Wasting Money on Whiteboards. . .

Blogger’s Note:  I’m a bit worked up today, so this post has rant written all over it.  It’s heavy on the Radical and light on the Tempered.  Read at your own risk. 

I’ll admit that there aren’t many topics that I’m more passionate about than Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom. 

Seen as the first step towards “21st Century teaching and learning,” schools and districts run out and spend THOUSANDS of dollars on whiteboards, hanging them on walls and showing them off like proud hens that just laid the golden instructional egg. 

I gave mine away last summer. After about a year’s worth of experimenting, I determined that it was basically useless

Sure, my students thought it was nifty, but it didn’t make teaching my required curriculum any easier.  I probably crafted two or three neat lessons with it, but there was nothing unique about those activities—I could have easily crafted similar lessons using the computer stations I already have in class and any number of free online tools. 

That’s why I spent last night following Twitter’s Ed Chat about Interactive Whiteboards even after an appliance meltdown, a minor flood, and a 2 hour trip to the Laundromat.  There’s no way that I’m going to watch a conversation on whiteboards slip away—even if I’m exhausted and wearing dirty clothes!

Thankfully, there was a lot of wisdom in the Ed Chat room last night.  Few people spent any meaningful time praising the instructional goodness of Interactive Whiteboards and the majority of the participants recognized that without time and training, whiteboards become nothing more than really expensive overhead projectors

I’d go even farther, though, and argue that even WITH time and training, Interactive Whiteboards are an under-informed and irresponsible purchase.

They do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning.  Heck, even whiteboard companies market them as a bridging technology, designed to replicate traditional instructional practices—making presentations, giving notes, delivering lectures—in an attempt to move digital dinosaurs into the light.

Do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-deliver instruction easier?

My biggest beef with Whiteboards, though, is that they are poorly aligned with the vision of instruction that most people claim to believe in.  Ask a principal what the best classrooms look like and she’s likely to say something like this:

“In the best classrooms, students are involved in creating knowledge together.  They’re studying topics, designing experiments, collaborating with peers, and challenging one another’s preconceived notions. While the teacher is always present to guide and to facilitate, the students are empowered to discover and to grow independently.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  If we could turn control of learning over to students, we’d probably see motivation AND academic growth levels rise all at once.  Classrooms would become innovative places that students were drawn to instead of the snooze palaces that they seem to be for so many kids today.

If those are the outcomes we most desire, then why are we wasting money on Interactive Whiteboards—tools that do little to promote independent discovery and collaborative work?  Sure—you could argue that when used as an instructional center, whiteboards become more interactive, but that is one REALLY expensive center, don’t you think?!

I’m also peeved because schools rarely have any kind of system in place to evaluate the impact that whiteboards are having on instruction.  We spend a heaping cheeseload collecting whiz-bang gadgets and then completely fail to reflect on whether or not they have helped us achieve the outcomes we most desire.

Isn’t that called hoarding?

What bothers me the most is that it seems like most school leaders don’t really care whether or not whiteboards change instruction in meaningful ways in their classrooms because whiteboards aren’t an instructional tool in their eyes.  Instead, whiteboards have become a PR tool—a tangible representation of innovation that can be shown off to supervisors and parents alike. 

Heaven forbid, after all, that you run a school without whiteboards if your colleagues down the street have taken a bite of the 21st Century fruit.  You’ll look like a hayseed at the next PTA meeting, won’t you?

I think Sylvia Martinez—who writes over at Generation Yes—said it best when she wrote:

you can't *buy* change, it's a process, not a purchase. the right shopping list won't change education

Most of the time, Interactive Whiteboard programs are nothing more than vain attempts to buy change.  Rarely paired with a clear vision of the classrooms we’d like to see, a set of tangible objectives that can be measured, or any systematic attempts to evaluate outcomes, Interactive Whiteboards are sad examples of the careless decision making and waste that are crippling some of our schools and systems. 

(Whew—can you tell that I needed to blow off a bit of digital steam?)

50 thoughts on “Wasting Money on Whiteboards. . .

