At my current school we have interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in every classroom. These are a luxury, but I do think they have their drawbacks.
In ‘400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards’, Sharma et al (2011:10-11) list these benefits of using an IWB:
- Teachers and students can use a wide range of multimedia in the classroom
- They can make lesson lead-ins memorable (using videos, photos, etc)
- ‘Reviewing language has never been easier’, especially as you can save the flipcharts you create
- They help with creating personalised content
- It encourages ‘heads-up’ learning. Teachers can keep learners working at a similar pace, and focused by controlling what’s on the whiteboard. Feedback can be instant too.
- Audio transcripts can be displayed easily.
This is a fairly loose list of benefits – there are plenty more. However, they don’t mention many problems with using IWBs. They highlight that…
- technology is never 100% reliable
- there’s a temptation to use the IWB merely as a presentation tool (teacher-centred)
- there’s a tendency to overuse IWBs at first
Perhaps most importantly, they stress that IWBs are just another classroom tool – they should enrich the learning experience, but not take over.
Their book is a useful resource for IWB users, but it lacks discussion. Here are a few more pros and cons with IWBs that I’ve been thinking about recently.
A minute to learn, a lifetime to master…
That was the slogan for my favourite board game (Othello, see feature image!), and it applies to IWBs too. OK, maybe not a lifetime…!
I gave one of my colleagues a quick IWB tutorial last term. I explained a few basic tools and uses, and he went away and tried them out. The other day we got chatting about his progress. He said:
This seems consistent with two of Sharma’s points above – perhaps overuse of IWBs and using them just as a presentation tool. However, what the real problem seems to be is that my colleague is a basic user, not a competent user of this tool. At that level it might be hard for him to utilise the board in a variety of ways, and devise more learner-centred activities.
My colleague’s problem links to planning time. We do get paid planning time at our centre but, for some less competent ICT users, much of this time gets eaten up making flipcharts. I’d class my skill level with IWBs as just above basic but I can’t do much fancy stuff. Even so, I take a while to make flipcharts. Every teacher here does it, so I feel obligated to. Perhaps some training might help me (and my colleague) become more efficient, and recognise more benefits of using IWBs?
I plan activities which allow learners to use the technology. Matching tasks, board races, ordering information on clines, interactive games, etc. When I reflect honestly on these activities, I realise that my techniques in my pre-IWB teaching were perhaps more effective, especially with younger learners. They involved more TPR in general, and used the space around the room a bit better. But if I really try to pinpoint what made them more effective, it was that they were a bit more snappy, hence more engaging. Sometimes the technology slows my classes down, when learners themselves aren’t competent with the equipment. You could argue that this is a positive thing as I’m helping learners develop digital literacy skills, but learner competence with this equipment is something to factor into planning.
Are my learners suffering? Am I becoming ‘deskilled’?
All of our adult lessons come complete with a flipchart. One day, when we had some technical issues, I realised that learners had become reliant on this. I gave instructions verbally, without the additional support of written instructions on the board. Learners struggled with these, and I had to grade my language more, give a bit of a demo, check instructions, etc. We got there in the end!
I realised how these boards had affected my practice. I’d let my instructions slip a bit, as I knew learners had a written version they were more comfortable with. In turn, this had made the learners switch off to my verbal instructions and become a bit complacent.
I’ve adjusted my practice accordingly, but I’m a bit more conscious now of the influence the IWB can have. With my teens we have an interactive course book, but I won’t always use it – I make a point of giving verbal instructions sometimes, to keep them on their toes!
Sharma et al (2011) inadvertently highlight this issue of IWB over-reliance in Chapter 4 of their book: ‘Creating and adapting your own materials’. They introduce hundreds of ideas for using the IWB in class. A majority of them don’t require an IWB at all, and some of them seem to promote use of a flipchart when there are probably better methods:
I’m not suggesting this is bad practice at all. It’s just that the activity makes a more of a presentation out of a topic that lends itself to spatial tasks. Sure, the flipchart would be good for clarification, but TPR, realia and gestures (maybe Cuisenaire rods) would be a better form of initial input (in my opinion). The follow up is good though, but none of that needs an IWB.
Sharma et al (2011) is a good resource, and is full of ideas, but it does have a tendency to promote over-reliance. The much better activities it provides are those which can’t be done in other ways, like the ones requiring specific software or multimedia – that’s where an IWB comes into its own.
This idea of ‘principled eclecticism’
I’m not a technophobe, and I do love the versatility of tools like the IWB. I should probably do more to integrate digital technology in class – this webinar next week will help me I’m sure. But when I read about principled eclecticism with regards methods/techniques, I feel the same with classroom tools too. Over-reliance on one tool could be detrimental in some ways, and less effective.
Some questions, please comment!
- I think my school could offer more IWB training. Does yours? How often and in what form?
- Do you train your learners to use IWBs or do you find they just ‘get it’? If you do train them, how?
- Do flipcharts take up much of your planning time? Can you offer any tips to speed things up?
- What other pros and cons of IWBs are there?
Reference: Sharma, P. Barnett, B. Jones, F. (2011). 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards: Instant Activities using Technology. Thailand: Macmillan
Feature image: comfortablydomestic.com