Reconciling my beliefs about #IWB

IWBs have been a difficult topic for me.  I like the idea of them and think they are “cool,” but I’ve had a difficult time really seeing how they transform education.  Yes, they can do many of the things we currently are doing, however that isn’t what gets me excited about technology in education.  I want to see innovation.  What can we do with IWBs that we couldn’t do without them?  This has been my internal quest for some time now and by no means have I completed my quest.  I still have a gut feeling to loathe IWBs, but I am beginning to reconcile my beliefs…some.

I recently was on and came across a topic on IWBs and in the comments Chris Betcher said the following:

I’m endlessly amused by those who think that the word “interactive” in “interactive Whiteboard” refers the the act of coming to the board and physically maneuvering objects around on a screen. In my opinion, that is missing the whole point. If you measure the success of IWBs by how “interactive” they are, and you measure the success of “interactivity” by how many people get to physically manipulate objects on the board, then yes, there will always be a ceiling on how successful they are in your eyes. However, I see the interactivity not as the physical interactivity of touching the board, but in the intellectual interactivity that can be created when a classroom is able to embed rich media into lesson, when it can flexibly divert off the planned course of a lesson by quickly calling up relevant web resources, when it can easily use media to juxtapose differing viewpoints that require students to think more critically or to have to defend their points of view. When you can have a large screen digital convergence facility in your classroom that adds richness and depth to the teaching and learning process, then I think you start to see the intellectual interactivity rise in that class. It is these deeper classroom discussions that arise by stimulating ideas in your students heads that really add interactivity to your classroom.

I think about it like this… it’s not what happens on the IWB that matters. It’s what happens because of what happens on the IWB that matters.

I think this is what my problem with IWBs has been.  I keep thinking students need to be engaged physically with the IWB.  So Chris is right, there is a ceiling limiting the value of IWBs in my eyes.  But by framing the use of the IWB to be intellectually interactive, then I think we’re on to something.  I’ve been working under the assumption lately that the IWB can be a device allowing us to unleash the curiosity and creativity of students to solve problems and complete real world tasks.  By thinking about how IWBs can be intellectually interactive aligns nicely with the notion that if students are presented with a real problem, that they can work as a group to solve it using real world tools and technologies.  I’m talking about more than just the IWB.  I’m talking about many of the same things Chris mentions in his comment.  Connecting to the Internet, visualizing arguments and ideas, and most importantly, debating and discussing those ideas as a large group.  His last sentence is really what we should be focusing on: Not what we can do with the IWB, but what we can do because of what we have done with the IWB.

While I may be in my infancy with this new perception of IWBs, I think there is great potential with these devices.  The real potential comes, however, when you have an effective educator who can facilitate this type of learning environment.  I think I can firmly consider this to be what Dr. Zeitz calls a technology-rich learning environment.  Getting us there is the challenge ahead, and I’m ready!


12 thoughts on “Reconciling my beliefs about #IWB

  1. this is fascinating to me. it never occurred to me that anyone was defining “interactivity” by the actual physical movement. the physical movement that is required should be an “indicator,” if you will, of the “intellectual” interaction that the student is required to perform. Simple action for its own sake is, undoubtedly, meaningless. But we need to have some product that is observable so that we have evidence that learning has occurred. And let’s not forget that it is the curriculum that provides the interaction opportunities and the tools, like the IWB, that enable the occurrences.

    • Hi Karen,

      I think many teachers, and their administrators, are using IWBs to increase student engagement through the physical interactiveness that IWBs can provide. If I had to guess, there is likely very little in terms of innovation taking place in these types of classrooms and the engagement level eventually begins to wane. I don’t think much happens beyond what occurs at the IWB. What Chris, and subsequently myself, are advocating for with IWBs is that the observable indicator that learning takes place isn’t what happens while students are using the IWB, but rather it is in the discussion and more importantly, student actions after the fact.

      The essential question when evaluating one’s use of IWBs, in my opinion, should be: What is the IWB allowing students to do that will help them as they approach a larger and more broad problem? If it doesn’t help students answer the problem, then we need to reframe the use of the IWB to do so. Note: My focus of IWBs is ONLY on how they can be used to support project/problem based learning.

      I’m still developing this idea, so please provide feedback, but I really have had a hard time with IWBs because I’ve rarely seen them used in ways other than for low level activities, like matching and identification. I now believe there is more we can use IWBs for, but I have yet to see it in action. Again, I’m open to any feedback, comments, etc. you may have.

      Thanks for commenting,


      • Right, I understand. No question (in any instructional paradigm, in my opinion) the “effectiveness” hinges on the students’ being able to apply to skills to the relevant settings.

