Friday, March 07, 2008

One week with the EWB eBeam/Speechi

(Pour lire cet article en français)

I recently took advantage of Speechi's ten-day trial offer of their EWB (Electronic Whiteboard) eBeam at my school, the Lycée Pierre et Marie Curie in Châteauroux. What a wonderful tool!

I started on Monday 25 February. When I arrived at school at around ten that morning, the eBeam was waiting for me. I unpacked it, picked up a videoprojector at the office and headed for my classroom. After plugging in the projector, my laptop and speakers, I plugged in the USB link for the eBeam, stuck it on the standard whiteboard in my classroom, and popped in the installation CD for the eBeam interactive tools, and I was ready to go in about ten minutes.

As I've been doing environmentally-related topics for an ongoing E-Twinning project with a partner school in Poland, I started work on the "Black Tides" website with the flash animation explaning the origins of oil. I had prepared a handout using the text from that unit on the site, with the addition of a vocabulary list and a list of ten questions students could answer from the text and from the animation itself. Sources of Pollution Using the eBeam pen I was able to stop and start the animation and write annotations right on the whiteboard: things like vocabulary words and answers to the questions with arrows to the relevant parts of the animation. One problem I ran into, though, was that each time I wanted to switch from pen mode to mouse mode (so that I could restart the animation) I had to erase my annotations. It was time for me to discover the eBeam scrapbook tool!

Working from the diagram "evolution of tonnage transported", I began the same way: writing vocabulary and ideas directly onto the projection of the webpage with the eBeam pen. Transporting Oil: DurationBut as soon as students started explaining the diagram with complete sentences, I clicked on the left side of the tool palette to open the eBeam scrapbook tool, a multipage whiteboard organizer. There, I was able to note the sentences students produced, correct them, and note a few grammar points, notably the use of present perfect with "since" to express the notion of duration until the present. One detail you may notice: on each screen capture, there is a central gap: this is due to the whiteboards in our school which fold out for a three-panel blackboard (for chalk) and fold in for a whiteboard that unfortunately remains divided by 3cm metal bar down the middle. In practice, however, this doesn't prevent the eBeam tool from functioning, and students get used to the "gap" very quickly. As you see, I just write around it.

One of the first things I noticed while using the eBeam tool palette is its simplicity. What risks?Compared to other electronic whiteboards I've used in the past, the eBeam tools are extremely simplified, which is an important advantage. I showed the eBeam to a group of about 70 other teachers in my school this Wednesday, and when I asked who thought they would want to use this new tool, fully two-thirds of the room raised their hands! I'm certain their overwhelming response was due in large part to this simplicity. When tools are too complex, few teachers are ready to go out on a limb to use them, and they wind up collecting dust at the back of a cupboard. Not the eBeam!

My only worry now is that I won't have the eBeam all to myself any more. We're sending in a request to the regional council board for funding for another half-dozen eBeam whiteboards and projectors, but while we wait for that request to go through the system, I guess I'll just have to share.

The Forum Europa on VivaAside from using the eBeam in the classroom with this project, students are also working on the Viva (Virtual Interactive Village) forums with their foreign correspondents. Their work still needs a bit of correction, but they are going in the right direction.

I hope to be posting a full description of this lesson very soon.

Cheers, --- Phil