They saw the face of their future classrooms — and it was interactive.
"Whoooooaaaaahh!" exclaimed a Grade 6 class at Linden Meadows School at a demonstration of an interactive whiteboard, conducted by representatives of UK-based education technologies company Promethean, which brought its Mobile Classroom for a visit on March 20.
Having been profiled on CBC when in Edmonton this past November, the 36-foot RV-style bus arrived like a rolling tech tradeshow, outfitted as a virtual classroom complete with handheld learner response systems, devices and touchscreen-controlled learning tables.
Various grade levels were given a tour throughout the day, effectively test-driving the technology.
"It’s so cool, I’ve never seen anything like this before," said wide-eyed, 11 year-old Haleigh Eby.
With kids becoming ever more tech savvy through iPods, iPads and laptops, such technology "is going to become ubiquitous very quickly," says Haleigh’s teacher, Andrew Volk, who has taught technology in the classroom at the University of Winnipeg.
Even older colleagues have expressed great enthusiasm, he says – it’s not just younger teachers like him.
Indeed, says principal Laura Zimmerman, Linden Meadows is already a "technologically-focused" school, with interactive SMART boards in use.
"It makes students feel respected," Zimmerman says. "They feel an interest is being taken in their world."
It’s more than just keeping up with what the kids are into: "When kids are more engaged, they learn better," Volk says.
Some of Promethean’s products are "new to us," Zimmerman says, making the Mobile Classroom a good opportunity to keep abreast of new options.
Zimmerman was most intrigued by the ActivTable, capable of opening six Internet browsers on its touchscreen surface at once, enabling students to work both individually and simultaneously. Eliminating the need for numerous, individual PCs, its introductory price is $8,000 (presently offered for $6,500).
Yet Zimmerman stresses that technology’s usefulness lies in a balanced approach: "If you walked into our classrooms, you would find children who already love to read, speak and do math equations."
"Technology provides new tools," says Linden Meadows teacher-librarian Heather Eby, who recalls a conference in which a presenter declared: "The pencil is dead."
"The curriculum is still the curriculum, the info still info," Eby continues. "But kids are now digital learners."
For that matter, the technology itself is conducive to deeper learning by making it student-centered, Eby says, harnessing students’ creativity and enabling individual initiative.
It also empowers teachers by allowing faster, even instant feedback. Take the Promethean ActivExpression hand-held clicker; when a teacher asks the class a question, students can answer using the devices— allowing the teacher to immediately see who’s on the right track.
Of course, "This can already be done with iPads," Volk says. Schools still have to be judicious, he points out: not every gadget is necessary or even good, and "different schools need tailored solutions."
Tech solutions also allow, however, for differentiation of individual student needs, Eby says, greatly benefitting special needs students and reluctant learners.
One thing’s certain: there’s no going back. "Interactive technology has become the new standard," Volk declares.