I was on the road for work yesterday and I had the opportunity to talk with those riding with me about the real power of IWBs. I had made the statement that Prometheans (an IWB vendor) do not make a classroom student centered since there are only so many students that can use the board at one time. However, one of the passengers in the van, who has much more experience teaching with an IWB than I, disagreed, claiming that the Promethean can be very interactive for all students and can help with data analysis with building level initiatives that aren’t necessarily part of the course curriculum and planning. After some discussion we realized we were talking about two different things. When I say Promethean, I mean the ActivBoard, but when she said Promethean, she meant the ActivClassroom. These are two very different things and it is through an understanding of both that we see the real power of IWBs in general.
What happened in my discussion with my colleague is happening to many educators throughout the US. When people talk about IWBs, many refer to the IWB as just the physical board that can interact with a computer. This is in contrast to other people who refer to IWBs as the entire package from the manufacturer. The entire package usually includes a set of slates, clickers, the physical interactive whiteboard, and software that brings it all together. This is an important distinction when discussing IWBs, because for the most part, the physical board isn’t going to make your classroom more student centered. Students can interact with the board, yes, but when we are talking about transforming a classroom through the creative use of technology, we expect that each student will be engaged throughout the class period. This simply doesn’t happen when using the physical board. Some students will be engaged, but not each student. The board simply doesn’t allow for each student to learn at their own pace.
Where the real power of IWBs come into play is with the software. Looking at the type of learning we want to see in classrooms, we typically think of students actively engaged in a project or other activity that requires them to be collaborative and to think critically. This is what the software can do if designed appropriately by the instructor. The software is typically very flexible, which means having a solid underlying pedagogy is going to be the linchpin for success.
But to be successful, it means every student in the classroom needs to have access to the technology. Whether it is a slate, a clicker, or just the software installed on all the computers in the computer lab. If every student doesn’t have access to the technology, then the lesson can’t truly claim to be student centered, because there are some students who do not have the appropriate tools to be fully engaged. This is my problem with the current implementations of IWBs that I’ve seen. While there are some that include the entire package, there are many still that only include the physical board, which I believe only reinforces traditional teaching practices that are woefully inadequate for learners in the 21st century. The hardware cannot be the focus, but that is what is marketed by vendors and promoted by some educators who don’t really understand the type of change that needs to be taking place. Just putting in the board doesn’t do anything to better prepare students, but making the tools and software available to each student can make a difference. We need to think about the type of learning we want in our classrooms and then find the technology that will support that learning. Right now I’m not sure that IWBs are getting us there. The software is getting us close, but I think we are still falling short, because ubiquitous access isn’t the norm.