Are Interactive Whiteboards All That?

I encountered Interactive Whiteboards for the first time when I trained to be a teacher in 2002.  A year or so before, the Welsh government had given every school in Wales an Interactive Whiteboard, (with full training), and every teacher was able to use it.  The Interactive Whiteboard usually resided in a computer room or in some cases, each classroom had one equipped.  Teachers designed work for themselves and each other and they seemlessly integrated with their school plan.  By the time I got to Wales, although children were happy to use the Interactive Whiteboard, the novelty had completely worn off.

Before I begin, I’m not about to bash the Interactive Whiteboard.  I think they are a fantastic tool for teaching.  I think they have a place in our schools.  However, I also think that it is easy for them to become modern “chalk and talk”.  I did a teeny bit of research, informally interviewing fellow teachers about what they noticed about the usage of Interactive Whiteboards in their schools.  I had a suspision that I was going to get bad news and unfortunately I was right.
Worst of all, several teachers informed me that they had never seen it used at all after an initial couple of weeks usage.  In other words, there was a piece of equipment worth potentially thousands lying idle.
It didn’t get much better.
The vast vast majority of teachers told me (some proudly) that the Interactive Whiteboard was used to display information, such as web sites and PowerPoint presentations.  Often the Interactive Whiteboard’s software was used to display lessons, charts and ideas.  In almost every case, the teacher would present this information to the whole class.  The teacher would either invite individual children to the board to “write” an answer to a question or drag and drop something or click on a multiple choice option.  So, what’s wrong with that?
Well, before I tell you that, I’ll tell you what was right.
The children were more motivated to learn.  Why?  The simple reason is that the Interactive Whiteboard is a novelty.  Clutching a “magic” pen is a novelty.  Moving stuff around a giant screen is a novelty.  Novelty motivates.
I can’t think of another positive. (Help me someone!)
There are a number of problems I have with the scenario I outlined above.  Firstly, there’s the whole timewasting.  The child must stand up, trip over his/bag, squeeze through their overcrowded classroom to the whiteboard, get the pen from the teacher, drop it, get given out to by the teacher for dropping it, pick it up, click on the correct answer, squeeze back through the tables and chairs, trip over his/her friend’s bag, spill a box of crayons while gaining composure, pick up the crayons and, finally, sit down in his/her seat.  The child could simply have answered the problem orally from his/her seat.
I also don’t like the fact that the whole process is teacher-led.  The teacher is at the top of the classroom, (the sage on the stage), rather than being amongst the children, (the guide on the side).  Yes, whole-class teaching has its place but not for the entire lesson.
Lastly, the novelty factor.  What happens when everyone gets an Interactive Whiteboard and children expect to use them and aren’t motivated by simply using them?  There will be children that won’t like the Interactive Whiteboard.  I know it happened to me in my teaching practice.  The child did not like the rest of the class watching him struggle over a muliple choice question and he was petrified of getting the answer wrong.  The novelty had worn off.  Now, this Interactive Whiteboard was simply another way of learning.
I’m interested to hear of how Interactive Whiteboards can be used in a more constructive way.  I like to see children designing lessons on the Interactive Whiteboard and presenting them to the rest of the class.  I like to see a small group of children using an Interactive Whiteboard, without the teacher, trying to solve a puzzle or follow a web quest together.
Interactive Whiteboards have caught Irish teachers imaginations and I love the fact, that, for the first time in years, teachers are using technology to teach.  I love giving courses to teachers and watching them “play” on the Interactive Whiteboard and the great sense of fun and achievement they get.  I know for the next couple of years this enjoyment will continue and they will pass this on to their class.  I just worry about the time when Interactive Whiteboards will be taken for granted, in the same way CD players and “normal” computers are.  Will teaching and learning methods improve or will we be stuck with the “chalk and talk” albeit without the dust?

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