Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Interactive Whiteboards-Sage On The Stage?

Over the past few weeks I have seen and been part of an ongoing discussion, on Twitter, on Interactive Whiteboards and their place in the classroom. It's a topic that is near and dear to my heart as I have been a trainer and advocate for use of these devices in the classroom. However, since I have had the roll of trainer and had the opportunity to visit several 100 classrooms where these devices are used I have begun to grow skeptical.

Last night on #edchat, the topic centered around the use of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) and if that use translates to an interactive classroom. As always, it was a very fast-paced, insightful discussion. Here is just a little of what participants had to say:
  • I think that IWBs are useful tools but they do not promote wide interactivity. Conversely they discourage it by making one person the center of all focus. -A Teacher
  • Like anything an IWB can be an amazing tool or just another piece of furniture. It is about the students interacting with each other and the teacher which hopefully the IWB can help facilitate that matters. -A School Library Media Specialist
  • It all comes down to how teachers use them in their classroom. As I have seen, most teachers don't plan around their IWB. They just use it as an aid to deliver the content. If used properly, planning would revolve around the IWB and all that it can do. It can make teaching much easier, however many teachers are afraid that it will take too much time. -An Instructional Technologist
  • They are a tool. If used well, they are as good as a tool can be (useful for a specific task). But I see a lot of crappy digital chalk & talk. In my opinion, the IWB is not worth the money. If I had a choice, I wouldn't want one in my class. I'd take a projector, a laptop, and a document camera. Class set of laptops would be ideal to have too!) -Other District Leader
  • I think digital whiteboards are great for the classroom. They challenge us to apporach lessons in a new way. Instead doing the same old thing you can strech your lesson to incorporate images, documents, maps, video and so much more. And I'm not only presenting but, kids are coming up and interacting with materials, testing theories and teaching their classmates at the same time. -A Teacher
  • The teacher gives the board "life" not the technology. -A Teacher
You can read the rest of the comments here and the archive here. (I really encourage you to check out the comments and the archive. There are some really great comments in both.)

Here are some of my thoughts...

When I was in the classroom my school had 3 IWBs that had never been used before I got there. I had used one in my student teaching and really enjoyed using it and teaching with it. When I discovered there were IWBs in my school that no one used I took one and set it up in my classroom. I used it everyday. I had success with kids who, when not being used, were disengaged. They would come up to the board, manipulate something and sit down. I felt like I was doing good with my kids, that my kids were really interacting with what I was teaching.

It wasn't until I stepped out of the role of the teacher and into the role of the trainer and integrator that I saw the complete opposite. I have seen teachers who, just like me, feel like they are creating interactive classrooms because one kid at a time is using the board. Or moreover, they (the teacher) is using it to facilitate a lesson. After visiting many, many classrooms like this and reflecting on my own classroom it dawned on me. While I was interacting with one kid at a time I did not have an interactive classroom. I had an interactive kid but not an interactive classroom.

I believe IWBs are viable tools for the classroom. They do get kids up and moving and manipulating. They allow some really creative content to be presented and created. However, they are still teacher-centered devices. Even when a kids or kids are using them, it is only that kid or kids who are using them. Its not everyone, which would be an interactive classroom. I would have an IWB as part of a center but not be the center of a classroom as they are in a lot of places.

Now, some would argue for the tablets or slates that connect with these IWBs.That is still one kid at a time manipulating and interacting. Some even would argue for the polling devices. Honestly, can we really say that polling is interacting? Ok so a kid might care for 5 seconds to punch in an answer but then go back to non-interaction. And how many times do we give a poll in a class?

My point is, schools and districts have sunk so much money into a device that may or may not work. But it sure does look pretty on the wall. And it sure does look awesome and sound awesome when you can say every class has an IWB. Take some of that money, time, effort and training and invest it in to devices and products that are interactive. Laptops, Netbooks, Document Cameras, Flip Video, anything that gets all kids using technology and interacting with technology, together. After all, its not about if our classrooms or schools look good. It's about whether or not we do what's best for all our kids.


  1. Nice thoughts. I am a middle and high school teacher who is just dipping in to using the tools and methods associated with 21st century learning (and kickiing myself for not doing so earlier) and I have an IWB in my room. For the most part, I use it exactly as you describe. It is not very interactive and when it comes right down to it, there is only one stylus pen, so it never really will be the interactive tool people may wish for.

    I do, however, find it valuable for mor ethan just showing online images (like the class wiki, homework etc). I have taken to writing the class notes on a flipchart (on te IWB) and then saving that as a powerpoint. I post this to teh class wiki and give the kids access to the notes and examples used in class (a math class). This allows studnets to refer to solutions they may not understand and did not get a good record of.

    Would I go out and spend tons of money for one now? Maybe not. On the other hand, I am not looking to get rid of it either.

  2. I couldn't agree more.
    In my small, island, school in Scotland we decided to go for Tablet PC's and wireless projectors as our main presentation devices. To make the classroom as interactive as possible every pupil is given their own Ultra Mobile PC.
    But its the mindset change which makes the difference not the technology.
    IWB's don't change the mindset They reinforce the present model of teacher being the font of knowledge and the pupils being the empty vessel to be filled with knowledge

  3. Well, a white board upon a white wall is not overly pretty, maybe a nice blue background would help, but...

    Maybe it's more than the board, the teacher, and the student.

    Maybe it's about cooperative learning, and a team-oriented approach.

