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’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!