Teachers’ views on IWBs

In the first installment of my Interactive Whiteboard course, I spoke about how I gave an introduction to what interactive whiteboards were and how teachers can use them. Although IWBs, when used well, can be an excellent tool for teaching and learning, I dissected them and found that they don’t transform a teacher, they simply compliment a good teacher. So what did the 32 teachers on the course think about the various IWBs on the market? What makes them tick? What gets them angry? What makes them put the magic pen down?

We had 15 different types of Interactive Whiteboard in the venue.  They were all very kindly donated by their various companies for the full week of the course.  So before I begin, I’d should thank the following companies for their time and assistance.

  • Cleverproducts.ie (Cleverboard Dual)
  • 3M (3M projector)
  • Lennox Lab Supplies (Traceboard and eBoard)
  • Resources 4 Learning (TouchIT)
  • Interactive Classroom Solutions (Hitachi Starboards)
  • Prim-Ed (Panaboard and Geneeboard)
  • Net Communcations (Promethean)
  • Epson (Epson Britelite)
  • IMEX (Interwrite)
  • Toomey AV (Smartboard)
  • Mediascene (IQ Board)
  • Sight and Sound (Teamboard)

The course participants were challenged to get to grips with each of the boards and whatever the companies had left on them.  I had anticipated that teachers would generally move towards the boards they were most comfortable with – at least that’s what happened the last time.  This year most of the participants had an eBeam (or equivalent) in their classroom and only the 3M projector had this software installed on it.  Unsurprisingly, the favourite board on Day 1 was the one with the 3M projector.

There were a number of things that teachers learned during the hour and a half where they got to use at least 4 different boards.  Their task was to try and use the native software on each board to perform the basic functions of any IWB – drawing and highlighting, creating shapes and lines, importing clipart and images and using the other tools the software offered.  The idea behind this was to give teachers the opportunity to utilise the many different types of software that come with IWBs and be confident no matter what board they got.

Overall, it proved frustrating for participants.  The software that generally comes with interactive whiteboards isn’t usually user friendly, feature-rich or fun.  There are a few exceptions to this – Promethean’s ActivInspire being the more famed software for its usability.  However, teachers found the software that comes with the IMEX Interwrite and the IQBoard to be of comparable quality.  The secret of good software according to the participants was ease of use and lots of resources.  Many of the boards on the course used BoardWiz, which I reviewed a while ago.  The teachers found the software difficult to use initially and they didn’t like the small “wheel” that controls all the tools.  Once I had set it up to look more like the Promethean software, (toolbars on the right and big white canvas), it proved a bit more popular.

Another huge frustration for teachers was projectors – specifically projectors on tables.  I think it is safe to say that the wall-mounted projector is the only option acceptable to teachers today.  I was also amused when a participant got confused when she couldn’t move an object across the screen.  She was pressing her finger down with more determination without success.  Even I got puzzled for a brief second before realising she was using the Interwrite IWB, which is pen-based only!  In fact, teachers expressed that having a touch-enabled board was much better than a pen-based board.

For me, I learned a few things.  Firstly, Interactive Whiteboards break down. Regularly.   I spent a large amount of time plugging USB cables in and out of sockets and restarting computers.  I also found that if an IWB stopped working for any reason, teachers do not have the confidence to try and fix them.  Which is fair enough.  The only boards out of the 15 that didn’t need any fixing throughout the week were: Smartboard, Teamboard, Starboard, IQBoard and Interwrite.  In these cases, it was switch on and go!

Overall the first day of the course went well.  Participants got to rate each of the boards and it was interesting to see what they made of them and the software that came with them.  Day two of the course was to focus on literacy and in the next articles, I’ll be giving some tutorials in Literactive.com, the TES iboard, Wordle and Literacy Activity Builder.

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