The debate around the use of interactive whiteboards is one that appears to polarize educators wherever i go – people either love them or loathe them. A couple of posts I read over the weekend have left me feeling that we need some sort of balance in the debate – and certainly some clarity of thought about what the issues actually are.
Take for instance Tim Stahmer’s post titled “maybe the board’s not that smart” in which he expresses his objections. He states:
I came away still not seeing the value of paying all that money (around $1000 plus the cost of the projector) for something with limited instructional purpose.
Herein lies one problem – Tim is regarding the board as an instructional device.
Gary Stager reiterates this point in his post titled Classroom Vice; he states:
My greatest concern about conflating “interactive” whiteboards with modernity is that this new technology creates a fossil record of ancient pedagogical practices. The whiteboards represent a pre- Gutenberg technology that reinforce the dominance of the front of the room. The priest chants from the “interactive” whiteboard while the monks take dictation on their tablet PCs.
Sadly, I’d agree with many of the observations included by these two, I’ve seen plenty of examples of the poor use of these tools – use of drill and practice-type activities, reliance on them as ‘motivation’ devices, and dependence on the templates provided by the developers etc. All true – bust surely there’s more to it?
in the same post, however, Stager states:
I applaud Supt. Vallas for his commitment to 1:1 computing. The portability, functionality and power of a modern laptop in the backpack of a student by definition challenges many of our notions of school.
The assumption here is that, somehow, a 1:1 computing option (presumably laptops for portability) is a better option because they They enable learning to occur anytime, anywhere across subject boundaries; at home and in the community; on nights and weekends.
Now I’m not going to disagree with this in principle, but, like my observation of the poor use of interactive whiteboards, I’ve seen equally poor use of student laptops, particularly where these are viewed as “instructional tools” by the teacher! In a recent research project here in NZ the researcher spoke to me of comments from students who were told to “close their laptops while I’m talking”, or that “schools desks are for books, not laptops”!
Surely the issue is not about the technology but about the pedagogical practice? As long as we have an “instructivist” approach to the use of any technology in our classrooms we’ll face the same concerns, no matter what the technology is.
I’ve seen some wonderfully creative and innovative classroom programmes where students are using laptops as personal tools to create, communicate, and publish. In these classrooms the potential that Stager speaks of is certainly being realised.
Similarly, I’ve seen many instances of creative and innovative use of interactive whiteboards. I was possibly one of the first people in NZ to be using one regularly in a programme I ran at the Correspondence School. It was a professional development programme for teachers and we used a variety of approaches including group work, problem solving, challenges and reflection. The whiteboard was one of the technologies used, usually as a point of focus from individual and group feedback, or for demonstrating a task or something that someone had developed. Participants would move from their seats to interact with the elements of screen, offering ideas and opinions, using the tool set to annotate and manipulate – and at the end of such sessions, the record of what had been done was saved and stored on the course website for access at home or elsewhere for review and reflection.
We didn’t regard the whiteboard as an “instructional tool” (although arguably, at times, this is the way it was used) – rather, it was a part of the repertoire of teaching and learning devices that were selected from as was appropriate.
In some classrooms also I have observed these boards being used with young students in equally creative ways, as this picture from a classroom I visited illustrates:
The interactive whiteboard in this classroom is positioned in one of the learning bays or stations, and students are confidently working as a group, collaboratively using the board to construct a representation of their ideas and thinking using some mind-mapping software. This is quite a contrast to the perception that Stahmer makes in another of his posts where he says that:
Mounting the technology in one place in a classroom anchors the focus to that one place. In many ways it reinforces the space as teacher-centered with rows of students facing one way, the attention on one spot.
We need to move the debate away from regarding the technology as the villain (or hero) and instead focus on the pedagogy here. As long as we see classroom teaching as being about “instructional practices” we’re going to have problems with hwat we see happening with any form of technology.
The problem, as I see it, with interactive whiteboards can be summarised in the following thoughts:
- they’ve been over-sold on the promise of ‘motivating’ students
- they’re too similar to previous technologies used in instructivist classrooms (the chalkboard, whiteboard and OHP) and therefore get used with a subsititution mentality
- there’s an emphasis on the use of pre-prepared templates in the way these are sold and promoted (olften by the manufactuers) which reinforces an instructivist approach, and
- the fundamental approach to teaching and learning in many classrooms (reinforced by curriculum and exam pressures, timetables and subject silos) means that an instructivist pedagogy prevails!
In the words of Mae West, “it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it!”