  1. VocabSpellingCity Mayor

    This is an old post but let me pick up one detail that you mentioned…review of the effectiveness of the investment. I’m amazed at how schools, for even minor curriculum-related technology investments, ask whether it is “research-based and proven effective.” I know where this comes from and I basically applaud the approach. BUT, out of the same budgets, money gets spent on all sorts of textbooks and projection boards etc which is subject to no such rules. And overall, schools seem to have such a limited ability to ensure that money is well-spent.
    Do you think teachers make wiser decisions on spending?

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Ashley,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment—and I agree that IWBs can be productive in the hands of a trained teacher.
    But Ive had one, too—I actually wrote several courses for Pearson on how to use the Promethean board—and I just dont believe that its worth the cash. You can do pretty much anything youre doing on an IWB without the IWB—which has always been my complaint.
    And before you buy into the research Promethean is introducing you to, check this post out:
    Thats one of the most flawed pieces of research Ive seen in a long, long while.
    Anyway—know that Im proud of you for finding a way to use the tools that you have productively.
    I just wish there were more teachers like you out there!
    Rock on,

  3. Ashley

    I appreciate your thoughts. It takes guts to go against the grain, especially when every administrator and curriculum specialist in the world is showing off their shiny new toys. I really despise that. They think getting them in the classroom is enough but there is never a thorough or useful training on the tools. I feel the IWB can be a tool to guide student learning, however. In my classroom MY STUDENTS use the board, I rarely am lecturing from the board. I feel teachers are ignorant to the true endless possibilities of the IWB due to their lack of training on them. I received some good training in my technology classes in college and this summer I attended a 2 day training by Promethean. I am ready for my students to be involved, interacting and LEADING the lessons. There are ways to use these boards and create effectient growth. Based on my own experience, I had an overall 14% test score growth last year. Also at the training they presented research that supported the use of the IWB with interactive controllers and growth. I love technology but we all need to effeciently use them. My students create, present, and respond using the boards and controllers. I believe that they CAN BE useful, especially in language arts where many EC and ESOL students HATE participating. Just my thoughts.

  4. Bob

    Two months ago I rec’d my brand new, shiny, IWB. Prior to the districts charge toward this technology, I did quite a bit of research. The literature shows that most districts/schools lack a well structure Integrated Classroom Technology (ICT) plan. The tech they purchase is more status symbol than instructional aid or learning tool. They are throwing crap against the wall hoping something will stick. Student achievement would be better served with a shift in curriculum and instructional practices. Novelty is not a BEST PRACTICE, it is a disruption. Until a long-term strategic approach to ICT becomes the standard, we will all have to deal with the flavor of the month; IWB’s.

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Lora wrote:
    f students had access to the IWB software on their computers they could be very creative, and suddenly presentations for them could have another dimension.
    You used similar language in the other comment that you left for me today, Lora….and it’s interesting to me because you seem to see IWBs as a “presentation” tool.
    For me, that’s the problem with IWBs. Schools need to move away from the “presentation” mentality that we’ve been wrapped up in, moving more towards a “participation” mentality.
    There’s nothing about IWBs that encourage extensive participation.
    Lora also wrote:
    Instead of using everything you had and let your students take the tool and run with it, you opted to give it away. That’s ashame.
    Be careful about assumptions, Lora. My students had their hands all over my whiteboard—and they very quickly became bored with it.
    There’s nothing they could do with the whiteboard that they couldn’t already do sitting behind a computer, so essentially, adding the whiteboard was like adding an extra—very expensive and completely stationary—computer to my classroom.
    Nope. I’ve thought this one through pretty well: IWBs are a heaping waste of cash in 90% of the classrooms where they’re placed.
    That’s the real shame.

