Reports of the death of the whiteboard are much exaggerated..

Is the whiteboard really dead?

It has become quite fashionable for pronouncements such as ‘the interactive whiteboard is dead’, or ‘IWBs are old technology’ or variants on that theme to be made recently. Blog postings are being written about how other technologies have supplanted the IWB as the classroom technology of choice for teachers. Those who have foretold the death of the interactive whiteboard are often keen to explain how other technologies are replacing it, such as iPads, netbooks or other devices which have caught the imagination of educators.

But the death of the whiteboard is greatly exaggerated for the following reasons:

1: Having an IWB in your classroom is about having a platform for content. Teachers need software to assemble content for lessons and increasingly this content is multimedia in nature with the need to integrate text, images, video, audio and flash type content.  The major IWB players provide teachers with that software and it is optimised for teaching.  Many teachers, particularly in secondary use PowerPoint, but this is not the same. PowerPoint has a different paradigm to a piece of software such as SMART’s NOTEBOOK, it forces you to design your content first and then present it.  It can lead to lessons where slide after slide of information is presented and the teacher does little manipulation of that content. Of course PowerPoint does not dictate this kind of paradigm, it is possible to use PowerPoint in very creative ways, although this is not something I have seen often in UK classrooms. It is precisely the manipulation of the content which is important when teaching. So take the IWB out of the classroom and you take the software out too, and if that means more teachers use PowerPoint because that’s the only thing suitable they have to hand for their slide stacks, then that’s not solving a problem, that’s making a bigger one, and creating a big hole in the teacher toolkit which will be expensive and complicated to fill later on.

2: IWB antagonists often cast this technology as forcing teachers into a ‘transmission based, teaching from the front pedagogy’. In fact one of my followers on twitter bemoaned the fact that the IWB was keeping pupils sitting on the carpet looking at the front too much. My comeback to that tweet was fairly easy to write, it’s not the board which is doing the “from the front teaching, it’s the teacher (DOH)”; don’t blame a technology for a teacher behaviour. Instead address the root cause of why a teacher allows a particular instructional practice to dominate and then find a way for the  technology to serve pedagogical practice rather than driving it.  Great teachers assemble their lessons using a variety of methods and techniques and they also vary how they organise the class, their time and the resources (both technological and human) available to them. They probably teach from the front for some of the time, and the IWB is an essential tool for those sections of the lesson. Without it there is no focus for the class, no sense of a shared space to create meaning and set tasks, nowhere for the class to come back at the end of a learning session and review what has been achieved, nowhere for the students to come and present to the rest of class. However great teachers do not allow from the front teaching to dominate; they set individual, pair and group work, skilfully orchestrating resources and using detailed knowledge of the class to create the conditions for learning without direct instruction from the teacher.  Perhaps in the early days of IWBs, teachers were so enamoured of what the technology could do that they overused them. As the saying goes, ‘to someone with a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail’. But to repeat my point, IWBs can never be held responsible for the pedagogy in a classroom, teachers have to answer for that.  After all, the police don’t prosecute cars for driving badly, they prosecute the drivers. We don’t applaud the piano at a concert, we applaud the pianist.

3: In the UK there has been a massive investment in IWB technology, and ripping this out and replacing it with something else is wasteful, prodigal even.  Schools should concentrate instead on getting the most out of the technology they already own. I have visited many schools and worked with lots of teachers during my time working with a major IWB manufacturer, and I have found only a handful who use the technology to its maximum capability. Unfortunately most only use 10% perhaps or  less of the features.  This is not normally the individual teacher’s fault, it was a systemic failure to address training and professional development when the boards were first going into UK classrooms. It is a mistake being repeated in some BSF and Academy projects where professional development for teachers drops off the bottom of the list.  But senior managers in schools need to grasp this issue. They need to make it their business to understand the technology which their teachers have to teach with, and then invest (both internally and externally) to maximise the usage of this technology. They need to find courses and providers which set the technology usage in an overall pedagogical context and set clear expectations of the kinds of teaching which they want to see in their school, and then fund the necessary investment to give teachers the tools to do this.

