You might have noticed Wacom Community’s been doing a lot of outreach towards teachers lately. That’s not because we simply want to sell you stuff: It’s because Wacom products have the potential to fill a unique role in the virtual classroom, and we want to help you make your work faster and easier.
Teachers don’t need to be told that holding students’ interest is harder than ever during the pandemic.
There have been plenty of complaints on both ends about the hit-or-miss nature of video learning, and the circumstances under which teachers were forced to adopt it couldn’t have been worse: In the middle of the most emotionally taxing time in many adults’ lives, they were forced to sit waiting for class to start already as their teachers fumbled with inefficient rollouts of technologies they’d never used before. Many just wrote 2020 off as a lost school year.
But 2021 can be different!
Recently, we worked with Campus Technology magazine on a deep-dive article about making the most effective use of displays in the online classroom—as exemplified by Saint Leo University, a Florida college that’s taking the bold step of phasing out physical whiteboards entirely, instead supplying their teachers with Wacom displays that they’ll be continuing to use even after students return from quarantine. They spoke to the school’s head of User Services Technology, Gideon Schnog, about how and why they’re rolling them out.
Many Saint Leo teachers had found physical whiteboards useless for video teaching. They were hard for the teachers to take home, hard to film in low light and too shiny to read in bright lights, Zoom’s resolution was often too low to make out small handwriting on them, and some webcams mirrored them, making their use impossible unless the teacher could figure out how to correct it through software.
Digital Whiteboarding: What it Takes
It wasn’t long before they just realized it would be quicker to go electronic, and Wacom displays, used with the computers and programs they were already used to, were the perfect balance between capability and user-friendliness. But in short: They could do anything physical writing can, with a plug-and-play interface. We’ve done plenty of articles on why Wacom products are useful in the class setting lately; but, you might be wondering, what’s the reason to do it with a Wacom specifically, instead of an Android device or iPad?
General-use tablets would require platform-specific whiteboard or assignment apps that the student might not even have access to, precluding students’ co-working with the teacher live. Trying to run an entire stream from a tablet would also require the teacher to go off-camera, where Wacom displays plug into the same computer as your webcam, letting them stay on cam via split-screen.
Finding the Right Tech Balance
Simply throwing technology at the problem, he emphasizes, isn’t always the answer. Instead, teachers, students, and staff should all be working towards finding the right, reliable combinations of technology that make their workflow as simple as possible. Sometimes that means just a small handful of peripherals and programs, carefully applied.
Mindy Thielges, a Wacom tech ambassador, recommends teachers seek out tech that’s “fundamentally intuitive.” Too many new technologies that have been applied during the pandemic have just ended up derailing class even further, she clarifies, as teachers figure out how to deal with new bugs and sift through menus of features they’ll never use.
Plus, working on a computer screen or drawing monitor is just a more comfortable way to teach than trying to run an entire class, with both teaching and student interactions, from the 13-inch screen of an iPad.
The school is systematically purchasing Wacom displays for all their classrooms, and mounting them on swivel arms attached to the wall for the benefit of disabled teachers as well. He describes them easier to work with and actually cheaper than the big-screen touch displays they’d previously worked with in some classrooms.
Tips for Engaging Learners with EdTech
It’s not just about having the technology, though. The most important way to make use of it is to use it to maintain the human element of teaching online. Schnog warns that there’s no faster way to lose students’ attention than closing your webcam entirely while you discuss the topic, or turning it away from you and towards the whiteboard for long periods of time. Simply having a human face on-cam does wonders for students’ interest levels, even if it’s still an uphill battle during quarantine: which is exactly what having your input device next to your webcam can help with.
He recommends that teachers give their students the same personal attention via the use of dual monitors: One for the course material, and one for the feeds of their students’ webcams. You can kill two birds with one stone here by investing in one of Wacom’s displays, like a moderate-sized Cintiq or the new, affordable Wacom One. (Or, from me to you, if you don’t have that kind of money during quarantine, you can make do with an Intuos pen tablet and a $10 secondhand monitor from the thrift store. See our previous feature on how to set up a pen tablet for day-to-day work here.)
The overall goal of this change, he says, is to “Help teachers ditch the mouse and give them a powerful, natural way of writing out what they want to teach and what learners want to see.” And so far, he says he’s very satisfied with the results.
Wacom now has an online event just for you! The first day of our thINK21 Education summit is coming up in just three days. (That’s March 18th, 2021, since these articles aren’t date-stamped.) thINK21 is a free online conference like our annual arts showcase Connected Ink, but for educators.
The theme for the 18th is “Creative Education for Every Learner,” with presentations about teaching the arts, which will be headlined by Jorge Gutierrez. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s a veteran artist and animator, the director of Netflix’s upcoming Maya and the Three, and best of all, an electrifying speaker with a ton to say about teaching art.
March 25th is “Digital Learning: Higher Education Horizons,” an entire seminar with the same premise as this article, tacking how college-level educators are adjusting to online teaching and hybrid modes of education with the help of their Wacom products.
And on the converse, April 2nd is “No Looking Back. New Ed Tech. K-12,” for primary and secondary educators, covering, among other things, incorporating drawing and doodling into your teaching style for all subjects, and how to liven up your presentation to keep younger students interested.