  6. Lora Holt

    I love using the whiteboard. I do think you were right in saying this is a rant. IWB’s can be student centered if they are used properly and with the right amount of imagination. If you thought of IWB like having a giant Ipad on your wall it would take an entirely different focus…
    If students had access to the IWB software on their computers they could be very creative, and suddenly presentations for them could have another dimension. Just because you could only think of one or two good ideas to use with your expensive smart board, doesn’t mean that the students in your class couldn’t have, and isnt that the essence of all of the research that you have quoted was trying to say? That your classroom should be student centered? Instead of using everything you had and let your students take the tool and run with it, you opted to give it away. That’s ashame.
    -Lora Holt

  7. Jason Leonard

    Excellent article. I am glad that this is being addressed, as I have seen entire schools fitted with IWBs and nothing really changes.
    However, to be fair, can someone share with us POSITIVE people/ways the IWBs are being used in the classroom?

  8. Bill Ferriter

    Ellyse wrote:
    I just finished up my internship (student teaching) at a SMART showcase school meaning that there was a IWB in every room (even the principals office) and teachers from across the province would come to the school to watch how we integrated the IWB into our teaching.
    Here’s the thing, Ellyse: For every IWB Showcase School where remarkable things are happening, there are at least 10 schools where IWBs are useless budget crunchers because the tool isn’t being used to change instruction in a meaningful way.
    The difference is that in your building, IWBs are clearly connected to the overall mission and vision of the building. Teachers are invested in the project, professional development is provided, and there are dozens of examples of good things happening with IWBs for others to model after.
    IWBs have become a part of a carefully planned whole-school reform model.
    That RARELY happens. Most of the time, IWBs are purchased without any kind of careful thought, aren’t evaluated for impact, and teachers aren’t provided with the kinds of PD and training necessary to make the kinds of changes you talk about.
    And I would go as far as to argue that even in IWB showcase schools, the money spent on putting an IWB in every room—including the principal’s office—could be better spent on other things. For example, I’d LOVE a class set of netbooks that could be used to facilitate learning in my room—-something that could easily be purchased for the cost of one IWB.
    Any of this make sense?
    I guess my central point is that most schools aren’t doing the kind of work that you saw in action with IWBs, yet thousands are spent outfitting classrooms with these gizmos every year.

  9. Ellyse Haas

    Although you make some good points Bill, I have so say that I am a firm supportor of the interactive white board. I just finished up my internship (student teaching) at a SMART showcase school meaning that there was a IWB in every room (even the principals office) and teachers from across the province would come to the school to watch how we integrated the IWB into our teaching. I was in front of the IWB maybe 10 percent of the time where my Grade ones were up interacting and actively learning constantly. We did some math pods (small group work in math) where 5 students were at the IWB by themselves learning on their own. I think if you take the time to play around with it, you will learn how to make it interactive for you teaching instruction. There are also amazing sites with pre-made IWB lessons that are great and also coincide with the curriculum so you don’t have to do all the work.

  10. Olivier

    Fully agree, save your dollars, a regular dry erase whiteboard is good enough in the classroom. If you need to share the whiteboard via email, snap a copy with your camera. At Qipit, we offer a very affordable (few dollars) whiteboard scanner application for the iPhone called Qipit White that transforms the picture into a PDF, with high quality. You can really share a standard whiteboard in few seconds! Here is the official link http://itunes.com/app/white

  11. Sharon Padget

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! I gave mine away and was laughed at but I have new and better ways to integrate technology that is cheap, simple and more engaging.

