Why Technology Isn’t The Only Answer

Marrying the best of both digital and analog worlds for greater student outcomes.

GUEST COLUMN | by Shawn Collins

CREDIT SteelcaseWhen we think of the challenges affecting today’s educators, we can be overwhelmed with information. We have access to numerous whitepapers, blogs, podcasts, and conferences that discuss student assessment, student retention, teacher performance, and experimentations with project-based learning. For many of these challenges, technology is seen as the “silver bullet”, the answer to all our woes.

Although technology has many benefits and has helped propel learning in many ways, it is not the stand-alone answer. However, if we look at technology as part of our learning eco-system instead of the holy grail, we begin to see a more robust version of success, a solution where we can marry the best of both for greater student outcomes.

More often than not it is a combined approach that seems to hit the sweet spot.

As we strive to harness new techniques and teaching strategies to ensure the most optimal education environment possible, we must put our best foot forward using the most appropriate tools in our classrooms. In some cases technology may be a suitable solution, in other instances analog tools will be more effective but more often than not it is a combined approach that seems to hit the sweet spot.

It is easy to presume that analog tools such as whiteboards and markers are a thing of the past. But following some observational research undertaken by PolyVision across the globe, a blended approach was found by educators as the key to effective teaching and learning.

Using both digital (interactive whiteboards, tablets, instructional software, etc) and analog devices (tools like whiteboards and paper) together was shown to promote greater collaboration and assisted many educators by making the thinking process more visual. According to a study undertaken by ECAR , 58% of students say that blended environments best support how they learn.

Below are a couple of examples on how today’s educators are taking current learning challenges and utilizing analog tools to solve for problems they face within their classrooms.

Student Engagement

Fred Feldon, Professor of Mathematics, Coastline Community College in California was teaching a basic math class and gave a problem out about subtracting mixed numbers, a fairly complicated task. He walked around the room and noticed a lot of the students had different answers, but had part of the problem correct.

Fred asked four different students to come up to the front of the classroom and write their answers from their own personal notebooks on to the class whiteboard to show the rest of the class their work. When they were finished he let the class know that only one of the problems had the correct answer and to see if they could decipher which one it was. When the students figured out which problem was correct they were able to see the errors they made and how to find the solution in the future.

Without the whiteboards, the individual student thinking would never have been made visual. Instead Fred would have been relying on students calling out their answers or simply showing them the right solution. The group sharing capability of the whiteboard helped them learn more effectively.


Mastering Collaboration and PBL

Buffy Hamilton, a school librarian at Norcross High in the Gwinnett County Public School District in Georgia asked students to sit in small groups and participate in a spontaneous collaboration exercise where they were tasked with creating a poem either about their independent reading choices from the past year or the current group read The Alchemist.

Some groups created mashup poems with each student writing a line about a character, theme, issue, or image from one of the choice books; others created acrostic poems using a character name from The Alchemist and crafting lines that related to some aspect of that text. The students were provided dry erase markers and personal Verb whiteboards to draft their lines of poetry. When each group finished, they placed the whiteboards on an easel.

Each group then had a volunteer who came up to read the poem and share with the large group. The result was an amazing impromptu exercise that created quality work. The whiteboards provided the flexibility for group work that in turn created freer thinking.


As shown in the examples above, if students can explain concepts to each other, the level of understanding will be much deeper and more effective. In addition, we see that each student learns in a slightly different way and by combining both technology and analog devices we are giving students the tools they need to learn in both today and tomorrow’s classrooms.

There is no debate around whether classrooms should be either digital or analog, a blended approach will provide the most effective way for students to absorb and retain information.

Shawn Collins is the Director of Business Development at PolyVision. 

  • Harry Keller


    This article prompts several ideas.

    Firstly, the two examples could have been done digitally with appropriate software and even would have succeeded were the students at geographically distant locations.

    Secondly, no digital solution can replace an experienced, well trained instructor. Technology can only enhance and extend such people. Therefore, the premise is true in that we won’t see robot tutors anytime soon.

    Thirdly, without technology, we’re fighting a steep uphill battle. In that sense, technology is our only answer. We cannot fix the problems, boost educational outcomes, without technology. I’m not talking about such mundane technology as interactive whiteboards. They’re just projectors with software.

    We must transform educational technology so that it’s online, interactive, and experiential. It must be engaging and draw the student in. It should track student progress and be adaptive. It must truly be a teacher-friendly tool that fundamentally changes the learning dynamic.

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