Are we using our Interactive Whiteboards properly?

With all the hype around Interactive Whiteboards all but disappeared, about 90% of Irish primary classrooms now have them installed and they are generally being used on a daily basis. However, while Interactive Whiteboards might be used everyday, there’s a question mark over how they are being used in classrooms and are we using them effectively?

From almost all of the courses and talks that I give, I generally hear two things at them.

Is this how you use the IWB?
Is this how you use the IWB?

The first is that the vast majority of people do not use the “interactive” bit of the interactive whiteboard. The second is that teachers want more training. In this article, I’m going to discuss these and see if we can come to a conclusion.

On the first issue, when I ask teachers about how they use their interactive whiteboard, almost all of them list things like showing YouTube videos, showing PowerPoints, showing websites, etc. The main word in common is “showing.” Sometimes, they might use the word “demonstrate.” Interestingly, there is absolutely no need for an Interactive Whiteboard to do any of these things: all you need is the projector. I believe many teachers think an IWB and a projector are actually the same thing. Certainly, I’ve experienced enough teachers using the terms interchangeably to not be bothered correcting people anymore.

For those of you not in the know, an interactive whiteboard connects to a projector and a computer and allows the user to physically interact with the board using a “magic” pen or their finger(s). A projector on its own will not let the user interact on the board itself; one still needs to use the computer to change whatever’s happening on the screen. With an IWB costing around €2,500-€4,000 and a projector costing less than €800, it seems rather a waste of money to spend the extra couple of thousand on the basis of a lack of understanding of syntax.

However, more pressingly, the main problem for me is that it’s very rare that I hear anything about children using the board. In fact, most of the time that I do, it’s usually to answer a question while the rest of the class sit passively watching him/her as he/she risks the humiliation of getting the answer wrong. As teachers, I feel we are past by that sort of thing and even the lure of a “magic pen” must be waning!

The great thing about Interactive Whiteboards, for me, is that they are not very versatile! There’s very little that a teacher can do on them that they couldn’t already have done before they existed. There are people who have lists of things that you can do using an interactive whiteboard that have great pedagogical value. The trouble is that the vast majority of these lists can be done simply using a projector without the need for the interactive bit. Here’s my list of things that you can do on an Interactive Whiteboard that you can’t do without it.

  1. Manipulate the projected image on the screen using your finger or pen instead of using the mouse.

That’s it. This leads me to the second issue that arises: training.

I think we need to think about the type of training we need for interactive whiteboards: how to use the Interactive Whiteboard or how to use the Interactive Whiteboard effectively?

The first training can be summed up in one sentence and here it is: Instead of using the mouse to do things on the computer screen, you use your finger or the magic pen.

Or maybe this is how you do it?
Or maybe this is how you do it?

Once that’s out of the way, we can look at the second part, which is much more difficult to answer because the IWB can offer all sorts of ways of enhancing the curriculum (although 90% of which only requires the projector) so showing videos, presentations, images and web sites can add a more valuable stimulus for a classroom discussion.

The interactive whiteboard allows a teacher to demonstrate things without having to go to the computer. This is probably the way I see IWBs being used most in primary schools, much the same way as blackboards and whiteboards have been used in the past.

The only other way to use an IWB effectively, in my opinion, is to allow children to use them. I’m completely against the scenario I mentioned before but I really like the idea of using the IWB as a station in a lesson. Teachers can pre-prepare lessons on the board or create scaffolds and children can work in groups directly on the board. For me, this is easily the most effective way of using an Interactive Whiteboard and I believe this is where training for teachers needs to being: giving ideas of how to station teach using an IWB.

I know a few teachers who are now doing this very effectively and it has transformed their classrooms. I’ve seen it in use in Aistear for Infants, with some cool ideas being explored. I have seen it used really well in a Maths class, where a group of children had to solve problems on the IWB. I could go on, but the possibilities here are only limited to the teacher’s imagination.

While most of us already have interactive whiteboards in our classrooms, we really need to start thinking about how best to use them ourselves. I don’t really think we need training, I think we probably just need some good ideas to share with each other. With this in mind, how are you using your Interactive Whiteboard?

Last Update: August 20, 2017  

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19 thoughts on “Are we using our Interactive Whiteboards properly?”

  1. Great article. I feel that in many ways schools have ‘progressed’ (I use the word advisedly) from ‘chalk and talk’ to ‘IWB and talk’. The training I received (40 minutes or so) was not sufficient. Thanks for highlighting the under use of the IWB in the classroom.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think the training we receive initially isn’t really good enough. I think IWBs are fairly intuitive so I think we need good ideas.

  2. There are also a lot of online interactive whiteboard resources and online interactive whiteboard apps which can be taken full advantage of. The problem is that teachers have to spend a lot of time figuring out what is appropriate for their classes.

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