So to conclude, ripping out interactive whiteboards and giving every student in the class an iPad or netbook won’t fix education anymore than putting the IWB into the classroom 6-8 years ago was going to fix education. We need to start every conversation about teaching with how we develop and empower teachers to marry technology usage and appropriate pedagogy, and we don’t need conversations which focus on a particular piece of equipment in isolation, as if somehow the technology itself has a magic power to orchestrate teaching and learning. Technologies do not have this power. Only teachers have this power.  Let’s focus on pedagogy rather than technology.

27 thoughts on “Reports of the death of the whiteboard are much exaggerated..

  1. I get where you’re coming from completely, and I cannot fault what you say, but the bottom line is simply that given the enormous costs incurred by procuring and fitting and maintaining IWBs, the impact on attainment has been negligible. I am yet to find an independent peer reviewed study that was not paid for by the IWB industry that shows any benefit from their use.

    Start showing me evidence rather than anecdote and I’ll reconsider their value. However, until then, I’d still rather fit out three classrooms with a tablet and a projector for the price of one room with an IWB.

    • First off this was an opinion piece rather than an evaluation of the literature, hence I saw no need to include evidence, and there’s not really any anecdote in there either, just lots of time spent with lots of teachers and schools talking about what technology they use in the classroom. In terms of hard academic evidence on impact on results perhaps you missed the Schools Whiteboard Expansion Evaluation Project. Written by independent academics, funded by government rather than industry and with findings such as:

      Analysis combining the data from the 2005 and 2006 two cohorts, found that average attaining pupils of both sexes and high attaining pupils of both sexes made greater progress with more exposure to IWBs in Maths. Progress was measured against prior attainment in KS1 national tests. Based on an expectation that pupils will on average progress 6 points (or one national curriculum level) in two years, it was possible to calculate their increased rate of progress. This ranged from 2.5 months for girls of average prior attainment to 5 months for boys of high prior attainment.

      You can read the full report at https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/SWEEP-Report.pdf. My claim to fame is that I designed the logo for the project, and wrote some of the initial drafts of the methodology.

      I won’t argue with you if you feel that tablets and projectors offer better value for money than IWBs, although it seems that the maintenance costs you talk about are more for projectors rather than the IWB itself, so the cost is surely the same for your chosen rooms? Not sure that the phrase ‘enormous’ costs is commensurate with the actual costs of maintaining an IWB either, perhaps you could provide some figures to back up why you think the costs are so high and warrant the ‘enormous’ tag?

      And return to a central theme of the post, if you give a teacher a tablet and a projector, (and tell them not to drop it of course), what software platform are they going to use to develop and present content with?

  2. A great post Matt and sums up a lot of my feelings about how people dismiss the boards before they’ve been shown how to make the best use of them. Sums up the need to spend a little extra on training

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  4. It’s always a pleasure to read thought provoking posts and this is no exception. I have recently posted my own opposing viewpoint on IWB’s focusing on cost rather than any pedagogical gain. Both sides of the pedagogical vs tools argument will be correct depending on which side you kick on, and if you’re in the middle you get to kick with both feet. But there’s no escaping the fact that IWB’s are and have been a massive cost to schools. We should be asking whether their cost is justified compared to any potential educational gains.

  5. I agree with your basic view that its ridiculous to rip out IWBs unless there is some SM impulse to cover your clothes on chalkboards again. The problem is that BECTA oversold the impact IWBs would have in classes based on very little evidence. It’s ironic that those opposed to IWBs are in turn making similarly overhyped claims for ipads and smart phones based on again mostly anecdotal evidence or small studies. You are also right to point out that teachers’ use of IWBs has issues, but then the problem in ICT in the UK has been a failure to invest in training. Anyone who remembers NOF will know the problem.

    However try and take an IWB away from a teacher and observe the effect…from a corridor away.