        Two points on the “low level activities” and IWBs: 1) I think it’s like any other instructional tool…junk in, junk out. It is the responsibility of those designing the instruction to build in the “higher level skills.” I have some examples in a talk I give about achieving higher levels of Bloom PERIOD. Many educators have a hard time designing activities that correspond to those higher levels irrespective of the delivery mechanism (in this case, IWB). 2) We suffer from “low level activities” in EVERY domain. I think the struggle is that we, as a group, are more familiar and comfortable with taking a discussion to a “higher” level than we are building that into instructional materials. If you build in extension and application to the lesson itself those are indicators. So for me, the real issue is that most of us don’t apply a true “instructional design” approach to the materials. We just kind of wing it with discussion.

      • Hi Karen,

        I agree, it is the responsibility of the person designing the instruction to build in higher order thinking. Academic rigor is a difficulty in general and not limited to just IWBs. On the same note, however, IWBs seem to perpetuate the lack of higher order thinking. I don’t think this is an intended outcome, but it often is the reality. What I think changes with the IWB is the nature in which the lesson can be carried out. The key, like you eluded to is having the right instructional design.

        I’m not sure most teachers are prepared for adopting IWBs and the professional development provided is inadequate to meet the needs of the teachers. Inadequate in the sense that it is incomplete. Yes it may be focused on how to both use the features of the IWB/software and to “integrate” it into the course, but I don’t think there is sufficient support on a global scale to help teachers truly “innovate” with IWBs. It isn’t that the professional development isn’t worthwhile, which in many cases it is crucial to moving to the next level. Rather, the professional development is missing the necessary supports that help teachers change their instructional design to allow for more autonomous and creativity on the part of the student. I think this is why we see many teachers winging it through discussion rather than letting student take ownership and moving into the unknown with their learning. We have to be able to design for that and I don’t think I’m seeing that when I look at the professional development offerred around IWBs. IWBs aren’t something we are adding. They are a part of a fundamental change we are making in terms of the pedagogy present in the classroom.

        What’s more, I think there is a deficiency with many instructional design theories separate from IWBs or any technology for that fact. We have to be able to design for the unknown if we are to embrace creativity in our students. I want to believe that IWBs can be part of this type of learning environment, but going about designing the learning experiences associated with student centered instruction that promote autonomy and creativity are much different than what I feel has traditionally been done. I’m going back to what Chris said, it isn’t what you can do on the board, it’s what you can do because of what you did on the board. How do you design learning experiences that allow for the unknown to flourish? That’s a bit rhetorical but I think there is a practical side we need to be able to answer if we are going to be innovative with IWBs in ways that support student centered instruction through problem based learning.

        Hopefully I was clear articulating my thoughts. I’m still trying to fully wrap my thoughts around this. Thanks again for commenting!


  2. | Not what we can do with the IWB, but what we can do because of what we have done with the IWB.

    You hit the nail on the head right there. IWB’s are tools, or means to an end, and not ends in themselves. A big issue with IWB is that schools/districts purchase them for classrooms and expect that enhanced learning will just happen.

    There’s been some good research published in the last few years (DiGregorio and Marzano come to mind) showing how professional development for teachers that will be using IWBs really improves instruction. But again, they’re only tool for instruction 🙂

    • Hi Billy,

      I agree. Enhanced learning will not just happen by installing these devices in classrooms, even though they may be advertised that way by some sales people. As I look at the adoption of this technology in a way that supports project/problem based learning, I see a continuum where teachers enter with little in terms of knowledge of the device all the way to using the device to support PBL. I would imagine there is a continuum in the research somewhere, but I have yet to find it.

      As far as Marzano goes, I think he brings up some good points, and overall I think we can trust him as a researcher as he has a very high reputation. However, anyone advocating for any particular technology or brand must be met with the skeptical eye. I don’t think that is what Marzano did, but I can see how that can come off that way.

      Thanks for commenting,


  3. Agreed, Karen. Thanks for catching that 😉

    Believing that any one piece of technology will instantly raise test scores and increase learner engagement is far from the truth. The hands and minds using the technology are where we should focus our efforts.

  4. I like the perspective that Chris provides on IWBs.
    I need to think about this for a while but it is just like any other teaching tool. It is what the teacher does with the tool that counts – – – not necessarily what the tool is capable of doing.

    It CAN be an important part of a Technology-Rich Learning Environment.


    • Hi Leigh,

      I too am still muddling around with this. For me finding a model that can help support what the teacher does with the technology is crucial. Too often teachers will use a technology to merely support their current practice. In my opinion, if we are going to continue to purchase use this technology, there needs to be some way to help teachers as they try to use this technology in their lessons. I don’t think giving them more professional development on how to use the IWB is the answer. It has to be more fundamentally connected to learning theory, pedagogy, and instructional design. If not, then I think we are going to continue to see teachers using the technology to support what they are currently are doing.

      Like I said, still muddling around with this, but I think there is great potential in using this technology as part of a larger technology-rich learning environment, or perhaps system.

      Thanks for commenting,


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