  12. Teacha

    In our society we are constantly looking for “quick fix” from items such as weight loss, finding a mate, getting out of debt quick, etc. It is no wonder society is looking for a “quick fix” for solving issues within education. Building a bigger and better product will only engage and entice students and teachers. It still comes back to what the majority of us are saying. You have to take the time to build quality teachers who continue to facilitate not only their student’s learning but their own learning as well. Recently, in a school district I asked the ever prominent question “What is 21st Century Teaching and Learning?” I consistently heard the words “engagement” and “preparation”. Engagement only goes so far until the novelty wears off. Preparation comes into the conversation as teachers’ desire to prepare the students for the future. How will watching a teacher and a few students at a time tap a screen better prepare a student for the future? Yes, the engagement piece is a temporary “quick fix” but it doesn’t hold the lasting effect that inquiry and problem solving offers to the 21st century teacher and learner. Again, I try to point out to participants when I have this discussion that no where in the 21st Century skills does it list technology as a skill. http://21stcenturyskills.org/route21/
    I fell into the IWB trap about 5 years ago in my own classroom before working with classes around the country. I thought this Smart thing was changing the way I taught and that I couldn’t live without it. It made it much easier for me to move and manipulate my computer screen with my finger as the mouse but couldn’t I have done that with a projector alone? Couldn’t I still have written on the old whiteboard to begin with when I need to solve a problem? The Smart thing really just changed the way I planned my teaching and made it more efficient to have all of my problems, questions, web links, and visuals ready to go for the lesson. When I started working in schools without IWBs, Microsoft PowerPoint and an LCD projector solved the lack of IWB problem quite quickly.
    My suggestion to any school wanting to purchase some “goodies” would be to provide a projector with a computer connected to the internet in every classroom first. Then if that money is really burning a hole in your pocket, maybe a slate for some mobility to draw and outline key points on the PowerPoint. But more importantly work on the questions and tasks formulated by the teachers and students. Odds are with any new technology old habits don’t die and the classroom will revert back to teacher-centered if the quality of the teaching and learning itself is not addressed.

  13. Anthony

    Like any powerful technology one needs to be trained well, given time to practice and unearth its potential and then understand that it is a tool and not a replacement for good teaching. The SMART Board has enhanced my global studies teahing beyond my expectations. Yes, it is easy to all in the trap of teacher centered lessons and this is where self assessment needs to be consistent so this dosn’t happen. I have saved tons of Ink and plastic overhead paper, my geography lessons and interactions have improved, by ability to present information in so many different and effective ways is incredible. I would not trade this tool for an overhead projector at any point in the future.

  14. Greg M

    Wonderful discussion and I will admit a bit of a head spinner for me, because, until recently, for sure, I was an IWB booster. I still think they are a useful tool in some respects, but like you said: do they really change the way we teach? Knowing what I know now, I would say that they do not do enough to change the context of the classroom. Thanks for this, it is a conversation starter and something I intend to share with my administration.

  15. Ktschutt

    Reading this post and the associated comments was a pleasure…It’s funny that I came across this article just today. http://bit.ly/8dR43B One line significantly stuck out to me,
    “Such a carefully designed rollout, featuring extensive professional development and ongoing support services, does not always occur when districts decide to put the whiteboards in classrooms, critics say.”
    Gina Hale leaves a comment on the page that mimics similar thoughts already mentioned here.
    I agree with you Bill, real possibilities for transforming teaching and increasing student engagement come with using Classroom Response Systems. If bringing in IWBs helps lead schools to that path, the question then is, “was it worth it?”

  16. Elizabeth

    At our elementary school the administration puts so much emphasis on the use of technology such as whiteboards that we have lost the focus on high quality instruction. Everyone wants to be using technology to look good for the principal. I would like to see more money spent on books for children to read rather than filling in blanks on a whiteboard.

  17. rebecca

    You can’t buy change. You know what else you can’t buy? Reading and writing ability. I’m currently teaching in a school that spends oodles of money on whiteboards, interactive online classroom materials, and other barely useful programs while I teach a group of juniors who can barely read and write. Granted it’s an urban school with a separate host of challenges, but the same flawed philosophy exists: they replaced reading specialists with technology.
    thanks for the post. i echo your need to blow off steam.

  18. Bill Ferriter

    Troy wrote:
    Worst case scenario, the record feature is worth it. It allows me to leave a great lesson for a sub teacher who may not have any background knowledge in my subject area (reality in my situation).
    First, thanks for stopping by, Troy…Good to hear your voice and I like that you’re pushing against my thinking.
    Several teachers have mentioned the ability to record lessons and presentations as a key selling point for whiteboards, and while I agree that there are real advantages to creating video lesson libraries for students, I’m not sure that whiteboards are the right tool for that either.
    I’ve created a pretty extensive collection of video lessons for my kids too—but I use screencasting software (my choice is Camtasia) to craft the bulk of those lessons, and Camtasia cost me 89 bucks.
    While I can’t capture live lessons as they happen—I script and record everything in advance—I don’t think I’d want to capture my live lessons. Not only would they be filled with pauses while students work independently and the inevitable ummms and ahhhhs that come with public speaking, there would be audio issues as I moved around the room and as quiet kids asked questions.
    Using a script and screencasting software produces a much more polished final product that can stand alone for a long long while—and it can be done for less than $100 bucks.
    Any of this make sense?