    Maybe the board is a station (antiquated word), a center (archaic word, a flash-mob (much better!) where a group, gaggle, cabal or coterie meet during the course of a class period to engage (yay!), problem solve (hip-hip!), and all the while communicate (no way?!) while looking at one another, and not the board.

    Maybe there is such a dearth of quality pre-teacher training that colleges and univeristies churn out nothing more than human-sized widgets that fit neatly and comfortably in to square classrooms.

  4. After two years with a board here is why I love it the most:
    1-I can show anything at anytime. Today in the middle of class I thought of a helpful video and in a minute we were watching it. Without it I would have to sign-out a projector for some date in the future. Another class within seconds we were able to put up an image that came up in a discussion.
    2-Sound-I know...sound? I love the speakers and sound. They fill the room and wrap the kids into videos in a way that a little tv or projector cannot. Every word can be easily heard.
    3-Presentation skills-no hard core evidence, but I am almost positive my students have gained confidence and poise by presenting using the board. They can easily stand facing the audience. They can easily manipulate objects and slide on the board instead of hunting for keys on a laptop connected away from the front of the room.
    4-"Keeping kids on track" If I hand out a primary source, directions, etc. I can simply point to the projection on the board where we are suppose to be. I know that sounds simple, but with the lower kids finding the "third paragraph" or the left side of the picture could take forever--looking up where I am pointing makes life easier.
    5-the ability to write on images--place an image/written piece up and when talking about a certain section circle it, label it, etc..

    So while it is not interactive--I still would not give it up. But if you asked whether I would want the IWB or 16 netbooks for the same price...give me the netbooks.

    By the way, we know have quite a few boards in our school, but no money to replace the $300 light bulbs for the projectors ;)

  5. Interesting reflection. I think IWB are useful in schools when teachers are given adequate training. They also need to be held accountable after the training has been completed. Many teachers, including myself, often use the IWB to deliver content. If the students come up, it's often in small groups. Consider this though -- what if students were in stations (similar to PE) and one of the stations would be at the IWB. I've seen that work well. Granted, the whole class isn't interacting with the IWB at the same time, but the 4 are. Anyway, the IWB can be interactive, but teachers need training and prodding to make it happen. Even then, it's not a daily event (as with most tools). I'd like to see schools use them, but push forth more training and integration.

  6. I totally agree with Paul B. I used a whiteboard in the classroom over a number of years and have seen the progression from the early days of the 'white blackboard'. If used properly it can totally engage children - use of sounds, video,archive materials etc. Other methods such as wireless keyboards and microphones passed around the pupils can also support interaction. Re children's presentation skills,often less able children seem to blossom in front of the board. I also like to incorporate children's own voice recordings into whiteboard flipchart software. Like Jessica, I always used it as part of group based work. As an advisory teacher I spend much of my time discussing these further skills with teachers, generally speaking it is still relatively early days for this hugely powerful tool so let's not dismiss it too soon.

  7. As a classroom teacher I saw first hand how IWB could be fantastic tools. As an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, I saw the good, bad and ugly when it came to how teachers used or misused these tools. I've trained 100s of teachers to use IWBs, and try to move them from seeing it as a teacher only technology to an interactive tool. Yes, I agree, it's one touch technology (well, mostly anyway) so that means one at a time, but does that mean the second students stop touching the board they tune out? Maybe or maybe not. I love the idea of small group center situations where students are interacting not only with the technology but with each other. That's the key. I have also done some whole group instruction w/ PreK kids where the students practicing colors, where asked by the animated character what color is the hat and they all scramble to find that red crayon to color the hat while one student goes and chooses the color and color word. I think you've hit the nail on the head, it is about how the teacher plans to use IWBs, which is influenced by training, teacher comfort level and teacher creativity. Are they simply windows to the outside world or are they much more?

  8. Here's a wonderful link, from a Classroom 2.0 thread, that discusses this topic.


  9. Here's what I want in my classroom instead of the IWB:

    1. Audio enhancement for myself, the students and my teacher computer.
    2. A tablet pc or wireless slate to use with the IWB software. I can be anywhere in my room and still interact.
    3. A internet device (iPod Touch, netbook, laptop) for each student.
    4. A remote desktop client to monitor each students work and be able to show their work on screen.
    5. I guess I need a projector too.

    That's it. A classroom where each student is connected and I can use pretty much any web/computer resource I want at any time.

  10. My list would look similar to Knaus' list, with the exception to # 4; I don't need a monitor because I trust the kids. Knaus'list puts the devices right in every kids' hands which is what being a 21st Century learner is all about.

  11. Just like every other technology tool, IWB have their place in the classroom and can be used successfully to engage students in learning. However, they are not a one size fits all solution. Some teachers will use IWB's to engage and others will use them as a glorified chalkboard. It is important that we look at the person using the tech when we make decisions about what to put in the classroom.

  12. Just because an IWB-supported lesson is teacher directed, doesn't necessarily make it bad, but that shouldn't be the ONLY instructional strategy used in the classroom! There are times when direct instruction can be effective, especially when it is interactive. Different topics, different learners, require different instructional approaches.

    Some researchers have suggested that there are stages that teachers go through in adopting IWB's, such as: supported didactic (using the IWB for visual support), interactive (using the board to stimulate student resposes at times), and enhanced interactive (using the board for student-centered learning). So, it's important to figure out how to help teachers move through these stages over time so that they use their boards in a variety of ways. I have just received an IWB myself and I can see how it is going to take TIME to figure out the best ways to use it!

  13. I think you have some good ideas, but I think you can make IWB's interactive for all students, you just have to learn how to include all students.