    • Thanks for commenting John. I was going to evoke the ghost of NOF in the posting, but decided against it for brevity’s sake, but it is well worth mentioning as it is very apposite to the adoption of IWBs and the failure of many teachers to use the technology to its full capacity. I also agree that the hype about iPads in the classroom is getting overheated again, but I am a great fan of the iPad and think it has an awful lot to contribute. But we need to sit down and work out why we are using them, how to redesign pedagogy to take this into account and how to develop pedagogical practices which really use the technology to advantage.

  6. Enjoyed this post, Matt. Ed Tech doesn’t a good teacher make, but can when used well by a good teacher help to engage learners and get them participating. We’ve still got a long way to go and I agree with dannynic that ‘training’ and side-by-side support is key. You’ll also remember that at Thomas Deacon Academy we didn’t have any normal ‘write-on’ whiteboards – and drove use that way…teachers had good support in becoming expert users quickly…and needed to be!

    I’m sometimes guilty of forgetting that some staff view ed tech as an invader / illegal alien in the classroom…. not the expert toolkit being made available to them.

  7. Matt
    This post is very relevant for me at the present. Setting aside the specific IWB debate the rush towards technology to answer all our problems is inappropraite.
    Any technology is a tool. T

  8. Yes,I remember NOF, and I remember being a NOF trainer – I was an idiot. The future lies in putting the tech in the hands of the learners, not the teachers. Pads are the way forward. ‘Interactive’ boards are a myth. Please let us start giving children control of their learning in their hands! A whole new pedagogy is developing and we need to embrace it.

    • So are interactive boards a classical myth or an urban myth. Are we likely to read of them in Norse Sagas, or will some bloke down the pub tell us of a mythical large white device which you could control ‘with your finger’ :-)

      Seriously though, I didn’t write this post as being anti iPad, because I really like iPads and I think that used well in education they could contribute a great deal. But we need to think about what this new pedagogy is (you don’t provide any examples or references in your brief comment), and make sure teachers are trained to take advantage of it.

      • And thousands spent on iPads in the classroom with little thought about their use, or training for the staff concerned will be just as big a waste of money. One whiteboard is about the same price as what, 5 iPads – could just about use that in a class of 30 with large groups but it wouldnt be easy.

        Ideally I’d like to see a mixed approach in schools – tablet tech, and interactive display tech. All have their uses, and their place at different times.

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  10. Having recently completed a 15,000 word research dissertation (Masters Degree-’IT in Education’) on the use of data projectors and whiteboards in the classroom, it is evident that the lack of professional development for teachers is a key issue in the poor use of these valuable resources. Moreover, the failure of the majority of teachers to use peripheral devices, such as a ‘wireless slate’ or ‘presenter mice’, which both allow the teacher to move around the class as we did historically, needs to be highlighted. The research also noted the lack of effective skills within the teaching profession in relation to the use of ‘PowerPoint’ as a presentation tool and the failure to use something less linear, such as Prezi, to provide a new experience for the pupils. Each school needs to find a teacher within every faculty who can develop these skills and then cascade them effectively to their colleagues (a champion of the technology).

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  12. Training, training, training. An IWB was installed in my classroom. No training was supplied. Fortunately, I had a wireless slate; so, I had some idea how to use my Smart Board’s features. More, content-oriented training (I teach HS maths) would be really advantageous to my more productive use of my board. Thanks for the post.