  19. Troy Wist

    Wow great conversation repeated several times. I personally use a p.board and also control the purchases for my school. We have installed them in all classrooms in order to enhance the technology use and help engage the students while facilitating a change from delivering content towards students taking ownership of learning. Yes, they were expensive and given a choice and a lot bigger budget I would have purchased macbooks for all and projector for each room. The question isn’t are they good or are they bad, the question is how are they used. As stated so many times before; they are just a fancy tool that is at the mercy of the user. Is an air nailer a bad purchase for a construction worker? Isn’t it just a fancy expensive hammer? Yes, it is. If you have two equally skilled contractors one with a air nailer and one with a hammer; you may get two equal houses. However, you would have one much earlier and with a much happier and healthier worker because the tool made their skill easier to apply.
    I have also found that by implementing them at the same time it created a lot of great professional dialog and sharing within the staff opening the door for fresh ideas. What is value of that for student learning and creating a positive learning atmosphere?
    Worst case scenario, the record feature is worth it. It allows me to leave a great lesson for a sub teacher who may not have any background knowledge in my subject area (reality in my situation). It also allows students to review content and see it unfold with time and explanation rather than viewing still frames (Power Point handout). Yes it is still a passive lesson, but it definitely beats read and do questions when it comes to new content. Is there a better way to have students discover learning? Yes, but we are getting there one step at a time. For now my goal is to build a video bank (student created?) of content so students have the ability to access very specific information in a dynamic way. Students will then have a greater opportunity to learn at their own pace and allow me more freedom to meet their individual needs… deepen understanding and challenge the gifted and support the challenged. Seems to me that … that is the goal of education.

  20. Bill Ferriter

    I owe you one: I’ve been fighting an appliance nightmare for a week—it still isn’t resolved–and I’m completely exhausted and miserable.
    Your comment made me laugh out loud, and I needed that!
    For a buck and a half, we could give an interactive whiteboard to every student in the entire county, couldn’t we?!
    Nicely done…

  21. K. Borden

    What a crazy coincidence! It must be “interactive white board” day.
    Just today I bought two wipe-off white poster boards at $1.49 each.
    I love these. They are lightweight, allowing me to tape them to tabletops, windows, doors, walls, floors, mirrors, trees… The interactivity doesn’t come from the whiz bang features of the IWB’s you discuss, but they have accomplished a great deal for this often mobile instructor. Need a sharable erasable medium for group work in a awkward location? These are great. They really drop and drag!
    Mr. Ferriter, we agree on this one. One of our last experiences while the kiddo was still in “school” was with a classroom that had gotten a IWB. It is technology with potential, but for the cost not necessary and certainly not the solution. We observed the technology getting in the way of learning phenomenon on visits to the classroom.
    Now my white board poster board, I highly recommend. There’s nothing like having a group of learners engaging each other over the medium just about anywhere/anytime for just a $1.49. (and you can cut them up to have erasable index cards, maybe try that with the IWB)
    Hope you had a nice holiday.

  22. Gary Ball

    I have used both a DIY interactive whiteboard and a genuine SMARTboard. While I love using both of them I would hesitate to call to use the word interactive for either of them. My students really don’t use them any differently than they would a traditional chalkboard. The hardest lesson I had to learn was to hand off the pen to the students.
    That being said was the IWB a waste of money for my classroom? No I don’t think so. It has not fundamentally changed the way that I teach. It HAS changed how students can access what I have taught. I now record and publish (to the internet) much of what I teach. Take a look at my section of our school website at http://www.cando.lskysd.ca/node/69 . The IWB allows me to capture the lessons and make them available to our chronically absent students. The IWB allows me to create content that I could not easily do otherwise. It allows me to do a better job of a traditional method of teaching. (Yes I know traditional methods are not always the best).
    That being said, I moved classrooms this year and my SMARTboard took over a month to follow me. Really, my teaching style never changed with or without it. I just was unable to record more content.

