Are IWBs Worth It?

Posted: March 31, 2009 in pedagogy, technology

Whether it’s a SMART, Prometheum, 3M, or any other, is an interactive white board (IWB) worth the great expense to your school?

No.

Oh I wish it was that simple.  I am going to preface this article by divulging that I have a SMART Symposium in my classroom.  I also currently teach in a lab with a 1:1 student computer ratio.  But I have taught grade 9 math in a room with the standard SMART Board setup.

I find IWBs scary.  Not scary to use.  I am a huge gadget fan and I love new technology, and I am pretty adept at picking it up.  What scares me is when I hear phrases similar to “I don’t know how I could go back to teaching without a SMART board.”  I hope these people don’t actually think that.  I hope this is a case of people drinking the IWB Kool-Aid.  Some people are so caught up in the hype that they think their usefulness is beyond reproach.  But why shouldn’t they think this?  After all, when they changed the marker to blue the children’s eyes got brighter.  The teacher uses the screen shade and their pupils dilated; the spotlight tool had them drooling.  One kid passed out when the new magic wand pen was used to zoom in.

Sure student engagement is necessary for learning.  But what are you engaging them with?  If I juggle periodically in class, certainly that would grab their attention as well as a happy face pen.  Some will argue that the tools in the SMART software package are indispensable.  I am a little more accepting of that one.  I really like being able to use the clone tool I have used it in a variety of ways.  But many others, like the screen shade, are just repackaged legacy techniques, like placing a piece of paper on the overhead projector.  Either way, the software can be useful – even without the physical board.

In many cases it is the projector that is providing the magic.  It is what allows us to show videos, flash files, images and more.  The only thing I need to get up there fo,r is to get in the way and cast a shadow.  Using a board solidifies the teacher’s place at the front of the room.  My real fear is that for many teachers an IWB becomes a crutch.  It made walking easier, but now they can’t leave it to find new ways to run.  way I have seen (or viewed in a video) most teachers keep their “sage on the stage” delivery.  The dazzle of the IWB is what may keep students focused.  It seemed educators were really getting the message out to try and get away from the teacher at the front delivery model.  And as we started to move away, even just occasionally, we were shackled back in place by a shiny interactive ball and chain.

Offended yet?  Well if you are, perhaps theme truth there.  Are you still challenging yourself to be a better teacher?  And I mean better teacher, not put together an even more polished looking Notebook file.  A technology shift does not equate into a pedagogy shift.  It may lead to one, but only maybe.

What would I spend my money on?  Well, I have this pretty great piece of technology.  They are small enough to go on desks, but large enough for students to collaborate on.  So I can have a small group of students creating, editing, refining and more.  Unlike a IWB this tool is infinitely multi-touch, so there is almost no limit to how many students can use the device at once.  And I was able to get a class set for a fraction of the cost of a SMART Board.  I of course am referring to pieces of regular whiteboard I bought at Home Depot.  Oh, and markers I bought at Staples.  I certainly did not invent this method, and I wish I could remember how I learned it from so I could give them credit.

My over-arching message is the following: Let’s look for what we want to achieve, then find the tools for the job.  Or, figure out where we ant to go, then decide upon the vehicle.  And finally teaching is a tough gig.  Even if you have the best students, it is tough because you always have to ask yourself how you can improve.  If we expect our students to question and improve themselves, then we should do the same.  Happy questioning

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Comments
  1. Robyn Floyd says:

    With a spare classroom and interactive whiteboard I asked myself questions that focussed on how to use the space to engage students who were totally disengaged and struggling with maths. Bringing pens and paper to class was a nightmare! Any excuse to return to class or waste time was a bonus for these these students. So we cut out paper, created a ‘paperless Classroom’ and used I had 4 tables laminated with whiteboard material $75.00 each. Armed with markers and IWB technology the achievement level and engagement was phenomenal.

  2. mryantho says:

    That’s a great idea. I have used my cut out whiteboards often and they are great. It also helps to have them portable as I am not always in the same room for each class.

    But the table idea is awesome – and I like how much focus you have placed on them. They are not just a bolt on (like some technology) but have really changed HOW you teach (along with an IWB in this case.) Good job.

  3. Matt Ledding says:

    What teachers REALLY need is a 40,000 dollar holographic projector to capture students attention. (you could also use a bit of imagination I suppose…)

    I agree that the projector is a big part of everything, and that the IWB is pretty hyped in a certain sense. But material with gaps, that stimulate student involvement are good activities.

    What if… instead of buying an expensive toy, you could make an IWB for under a hundred dollars, and the students could copy it and make their own. You as a class now own the technology, it doesn’t own you.

    What if… with cheap projectors, some netbooks or outdated computers, a controller from a video game, and a wall or table, you could set up 4 activity centers in the room.

    Using the wii IWB this scenario becomes possible, and the IWB stops being just a cool toy for the teacher. It becomes class property.

    I use smoothboard, and students start by thinking I am a genius Mad scientist. Then they start doing… and are empowered by the experience. They become producers, not consumers. Producing in groups… that is interactive whether with a pen, IWB, or just with words.

    I agree that the IWB can be misused for the wow factor, or to do a year of powerpoint. But focusing on the pedagogic side can give some opportunities that would take too long, or that you just couldn’t do.

    I would say the wii-whiteboard is well worth the effort and money. (It is easy to do…)

    • Paul Johnson says:

      IWB would be great if they were truly interactive. A whiteboard on steroids still promotes to and from pedagogy, even with vote pads and alike. In the age where technology is going to the person, an IWB is a step backwards in the evolution of child centered education. Well done to those of you who have discovered the Wii option and for a class to own the creation of this is AMAZING! Now that is interactive.

  4. […] recently came across a blog post entitled Are IWBs Worth It?  I found it very interesting reading.  It basically questions the worth of IWBs compared to the […]

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