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  15. I am so glad to see that I am not alone in coming to such conclusions. I work in a HS where there are a large number of Interactive White Boards installed, but the vast majority are used as projector screens 100% of the time. I see promotional material which details how these IWB’s (and other technologies such as visualisers, Ipads, moble devices etc) can be a valuable learning tool … but find minimal evidence that these are actually being put in place in’the real world’. As some other commentors have said, the main reasons for this seems to be a lack of training/development for teaching in the effective use of these technologies, and their potential benefits to learners. Applications/services/tools like Prezi, Twitter, IPads, visualisers, voting pads etc all have their place, and there are new tools (many online) being devoloped every day. Quite clearly most teachers cannot ‘keep up’ with all of these, and can’t be expected to be experts in them all and their potential uses in enhancing learning. This is where the role of ‘technology champions’ are crucial in my experience. My role is to find these emerging technologies/tools/applications/services, and to help these champions to dicover how they can improve the teaching. Once they are seen to be working, they are then naturaly cascaded to other teachers.
    Technologies are not static, they are forever moving, and now are moving at a faster pace than ever.
    IWB’s are not ‘the answer to teaching’ … and neither are IPads, or Twitter, or PCs, or anything else … it is all of them and sometimes none of them … it is the right thing at the right time for the right person. It’s about providing different solutions for different teachers and different learners. It’s about have a range of ‘tools’ available to help learners learn.
    Ultimately … communication is the key (isn’t it always!) … making sure teachers know what is available, how and when it can benefit teaching and learning, and how to use it.

  16. Matt, your post really makes me thinking about IWB problem.

    You state that IWB without training is used for no more than 10%. That’s correct – no doubt. But is taking teachers into intense training a right way? Maybe we should demand new product (software) from IWB developers – the product that could be used right out-of-the-box by any teacher?

    I think that the reason iPads are being promoted as competitors to IWBs now is not their size. To use IWB you should be advanced PC user and also familiar with IWB software. For iPad you just take it and use.

    When I forget about technology for a while (which is hard to do) I imagine big iPad in the size of IWB hanging on the wall. What do you think?

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  18. Hi Matt, I’ve written 3 articles arguing the opposite to your post here. Perhaps one of them contributed some inspiration for this post? At the end of the day the fact remains that the cost simply doesn’t match what IWBs provide. And no, you can’t blame the teachers and say ‘its just a tool, its how you use it that’s the problem’. A massive screen at the front of the room that can only be controlled by one or at most two people up the front standing next to it?That’s not exactly the description of a 21st century student driven inquiry driven learning tool. Here’s my articles just in cast you’re interested.

    Death of the IWB? in Australian Teacher Magazine: goo.gl/WUMjc

    Two of my blog posts dealing with the issue, including ‘The Great Interactive Whiteboard Swindle’ which I think really applies here: http://richlambert.edublogs.org/tag/iwbs/

    cheers.

    • thanks for commenting…. I agree that an IWB at the front, even if used well by the teacher does not create the type of learning environment you are outlining. But taking them out won’t create it either, and the brutal fact is that most English classrooms (can’t comment on Australia), are a long way from implementing student driven learning with personal devices as a way of breaking the presentational hegemony of the IWB. SO if you take the IWB out of the classroom you have not solved a problem of poor pedagogy, rather you have added an extra problem that not even a mediocre teacher can show content and interact with it. A projector alone is a cheaper solution, but the teacher has to sit (or stand awkwardly) behind a computer, which makes engaging the attention of the class more difficult (I know this from personal experience). On the cost of IWB solution, compared to other tech spending in schools they are ridiculously cheap given their robustness and lifespan. In the UK you can add a top of the range SMARTboard (multitouch) for about £1300. A cheaper one can be less than £1000. The guarantee is 5 years, so even if after the 5 years the school writes it off, that’s just £260 per year. In reality the board will most probably last beyond the 5 years, and added to this is a licence for SMART Notebook which is a great piece of software for teachers. If they didn’t have an IWB they would need software to do this job. I know schools who spend £500 or more per year on software subscriptions which are used rarely or never used, so I don’t agree that the IWB is a large cost. It is a cost, but compared to the value you can get from the board, it’s a reasonable cost.
      In case this sounds too partisan, when I wrote the original post I did work for an IWB distributor (although I was posting purely from personal experience, and was not under any kind of pressure to write the post), but I don’t work there anymore, but I still believe the IWB is not dead and I am yet to be convinced by any alternative solution being offered.

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