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Linear versus Unstructured Tools for the Teaching Wall

For a long time I've had a recurring problem. Every time I show a tool to use on the "teaching wall" at the end someone always asks "yes, but can I play my SMART Notebook files on it?" or "yes, but what about Powerpoint?"

Ben in action, using OneNote in Challenge for eLearning

I must admit to having a soft spot for Powerpoint, particularly when combined with Office Mix but for my own work have pretty much gone over to Google Slides just because I can access them anywhere and they have all the features I need, plus sharing tools. SMART Notebook though has always bothered me, partly because it is so expensive in the grand scheme of things - and so often, when I watch someone using it, they are using it very much like Powerpoint with some extra touch-widgets thrown in.

In advance of the same chorus when I show people the new Google Jamboard tool I started to think about why people find it so hard to move on from those tools, other than the simple "but all my lesson resources are in that format."

When I first started using an interactive whiteboard and projector, there were very few tools available except Powerpoint, so I used it a lot. Initially I'd prepare my lesson in a pretty much linear fashion, and use it as a structure for activities, advancing slides as we progressed through work. That would sometimes mean the same slide appearing three or four times in the deck as I planned coming back to a particular point.

As I started to try and respond better to feedback during the lessons, and prepare for a more responsive approach, I gradually found the slide decks got bigger and started to become multi-lesson and even whole topic resources. That meant I could skip back, skip forward and sometimes collapse a whole group of slides and bring them back on a later day. The reality was that the lesson plan wasn't linear, but the tool I was using was.

As a trainer for the national curriculum, I found myself doing long workshops, sometimes lasting a whole day, all around the same block of content, so I ended up with a well-worn deck of 300+ slides that I could adapt during the day to any circumstance.

When I see real experts in SMART Notebook work, they tend to have whole week's worth of material that they step forwards and back through as necessary during lessons, with the added advantage of having all that annotation and in-lesson work captured as they go.  I am almost convinced, until I consider how on earth they hope to share that material with students outside the lesson ("OK class, first go to this webpage and download this player app onto your computer...")

All this extended skipping around linear content works but it is clunky. It is great for one hour, two hour sessions but it does not scale well.

OneNote, Jamboard and others (for example Realtimeboard) have an entirely different metaphor. The content is not some deck of cards you will progress back and forth through, it is a tabletop, where you can layout an hour's, a day's, a week's or a month's content across the workspace. When you watch a teacher using OneNote, they flip between sections in the notebook, they zoom in and out, they move content to show how it relates to other content (my favourite was watching a teacher placing resources over points of a map whilst they were being discussed then working into and between them).

Maybe when I plan my training on Jamboard, I need to start with a discussion about how we lay out content for lessons rather than trying to use it to mimic technology that premiered in 1987. That doesn't mean you can't plan a linear route through that space - you probably will, but you won't be locked in by your material.

Jamboard can contain many objects - webpages, images, documents, that you can move around, enlarge, shrink and annotate during a session.

Taking that further - an awful lot of the AR and VR material I saw at BETT and see coming onto the market is still fundamentally Powerpoint style, linear content. Surely we can work more flexibly than that? Ben has a few thoughts on that subject for the next post.


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