SMART Boards and PLCs

This article originally appeared on the EDCompass Blog.  Click here for the original URL.

Canisius College is located in Buffalo, New York, and they wanted to do something different to build a community around the use of technology in their learning environments. Jodi Moore, an academic technology specialist, tells us how the college went about creating a PLC to support educators. Here’s what Jodi offers as advice and encouragement.

By Jodi Moore

Danger ahead: untapped resources

Higher education instructors attribute generating excitement for the material, providing interactive learning environments and engaging students as some of their greatest challenges. As types of technology have advanced throughout the 21st century, new generations of students are hungry for an education that matches their experience outside of the classroom. SMART technology is available to assist the instructors in meeting these needs.

Canisius College located in Buffalo, New York,  introduced SMART Board interactive whiteboards approximately five years ago within several classrooms, a science lab, a math lab as well as a number of conference rooms. Despite having this rich resource readily available, the boards often were not used to their fullest potential.

Recognizing the necessity for technology integration in a classroom setting and actually utilizing the tools remains as one of the leading difficulties for the instructor.  In a community that relies heavily on academic opinions and research, why is it that professors appear at times to lack the desire to master innovative technologies to enhance their instructional practices and student learning?

An expedition begins with a single step

I was hired seven months ago to work in the FacTS (Faculty Technology Services) center at Canisius. This center was established to make academic technology services more accessible to full and part time faculty. One challenge faced by FacTS is similar to that of many institutions. How do you spark an interest in necessary innovation? One of the immediate tasks I was charged with was to assist faculty members with their use of the SMART Board.

Using the traditional workshop training model has proven ineffective in a large part due to minimal attendance at workshops. The lack of attendance can be attributed to time constraints on the part of the instructors, as well as the specificity of the content. Faculty sometimes state they just don’t know how or where to begin when it comes to technology.

The FacTS group acknowledged lack of workshop attendance, insufficient SMART Board knowledge and the inability of many on the faculty to integrate this technology into daily instructional practices at Canisius.

Rather than focusing on the basics of SMART Board technology, perhaps the more effective approach is to focus on a collaborative discussion of this technology. We wanted to keep in mind that faculty are interested in this question, “How can a SMART Board help ME and MY course?” After reflection, I decided to explore an option to encourage SMART Board integration by establishing a professional learning community called the SMART Board Users Group to address these weaknesses.

Two heads are better than one!

The purpose of the professional learning community (PLC) is to allow individual users ranging from novice to expert to collaborate on the effective use of SMART Board technology.  Using this approach, the professional learning community members rely on fellow members’ expertise to provide a global perspective of SMART Board capabilities. Simply, the collaborative effort allows individual instructors time to ask, learn, share and grow in their effective use of the SMART Board.

Discussions in the PLC usually begin with tips and tricks which assist participants in understanding how the SMART Board can help them with their courses. Additionally, the core group is able to share examples from classroom practices. This encourages discourse about possible techniques that benefits members’ understanding of SMART Boards. The novice users gain fresh knowledge which can be readily incorporated into their classrooms. At the same time, the expert users often uncover ways to retool their lessons.

The community mirrors the ideal classroom environment where students share and learn from each other. Practical examples of what works and how it works allow the instructors to envision the practices in their lessons.

The steps followed at Canisius to form the PLC included:

  • Emailing invitations to all instructors teaching in SMART Board spaces
  • Advertising the Users Group in the college daily newsletter
  • Inviting professors personally
  • Posting announcements in the Learning Management System
  • Scheduling monthly meetings and posting them on the calendar
  • Creating a space to share resources

Our first SMART Board Users Group met in December 2012. We have held four meetings to date.  Although, currently the PLC participation is small in number, I believe additional faculty members can be inspired to join the group as I continue to foster new relationships. Furthermore, during the next school year I intend to change the name of the PLC since the word ‘user’ is in the title, it may discourage non-user participation.

As with all new ventures, continual review and reflection help to perfect the model.  Collaboration and individual meaning is paramount in the PLC. Learning as a group provides support, a network, and establishes a core to carry the message outward. Remember that small steps do add up and innovation moves forward.

Jodi Moore is an Academic Technology Specialist at Canisius College located in Buffalo, New York. Jodi started at Canisius about seven months ago  in the FacTS (Faculty Technology Services) center.

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