  23. Tom

    Dead on.
    They are insidious and create the illusion of better things happening while stealing funding from those same better options.
    I often challenge people to show me a pedagogically sound IWB lesson I couldn’t duplicate (or surpass) for less money. No one’s managed so far.

  24. Bill Ferriter

    Joe wrote:
    By years end the district will have them in nearly all rooms. Now it is up to me to ensure they are used in meaningful ways.
    Thanks for stopping by, Joe…A Depew guy, huh? I grew up in Cheektowaga and still get back to visit family several times a year.
    I’d like to hear more about how you evaluate the impact that whiteboards are having in your classrooms. One of the things that I’ve noticed is how few people have any kinds of specific plans or processes for doing this.
    There’s lots of anecdotal and observational evidence, but no one seems to have any kind of systematic methods for proving that these things are worth the investment.

  25. A. Mercer

    My district is starting to move in the direction of IWBs, we just don’t have the money to purchase them, but many site administrators would LOVE to have IWBs in every classroom.
    It’s not because they have a false vision of how this aligns with their vision of teaching. It aligns perfectly with what the state and district are prescribing as the “solution” to low test scores which is to concentrate on improving direct instruction and increase engagement. The second maybe arguable, but on the first, it’s there. It gives them exactly what they were looking for. I think we assume that we all have both the same goals, and agreement about the best methods when it comes to instructional delivery. I see little or no consensus on those.

  26. Joe D'Amato

    I agree wholeheartedly with the fear that a interactive whiteboard will just become an expensive overhead. That is the reason why I have phased them in slowly and put them in rooms where they will be used often and effectively.
    In my Middle School, the students love them and love to interact with them.
    The key for me is to continually update the training so it involves more student engagement in meaningful ways.
    By years end the district will have them in nearly all rooms. Now it is up to me to ensure they are used in meaningful ways.

  27. John Ferriter

    Wow… Seems like a nerve was struck with this subject. It may be able to offer some great opportunities here. Think about thousands of whiteboards collecting inches of dust across America; then think about the ultimate opportunist who buys them back from districts, dusts them off then offers them for sale as re-furbs at half price. Districts would blindly consume this inventory making the opportunist an instant millionaire. whaddya all think about that??? Seems like a win-win-win to me.

  28. Cary Harrod

    As someone who makes decisions about technology purchases for our district, I’m one of the few in our neck of the woods who has refused to jump on the IWB bus. Maybe we’re unique but our tech budget is really, really…scant. So it is critical that I insure the placement of tools that will provide access to as many learners as possible. On first glance, that appears to be something like an IWB; trouble is, that assumes that every learner in my classroom needs the same exact thing. One of our primary responsibilities is to help our students become independent learners who are capable of navigating a world very different from the world in which most of have grown up in. If all I have in my classroom is a glitzy board, exactly when are my students going to learn how to navigate the WWW? When will they learn the skills for accessing, organizing, synthesizing and then sharing their understanding of critical knowledge? That cannot be taught up on a white board; it has to be experienced by each learner. If we truly believe that each student brings unique learning needs to the table, than we cannot continue to design learning experiences that ignore that understanding. The only way to meet those individual needs is to provide access to the tools that each learner needs when they need it. Perhaps one day, money will no longer be an obstacle and I can have it all; but until that happens, I will assure you that I will do whatever I have to do to put a device into each of my learner’s hands. Thanks, Bill, for refusing to sit on the fence on this one.

  29. Richard Byrne

    I completely agree with your position. I work in a very poor district. A few years ago my principal asked me try out an IWB he had gotten as a demo from a salesman. My principal (who admits to knowing nothing about technology) had been to a conference where he saw IWBs demoed and clearly wanted to buy of them. I tried it and came to all of the same conclusions you did. Long story made short, we didn’t buy IWBs instead we saved that money that would have been spent each year buying IWBs and a few years later we have netbooks for all students. I would argue that far more students and teachers are positively impacted by netbooks than are impacted by IWBs.

