USA Tour – Day 7 – Promethean

Today Lauren Sayer, Head of Teaching and Learning Australia and New Zealand at Promethean, hosted the group at the San Francisco Zoo.  Some of the animals I recognised, however, the only recognition I had of Promethean products is their interactive board products, it was refreshing to see Promethean taking an educative approach with their products.

The focus of the day was primarily redefining the relationship of teacher and student interaction in the classroom. Some invited guests (not the animal kind) joined us and related how they enjoy using the promethean clicker system to keep track of student’s results ‘on the fly’.  In further discussions with Lauren, it was clear Promethean are leaning towards learning analytics, as noted in the 2012 Horizon report, and providing teachers with real data in real time.

SIDE NOTE: It is very clear many Australian schools have heavily invested in interactive whiteboards with many different companies but the result of these investments really isn’t clear. There are many experienced teachers who use this tool to its full capacity, however many have not had training and tend to use this tool for nothing more than a projection screen.

The initial demonstration portrayed the ActivExpression2 clickers (new and not yet available in Australia) which revealed how to gather information quickly, show graphs of answers to questions, which allowed teachers to gain instant feedback for the learning content. Teacher could then test ‘The Learning Intention’ for a session was understood at various stages throughout the lesson. This provides teachers with enormous capacity to ensure that as students’ progress through content questions and interaction they are able to communicate their understanding of content.

The technique in itself is important and the need for teachers to rework their lesson structures to cope with peer questioning and peer understanding becomes a secondary tool used to support the technology.

Demo Lesson

Each group was asked a question with four possible answers. We all had a clicker and each individual had to submit an answer based on our own understanding of the question.  Lauren captured and viewed the response data we provided through the clicker. Secondly, we participated in small group moderation.  Following this we were asked to reselect an answer based on our small group conversations. This is the second tool of the teaching pedagogy change.  No longer is the teacher directly talking to the content but letting the collective knowledge of the group teach the content. What was remarkable, was we each group was able to argue our point and ultimately we came to a collective correct answer.

The demo lesson provided two light bulb moments for me;

  1.  Instant feedback actually allows teacher to interact with student driven information in real time, and interestingly enough, the feedback is not teacher driven but driven by the student to the teacher. These analytics coupled with the pedagogy change to peer questioning allows a greater insight into the lesson progression and clearer understanding at a rapid rate
  2. The ability to learn through the use of interactive clickers relates to the use of this tool as a summative tool rather than a metric for measuring success of learning outcomes. For the most part, particularly in Australia, this seems to be the case.  I suspect this misuse arose in the initial development of the marking and program of these technologies How we turn this around is anyone’s guess; however

I certainly believe Australian educators have not necessarily seen “clickers” as a purchasing device and how it rates against other product competition.   In this day and age, many online services have the ability to conduct polling free of charge through various websites and services. It is becoming harder to justify a cost when services such as poll offer a basic level service.  I am eminently aware data can be collected and looked at over time with the software provided by Promethean and others but to be brutally honest the ability to provide immediate feedback is the main feature making the difference.

Technical Aspects

Technically I questioned the specific operation of the devices and its reliance on the wireless infrastructure of schools. The system operates through connecting wirelessly to a dongle receiver on a classroom.  This can be displayed (via projectors) to students and tracked by a teacher as the lesson progresses. The issue at the moment is the transfer of data requires a specific port to be open. This is established at the switch level and on every switch within the system. Lauren did express this would soon be changing to a bonjour port to avoid any technical setup.  My “concern monitor” came on as this protocol is already very busy.  Where to for a solution?

Promethean is developing a free app for the iPad/iPhone which will allow the same functions of the clicker to be utilised. Information on this was unclear and left us wondering whether the app would operate with the server side software which could be purchased at an additional cost, and then used to operate the clickers. Of particular note also is whether the clicker/app would operate with a few extra features also available with the active inspire software (As I mentioned above; it left us all wondering!!!!) I would also note the maximum amount of text characters for a response was 140… a tweet… a standard text.

A typical lesson as described by our guests

I asked one of the teachers with us how they generally used the system on a day-to-day basis. Apparently, while the software running the polling system can be setup with minimal support the teacher often just scanned a document, displayed it to the screen and students worked their way through the individual questions.  This was a surprise to me because it meant the software would typically be underutilised used in a lesson with all the other features lying to waste. I should also note the teacher indicated they rarely ever looked back at data captured in the past.

The Controversy Section

Now comes the difficult part.  There are a few issues that I have with the technology in general.  Clickers have a limited use and, in my opinion are not worth the money if there is an app that will do the same thing. Of course, this is for schools which have existing technologies and in 1:1 iPad schools.   The situation at the moment?   I would not recommend teachers to use the tools nor would I recommend purchasing the technology for them to use in the classroom.   A ubiquitous device would be better and I personally would rather spend that little bit extra on that type of technology.

The Analytics were awesome, but it gets back to money again and whether it would be worth the cost of the server side software.  If it were expensive, I would have grave reservations.  I also found it is hard to use in combination with other apps and tasks in a room.  Let’s try and relate this to student orientated 2st Century learning for a moment.  It would be extremely difficult to move through a classroom, monitoring and analysing five different activities and also tutor those who are not grasping the fundamentals.  Even though I was not able view this package in action by a good practitioner, and going on what I saw and learned, I would not be purchasing the software or hardware

Tony Brandenburg said it very nicely;

Data to improve learning is good; data to compare learning is bad



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