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New technology in the classroomWhen I first decided to come to China, I really wasn't giving much thought to ESL teaching at all. I came to visit someone I met on the internet. After a while, she suggested I get a job here, so that's how I first got into ESL teaching. My first job in china was with a rather popular english school, with a headquarters in Shanghai, called WEB International. The tech level of this school was about what I initially expected. There was a small computer room for students to conduct individual pronunciation practice using headphones and recorded dialog. There were also some simple programs for english grammar exercises. Inside the classrooms, however, there was no technology to be had. Simple whiteboards, no computer, no video devices, not even an audio playback device. This school catered to more mature students, ranging from late teens, up to early 30's and sometimes older. The lesson plans were static, not much room for teacher creativity. My next job, which I am still working at today, is a school for children, called Longingsun. This school has very cheap interactive whiteboards (saving money is the way of life in most parts of China). My first impression was that these boards are great tools to help draw the attention of the younger students. However, they can also be a distraction at times. Here, I will weigh the pros and cons of some of this new technology available for ESL classrooms. My first stop for online information is usually Wikipedia, where I found this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_whiteboard#cite_note-5. It details all the technical details of interactive whiteboards(IWBs) and lists the different types of boards available. The basics are simple. Typically you connect the board to your computer by a USB connection, but some may use serial port or Bluetooth wireless to make the connection. Then you need a way to get the computer image onto the board. Many boards have a white surface for use with a video projector, but some of the more advanced boards have an LCD display under the surface. After some more searching, I found another interesting article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_whiteboard#cite_note-5. This article specifically mentions the popular brand called SMART Board, but much of the information is relevent to any type of IWB. Here are some pros and cons from that site and my own personal experience. Pros: ? You can control any computer application through the touch board, allowing the teacher to stand at the front of the class, keeping the students' attention. ? You can use digital ink to write or draw pictures directly on the screen in different colors. ? You can save your work in a file at any time during class or convert handwriting into text. ? You can use specially-designed interactive software to assist with learning, in addition to the usual powerpoint and multimedia uses. This can make a class more fun, especially for children and teens. Cons: ? Sometimes the board will be a distraction, especially for children, who may pay more attention to the board than the teacher. Some disruptive students will probably want to play with it, possibly damaging it. ? The projection-based boards will have a problem of shadows being cast by anyone standing between the board and projector. ? Difficulty writing neatly. Most boards are only capable of receiving a single touch input at a time. That means if you are writing and your hand or shoulder makes contact with the board, the cursor will jump to a different place. ? A keyboard is still required for many applications, most notably Internet Explorer and any type of word processing software. If you need to type a URL, you need to walk over to the keyboard. ? The board may need calibrating, sometimes during class. This can interrupt a lesson and take time. ? Expensive. The technology is not cheap. The boards can cost more than $1000 USD. Plus, you would normally need to supply your own projector (probably another $500 to $1000) and PC (maybe $200 if you go cheap) to connect to the board. Not only that, but much of the educational whiteboard software available is quite expensive; another $1000+ just for software licenses. The following link is an article about the effects of interactive whiteboards on the learning process: http://ezinearticles.com/?Effect-Of-Interactive-Whiteboard-On-Learning-And-Motivation&id=5203596. The author claims that IWBs can greatly benefit the learning process because they incorporate picture and sound at the same time. The effect of making a presentation more interesting and the ability to write and touch objects on the board are other factors. All of this has a positive effect on long-term memory. The following article is a more analytical view of the IWBs effectiveness in a classroom: http://thejournal.com/articles/2010/08/04/interactive-whiteboards-truths-and-consequences.aspx. Here, the author expresses concerns about the logistical problems of implementing IWBs in every classroom and the challenges of measuring the actual long-term effects on the learning process. She comments that adding an IWB to a single classroom means that all the classrooms in the building will need one. Not doing so would create issues of varying learning methodology as students progress through different grades and class subjects. In conclusion, IWBs represent a wonderful technology with a lot of potential, but like any tool, they are only as effective as the people using them. They are a big step, and many teachers will require extra training to use their full potential, but I'm confident teachers will remain the most important tool in the classroom for quite some time.