My thoughts on #IWB

A few weeks ago, I sent out on a quest to learn more about using interactive whiteboards.  I was primarily concerned with the way IWBs change how a teacher teaches, their pedagogy.  I began my search at ITEC, but was left wanting more, since the sessions I attended seemed to only talk about the features rather than on how the technology changes their practice.  I decided to pull out the research skills I had learned in my master’s program and began consulting research on effective teaching, pedagogy, and, of course, IWBs.  Below is what I have found and my opinions on IWBs in general.

The first major theme that I found emerging from the different pieces of literature I read was that IWBs do not inherently change a teachers practice.  There are many ways that IWBs can change your teaching, but they are often used to maintain current practices (Gillen, Kleine Staarman, Littleton, Mercer, & Twiner, 2007).  In my experiences with IWBs, this has been the biggest problem with their adoption.  A teacher is given the technology but not the skills to make it meaningful in their classroom.  As I look at technology and education, I think we need to look at the advantage of adding the technology to the classroom.  What will this change and is it worth the expense of doing so?  Show me the relative advantage over what I’m doing now.  By-and-large, I don’t think that has been done, which has led to many teachers receiving IWBs with little change in their current practices.

The next theme that I discovered was that IWBs change the classroom environment and the management of that environment.  Schmid (2010) explains that IWBs do not need to be the centerpiece of the lesson, but rather we need to think about how we can use IWBs to enhance the lesson.  How can we make the lesson better by using the IWB.  I was talking with Robin Galloway the other day and he said it best when he said, “Start with one feature of the IWB and then go from there to the next feature once you feel comfortable.”  This is the attitude we need to have when we start using IWBs.  Don’t focus on making a flip chart or some other elaborate way of using the IWB.  Start small and then move from there.  Lewin, Somekh and Steadman (2008) talk about a three stage model of pedagogic change with an IWB that I think fits nicely with Rob’s idea of using IWBs:

  • Stage 1: Teachers fitting [IWB] into established pedagogies
  • Stage 2: Teachers engaging in collaborative exploration of the new opportunities offered by the [IWB]
  • Stage 3: Teachers use IWB skillfully and intuitively in ways that extended or transformed their established pedagogic practices

I think this is a logical way for new adopters to become comfortable with IWBs, which is necessary if they are going to change their practice.

Another theme that emerged that I was a little unsure of when I began was the notion that IWBs make the classroom more student-centered.  Where this takes place is when the teacher stops leading the class at the front of the classroom using the IWB much like they would a normal blackboard.  However, once you begin letting students use the IWB in class, it does open up the opportunity for increased discussion and interaction that might not have taken place when the teacher was “in control” of the class.  What I still have problems with is the fact that the IWB creates this opportunity.  What I believe is happening is that the IWB is merely facilitating a student-centered lesson.  There is little that the IWB is adding that makes the lesson student-centered other than the student having the opportunity to physically use the IWB.  I’m making the argument that the same thing could be accomplished using similar technology or even a whiteboard or chalkboard in some instances.  While the technology is certainly adding a new layer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that layer is enhancing the lesson, or at least not enough to justify the cost of the IWB.  If I can do the same thing with a tablet that costs $400 rather than the hefty $1500 to $5000 price tag that some IWBs cost, then that is the direction I think I would want my classroom and school to head.

What also struck me about the student-centered nature of an IWB is that the rest of the class needs to be engaged in some way when a student is at the board working.  How are you going to keep them engaged?  This comes down to having solid instructional design, which for many teachers and administrators is overlooked when these new, expensive technologies are adopted.  This will also depend on creating a classroom atmosphere that nurtures sharing, patience, and suport, which I think is missing in many classrooms and schools (Harlow, Cowie, & Heazlewood, 2010).

I could go on and on, and if this were a literature review I would.  For now, I will just end by stating that I think IWBs can be a valuable tool for teachers, but they are NOT the be all end all for effective technology integration that they are sometimes made out to be.  There are a slew of different ways they can be used in the classroom and can help students learn, especially when used to provide multi-modal instruction.  However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not where I have observed their use.  If we are going to successfully use these tools we need to have adequate PD that helps faculty move beyond the first stages of Lewin, Somekh, and Steadman’s model.  If I were given the option of having an IWB or the money to spend on other tools for my classroom, I would take the money.  I don’t think IWBs are worth the cost, because the same thing can be completed using similar tools at a reduced cost.  The relative advantage isn’t there for me, but this could be due to my teaching philosophy, which is very project based.  My goal is active student engagement that lasts the entire period, rather than merely an activity that lasts only part of the period.


Resources: (Note: This is not the exhaustive list that I researched, only those which I referenced in my post.  If you would like a copy of all the documents I read, please leave a comment and I will be happy to provide you with a copy of the documents)

Gillen, Julia; Kleine Staarman, Judith; Littleton, Karen; Mercer, Neil and Twiner, Alison (2007). A “learning revolution”? Investigating pedagogic practices around interactive whiteboards in British Primary classrooms. Learning, Media and Technology, 32(3), pp. 243–256.

Harlow, Ann , Cowie, Bronwen and Heazlewood, Megan(2010) ‘Keeping in touch with learning: the use of an interactive whiteboard in the junior school’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19: 2, 237 — 243 URL:

Lewin, C., Somekh, B., & Steadman, S. (2008, September 24). Embedding interactive whiteboards in teaching and learning: The process of change in pedagogic practice. Education and Information Technologies, 291-303. doi:10.1007/s10639-008-9070-z

Schmid, Euline Cutrim(2010) ‘Developing competencies for using the interactive whiteboard to implement communicative language teaching in the English as a Foreign Language classroom’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19: 2, 159 — 172


2 thoughts on “My thoughts on #IWB

  1. Dan,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and literature discoveries. I agree that lack of PD is the culprit for most of the poor ways in which teachers use IWBs. Very few schools I have visited or teachers I have spoken with seem to have a grasp on what to do with their IWBs beyond showing videos or Power Points.

    Not only does the usefulness of the IWB depend on the teacher, I also believe there are huge differences in the ways in which IWBs can and should be used in elementary classrooms versus secondary classrooms. It is a challenge for me to talk about IWB implementation with a secondary teacher because my classroom experiences are completely different at the elementary level.

  2. Emily,

    I have a similar problem with IWBs and elementary school teachers and finding effective ways for using them in that context. I think they could be useful in an elementary context, but am not sure how? Possibly as a way to help students develop handwriting, hand-eye coordination. I don’t know that world very well which makes it harder to take these types of innovations to elementary school teachers. Any ideas?

    Where I think my frustration with IWBs is that they are promoted as an effective classroom tool, often when they have yet to demonstrate any change in student learning and in many cases, a change in teacher pedagogy. This seems to have happened in my current school, as well as in my previous school. I was in a meeting not too long ago where a team member made the case for purchasing additional IWBs as that is what our prospective teachers will use in the field (local school have IWBs in all classrooms), but currently they aren’t used beyond a white screen for the projector. These are the type of situations when schools need to slow down and evaluate the effectiveness of their innovations. Is it being adopted? Why not? What needs to change? How can we change to use these tools more effectively? If we answer these questions and there is a need for more IWBs due to their demand, and more importantly their effectiveness to increase student learning, then we should re-evaluate our options and purchase additional IWBs (or something similar like a tablet which costs only a fraction of the cost of an IWB).

    Thanks for commenting!

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