Interactive whiteboards foster digital inclusion

Launched in April 2001, the aim of Khanya (from the Xhosa word ukukhanya or enlightenment) is for every school in the Western Cape to have a computer facility by March 2012 and for every educator to be empowered to use technology for lesson delivery to every learner in the province.

May 24, 2011

The introduction of interactive whiteboards in Western Cape schools has enabled teachers to deliver subject content in an engaging and interactive way that encourages collaborative learning.

This is the view of Kobus van Wyk, programme director of the Khanya Education in Technology Project, an award-winning Western Cape Education Department initiative using technology to strengthen teaching and learning.

“When technology is brought into the classroom – as opposed to taking learners to a computer lab – and its use is closely intertwined with teaching activities, you move one step closer to an interactive classroom. That’s where the real value of technology can be felt,” says Van Wyk.

By the end of April 2011, 1 332 schools out of a total of 1 500 government schools in the Western Cape had acquired computer technology, with a total of 45 012 computers in use. Close to 28 000 educators are being trained to use technology for curriculum delivery and more than 900 000 learners are already reaping the benefits.

Some 1 929 interactive whiteboards have been installed in 633 schools in the province. Of these 75% are SMART Board interactive whiteboards.

Implementation has accelerated recently, supported by a donation of 450 SMART Board interactive whiteboards by national telecommunications operator, Telkom, for use throughout the province.

A total of seven SMART Centres have been set up, in three Western Cape districts, Cape Town, Worcester and George, and at four flagship schools, catering for a range of primary, secondary and special needs learners. The centres are used for teacher training and also for assessing a range of the latest SMART education technology.

However, the focus of current installations remains interactive whiteboards. “The interactive whiteboard enables educators to bring the power of technology into the classroom to create engaging, interactive lessons,” says Van Wyk. “Teachers can use the touch-sensitive screen to display pictures, diagrams, video clips and Internet content, adding interest to their lessons.

“It’s easier to hold the attention of learners when they can interact with the activities on the board – both physically and mentally. Research shows that learners are more engaged and motivated in classrooms with interactive whiteboards.

Van Wyk disputes the theory that aptitude for interactive whiteboards is a generational issue. “I don’t believe there is a gap between digital natives and digital immigrants,” he says. “In our experience, many long-standing teachers come to grips with the technology easily. A good teacher will latch on quickly and see the benefits. It’s less to do with age than with the inclination and will to learn.

“In a large school, teachers may need to teach the same topic to three different class groups. Now they can create the lesson once for all three classes. Moreover, a lead teacher can prepare a lesson with good material and share it with others, encouraging them to create their own content.

“One of the strengths of SMART is the Notebook software which makes it easy to create lessons. In addition, SMART Exchange has thousands of lessons available on the web. These can be adjusted to our syllabus with very few changes. A good teacher will use SMART Notebook to prepare lessons for transmission on the SMART Board.

“However, to me the technology is not the major factor, but rather the service provided by the vendor. Our big challenge is not to install technology, but to persuade teachers to use it and to provide them with training. The service we receive from SMART Technologies and reseller Edit Microsystems in terms of training sessions, seminars and conferences and ongoing support is the most important aspect.

Van Wyk believes that educators need to move beyond discussion of the digital divide and start embracing digital inclusion. “The digital divide is a negative concept, with the emphasis on not having – the term is outdated,” he says. “Many teachers are still teaching in 20th century classrooms. They need to move to digital inclusion and look at new ways of delivering lessons, using all kinds of educational technology right through to text messages on the mobile phone.

“The promise of technology has been made too many times and not been delivered – in South Africa and the rest of the world. I believe that, with interactive whiteboards, we’ve reached a ‘tipping point’ in education. Incorporating them in lesson creation and delivery in the classroom has been a ground-breaking experience. The interactive whiteboard has enhanced teaching and learning in ways we never imagined.

“Not only does the interactive whiteboard allow teachers to access resources, it also makes interaction possible. Learners engage actively with the learning material, collaborating with each other, and at the same time developing presentation skills. And, for learners with special needs, the resource-rich interactive whiteboard makes all the difference – it can remove their barriers to learning.

“The greatest lesson from the Khanya project is that it can be done – technology can be implemented successfully in the school system.”