Best #IWB Advice I’ve Heard in a While

I received this in an email from Ron Morlan, Waterloo Community Schools, and it is brilliant. Yet, in all the conversations I’ve had about IWBs with others in the last few years, we talk about everything but this.


Probably the biggest message to send in training surrounding IWB’s is that there is a HUGE possibility of creating the false illusion of a student-centered approach when in fact they are being used as a nice upgrade to a teacher-centered, “sage-on-the-stage” approach.  What does good teaching look like WITHOUT the board?  How can GOOD teaching be enhanced by using the IWB?  Those are the questions to ask…


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!

The real power of #IWBs

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.


Putting an #IWB in a classroom ≠ technology integration

Bad Technology Integration

I am on vacation this week and I took my son to play at the elementary school playground in my hometown while we were visiting our parents.  While at the elementary school, I decided to take a closer look at the new elementary school building and in some of the windows.  It sounds a bit creepy but I was interested and school was out for the summer so I thought I’d be in the clear.  🙂  I really just wanted to look in a couple classrooms to see what they looked like and I have to say, they are very nice and the community should be proud of the facility.  One thing I noticed right away was that every room had a very nice interactive whiteboard.  These are the fancy kind that can adjust height, have a built-in projector, and mounted speakers.  I was very impressed by the dedication of the district to provide this type of technology in all of their classrooms.  However, what bothered me was that as I walked down the side of the building looking into a few of the different classrooms, I noticed there were some old school overhead projectors in many of the classrooms, which has again confirmed the following statement: Putting an IWB in a classroom does NOT equal technology integration.

If the district has committed resources to installing expensive IWBs, why are they still letting their teachers use overhead projectors?  While I can’t speak to how the teachers use the IWBs, I find it ridiculous that there are still teachers using overheads when they have access to hardware and software that could allow them to create engaging lessons for their students.  Instead, the powers that be at the district still allow their teachers to keep using the same old technology to teach the same old lessons they have likely been doing since before I was in elementary school.  If you want technology integration in your school and you want to show your commitment to technology integration by putting an IWB in all your classrooms, a good first step might be removing the old technology and training your faculty on how to not only operate the IWB, but also how to create engaging lessons for their students.  This will at least give the district a chance at seeing a return on your investment.  Otherwise, why spend the money?  (An even better approach to technology integration would be to look at your current district, school, and personal goals and see how technology can be used to help attain those goals.  Then you might actually see some results both with your respective goals, but also with integrating technology into the learning process.)

An #IWB lesson I actually liked

At UNI today there was a showcase event called Spotlight on Educational Technology that had a strong focus on STEM.  I had the chance to talk with educators from schools throughout the state in grades K-12.  One educator that stood out to me was a teacher of a kindergarten class who had her students using technology in a few different ways as they observed the weather and sky.  As some of you may know, I tend to be a bit critical of interactive whiteboards (IWB), usually because they aren’t used in ways that make the learning any better.  However, what I saw today was a great way of using the IWB and software.  Based on what I remember of my conversation with this teacher, she had her students taking pictures of the sky and different ways they could represent the weather.  These pictures were then imported to the teacher’s computer which was connected to the IWB.  The part I liked was that instead of creating a flip chart with the activinspire software, she let her students create the chart based on the feedback of the entire course.  The key was that the teacher was not using the technology.  She had enough insight to let her students not only arrange the pictures on the flip chart, as well as doing so collaboratively, but she let her students take ownership in the activity by letting them take the pictures.  Instead of finding a generic picture on the Internet, she had her students go outside and take the picture themselves.  Then later when they began building the flip chart, each student was engaged in where they wanted their picture on the flip chart, thus making students work together as they created meaning of the content.

Too often IWBs are slated as the tool to make student centered learning happen, but many teachers get lost with trying to learn, and teach, all the different things the IWB and accompanying software can do.  Instead, teachers need to take this simple example of using the IWB and software and create activities where students are at the center, maybe not each using the IWB, but at the center as they make meaning of the content.  If IWBs were used in that way, then I’d be a believer.

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

#IWB Training at UNI


Last year the university purchased a number of Promethean IWBs for the faculty to use, mainly because this is what their students will be expected to use when they begin their methods and student teaching courses.  Many schools have IWBs, but most use them incorrectly or not effectively (see Dr. Z’s post).  This is the case at the university as well and I have joined a group that is looking at how we can provide some training for UNI faculty that will aid in the diffusion of IWB use in more meaningful and appropriate ways.  We have a basic idea in place, but we would like to have additional resources for faculty to have access to since it is nearly impossible to provide specific integration ideas for every content and context.  So in an attempt to share information from experts from around the world, I have created a Google Doc that is open to the rest of the world where everyone can add their own resources, ideas, and how they have used IWB effectively in their classrooms.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but am really interested to see if I can leverage social networking (Twitter and Facebook) to reach a wider audience.

If you would like to participate, and I certainly encourage you to do so, click here: