between an iwb and a lcd projector with wireless tablet, i’ll take the latter every time. No need to make a kid go up to the board if you can drop the tablet on her desk.. so it kills that fight right there. Plus it’s less likely to get wrecked by a sub.!

  12. This is a timely article for me because I got my hands on an iPad Friday, and have been spending the weekend trying to figure out how to use it in the classroom. (It belongs to my college, so I feel the need to use it for teaching. However, I couldn’t resist downloading Chuzzle.) I spent so much time caressing my new toy yesterday that I’ve named it “The One Ring.”

    I don’t think the iPad will fully replace the IWB, as it is harder to write on the iPad. My EliteBook tablet does a much better job for writing, and it is only two inches wider than the iPad.

    Right now, I’m planning on using the iPad for class management, attendance and the like, and sticking to the SMARTBoard. This summer, I will experiment further.