I’ve enjoyed the conversation that we had here on the Radical this week about whether or not Interactive Whiteboards are really valuable tools for redesigning schools.  Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect, considering that Ed Week ran this article on the impact of whiteboards on Friday.

While there were dozens—literally—of great comments left by Radical readers sharing the full range of perspectives on the role of IWBs in teaching and learning, I wanted to spotlight and respond to a few in particular.

First, Karen R. noticed an all-too-common phenomena that occurs in IWB classrooms when she wrote:

I do know teachers who love their whiteboards as they lend an air of interactivity to their lessons without fundamentally changing the way the classroom functions.

Acreelman agreed, writing:

Good discussion. It’s another case of how we use technology to maintain the traditional classroom paradigm instead of radically rethinking the whole process of learning and education. We use technology to support familiar methods instead of starting from scratch and seeing what new things we can do with the amazing resources available today.

For me, this is really the crux of the issue.  Teachers like to talk about how IWBs have changed their instruction, but then they give descriptions of classrooms that sound pretty darn traditional to me.



Need an example?  Here’s the way Ed Week described the work being done in a particularly progressive IWB classroom:

Interactive is the key word in Gilley’s class at Kent County High School here, a quality that is facilitated, she says, by the high-tech whiteboard mounted on the wall in front of the classroom.

Students take turns tapping the board with the controller pen to move the shapes into categories or calculate a complex problem. Later, they pass the pen quickly in a tag-team challenge at the board and use hand-held remote controls to show what they’ve learned about the day’s lesson.

When did tapping pens and rely games become our definition of an interactive classroom—and how, exactly, has the $5,000 whiteboard hanging from the wall changed those practices in meaningful ways?

The only thing that I see here that adds value are the student responders being used to collect formative assessment data at the end of the lesson, and despite what that snarky IWB salesman may have told you, you can get responders without buying a single whiteboard.

Gary Ball argued in favor of IWBs in our conversation when he wrote:

[My IWB] HAS changed how students can access what I have taught. I now record and publish (to the internet) much of what I teach. The IWB allows me to capture the lessons and make them available to our chronically absent students. The IWB allows me to create content that I could not easily do otherwise.

Gary’s point about using IWBs to record content comes up time and again in whiteboard debates, including in Ed Week’s article:

The large, computerized screens—which allow Internet access, video and audio presentations, digital assessments using remote clickers, and recorded lessons for replaying later—are seen by proponents as an investment in modernizing classrooms to meet the needs of the digital generation.

Here’s my take: Recording and archiving presentations for students—whether they were absent or not—is a GREAT instructional practice, but using an IWB for this purpose is a lot like using dynamite to fish for Bluegills!  It’s just plain the wrong tool for the job.

Cheap and easy software—both for desktop machines and based on the web—can make recording presentations possible for a lot less money.  I used Camtasia to build my library of instructional videos for students.  It cost me something like $80 bucks.

And if I had to do it all over again, I’d use Dim Dim, a FREE webinar tool that allows presentations to be recorded.  Free, as my buddy Mike Hutchinson likes to say, is the nice price.

Even the “Internet access, video and audio presentations, and digital assessments” that Ed Week spotlights can all be done with a data projector alone.  The actual whiteboard does nothing to enhance any of these activities.

Finally, K. Borden made me laugh out loud when she wrote:

What a crazy coincidence! It must be “interactive white board” day.  Just today I bought two wipe-off white poster boards at $1.49 each.

I love these. They are lightweight, allowing me to tape them to tabletops, windows, doors, walls, floors, mirrors, trees… The interactivity doesn’t come from the whiz bang features of the IWB’s you discuss, but they have accomplished a great deal for this often mobile instructor.

Need a sharable erasable medium for group work in a awkward location? These are great. They really drop and drag!

There’s nothing like having a group of learners engaging each other over the medium just about anywhere/anytime for just a $1.49. (and you can cut them up to have erasable index cards.  Try that with an IWB!)

While K may not have realized it, her discovery is an extension of the conclusions that Bob Marzano—edu-superstar himself—has drawn about whiteboards.  Ed Week described Marzano’s conclusions like this:

That finding highlights one of Marzano’s key conclusions…The teachers who were most effective using the whiteboards displayed many of the characteristics of good teaching in general:

They paced the lesson appropriately and built on what students already knew; they used multiple media, such as text, pictures, and graphics, for delivering information; they gave students opportunities to participate; and they focused mainly on the content, not the technology.

Now, Marzano goes on to argue that he’s an ardent believer that technology can make good teaching easier—and he’s right.  But Interactive Whiteboards don’t.

Instead, they are disarmingly insidious gadgets—so stinking sexy to people making purchasing decisions that they’re almost irresistible whether or not there are proven strategies for meaningful implementation.

Need an example?  Listen to how James C. Corns, the supervisor of educational technology in Kent County—a district that has spent a half a million dollars on Whiteboards—explains the training program teachers go through before they’re given an IWB:

“The teachers have to agree to go through this rigorous process so that we know they are going to use the technology to augment instruction.”

When any rigorous—and undoubtedly expensive—technology training process results in relay games, sexy has definitely trumped logic and we’re all in a world of hurt.

Nope.  I’m definitely not a fan of Interactive Whiteboards.  Not at all.

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