While I cringe to send any attention to the Tech Learning website after their derogatory jab at educators who question the usefulness of Interactive Whiteboards—apparently anyone who hasn’t chugged the Promethean Kool-Aid is nothing more than a “hater” to the Tech Learning editors—I really think everyone needs to read this Gary Stager bit.

In it, Stager—a passionate advocate for Constructivist learning, the only real “student-centered” approach to educating our kids—lays out one of the most engaging, entertaining and articulate arguments against wasting your school and/or district’s cash on IWBs.

Stager’s main complaint—outside of the fact that IWBs reinforce teacher-centered, lecture-driven, bore-em-until-their-eyes-bleed instruction—is that districts often drop heaping piles of cabbage on IWB “initiatives,” outfitting EVERY classroom on EVERY hallway in EVERY grade level with these overhyped gadgets.

And in response to the all-too-common “but some teachers do great things with IWBs” push-back that us ‘haters’ always get, Stager writes:

“We don’t buy a chain saw for every teacher. If we did, a few teachers would do brilliant work with the chain saws, a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess.

Even in the case of the great teachers, the best we can hope for is one of those bears carved out of a log—not high art.”

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

That’s hilarious, isn’t it? But more importantly, it’s TRUE.

And I’m completely tired of seeing the already limited resources that schools have for digital solutions wasted after someone with a budget sees ONE amazing teacher teach ONE amazing lesson with ONE Interactive Whiteboard and then buys ONE HUNDRED of the @#%* things.

How can you avoid falling into the “buy a teacher a chainsaw” trap?

Try following three simple steps:

Craft technology vision statements for your school

Have you taken the time to sit down and imagine what ‘effective teaching and learning’ should look like in your building?

Could your teachers describe an imaginary classroom that perfectly aligns technology use with your other instructional priorities?  Are you making digital choices based on evidence of what your students do well and/or what your community cares the most about?

If not, WHY NOT?

And if not, spend some time developing a set of technology vision statements before you spend any money at the Promethean store. Here’s how.

Look a little closer at the research that IWB salesmen are pushing.

Spend any time with a educational technology leader who has just broken the district’s bank on a cheese-ton of Interactive Whiteboards and you are bound to hear a lot about Bob Marzano—a hero in the educational research world who has been churning out reports on the glory of the Interactive Whiteboard for Promethean in the past few years.

The main finding of Marzano’s recent research is that IWBs can improve student achievement by SEVENTEEN percentage points.

Juicy, huh?  Kinda’ makes the district credit card get all sweaty in your palms, doesn’t it?  SURELY that’s evidence enough to pull the digital trigger, right?

Not if you spend any time looking closely at the report, which was bought and paid for by Promethean.

While I love Marzano’s work most of the time—he’s done more to quantify what works in schools AND to make those findings approachable to the average educator than any single researcher working today—his IWB stuff is flawed enough to make you think twice about dropping dimes into Promethean’s pockets.

Interested in learning more?  Then read this.


Consider differentiating your technology spending.

One of the best points that Stager makes can be found in the comments, where he spends a TON of time arguing with Alan November—an educational thought leader who has apparently swallowed the IWB bait hook-line-and-sinker.

In what has to be a surprise to the Tech Learning editors, Stager proves that it’s not IWBs that he hates.  Instead, it’s our propensity to waste money on tools that some teachers will never use.

He writes:

“If a teacher needs an IWB, clicker set or anything else can make an educational case for, then they should be supported. I object to the reckless top-down purchase of these expensive products to satisfy the whim of people far from the classroom.”

So the question for educational leaders is a simple one:  What are YOU doing to differentiate technology spending in your schools?

Are you surveying your teachers—and your students and your parents and other important stakeholder groups—about the tools that they’re likely to use?

Have you asked practitioners how the budget-busting gadget that you are thinking about buying will align with the instructional practices that they believe in?

Have you set money aside for teachers who CAN make cases for tools that they’d like to use to support instruction in their classrooms—including IWBs?

Now, I know almost nothing about the budgeting and spending policies that govern your decisions.  I’m not a principal and that’s not an accident.

But I’ve gotta believe that there are more sensible ways of spending money than trying to force the same tools into the hands of teachers who are very different instructors.

And if there’s not, it’s high time you started fighting for them.


Does any of this make sense, or are the Tech Learning editors right: I’m just another simpleton blinded by my Whiteboard hate?

Better yet, how can we (read: YOU) make sure that we are spending the dwindling pile of cash that we are given on people, programs and/or tools that might actually support the kinds of changes that we want to see in our classrooms?

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