  30. Bill Ferriter

    Bill Farren wrote:
    Just saw the guys on MythBusters using a whiteboard. Added nothing to what they were doing.
    The crazy part, Bill, is that all of the public uses of whiteboards—the MythBusters guys, the CNN Political Tracker team, the Fox News folks—make whiteboards look really cool, don’t they? They click, point, enlarge, and drag things around.
    It is marketing at its best.
    But in every situation, the whiteboard is being used to support a stand-and-deliver presentation, isn’t it? There’s never a group of people sitting around and using the board together on CNN.
    The thing’s interactive—but the person doing the interacting is the presenter. The audience is as passive as ever. It’s essentially a 1-1-1 project:
    1 really expensive gizmo placed in 1 classroom and MAYBE changing the learning experience for 1 person. Everyone else remains unimpacted.
    But when you see Anderson Cooper fluidly sliding his way through a presentation, you’re sold.
    Insidious indeed….

  31. Syd

    Holy bejeezus.
    I’ve been itchin’ to get my fingertips on a whiteboard for years thinking I’d been missing out on something edu-BIG!
    SO glad I stumbled upon this conversation. I still want one, but not as much, and I hereby declare my lamenting the lack of them at my own school over and done with.

  32. Bill Gaskins

    AMEN and Amen…I had a hard time articulating the same point you just made when I go my first whiteboard four year ago. They gave it to me since I was already had kids engaged in lots learning activities using computers. I never could get excited over my new Promethean Board. I did like the interactive features and I never wanted to admit to anyone that I was using as a glorified overhead projector.
    Less than 20 minutes a day was my kids staring at something on the whiteboard. They were too busy writing, researching, creating, learning, discussing, debating, and sharing—using technology….
    AMEN! Bill

  33. bill farren

    Thanks for this post. Just saw
    the guys on MythBusters using a whiteboard. Added nothing to what they were doing.
    Them smartBoard people got a great marketing dept.

  34. Bill Ferriter

    I’m enjoying your comments, y’all…and agree with the sentiment that tools are generally neutral. They don’t bring benefit or cause harm on their own. Either is possible in the hands of a good teacher.
    But I think I’m ready to argue that the “tools are neutral” argument doesn’t apply for IWBs. Sure, they have potential—but I think that potential is:
    1. Limited at best: I’m no slouch when it comes to classroom teaching and designing interactive learning experiences, yet I spent a year working with a whiteboard and got no where.
    2. Not worth the costs: Let’s face it—when paired with a data projector, an IWB is one of the most expensive digital investments a school and/or district can make. In order to justify that kind of investment, there can’t be any waffling. We can’t afford to spend thousands on potential, can we?
    3. Disarmingly insidious: Whiteboards are so damn sexy to people making purchasing decisions that they’re almost irresistible whether or not there are proven strategies for implementation. When sexy trumps logic, we’re in for a world of hurt.
    Nope…I’m definitely not neutral on IWBs. From a systemic standpoint, the few successes are buried under a pile of failures large enough to make me turn and run.
    Any of this make sense?

  35. Tandilyn

    I think IWB do have the potential for great interactivity with students; however, the interactivity is greatest in small groups – which as Bill already stated, makes them a VERY expensive center.
    I have an IWB and I felt guilty the whole first year I had it because I knew that it had so many great features, but it can take a LOT of TIME to prepare lessons to use those features, and just didn’t have that time – especially when I could use another method of similar effectiveness that didn’t require my board.
    With that said, I still currently harbor a love/hate relationship with my board.
    I see potential with IWBs that just need a great vision from administration, but what I envision in my head is likely decades in the future (if it even ever comes to fruition).

  36. Judith Epcke

    Are districts buying IWBs to transform teaching/learning? If so, that is misguided on a number of levels and the fault lies not with the IWBs, but with the decision makers in those districts. The same could be said for 1 to 1 programs. If the pedagogy hasn’t changed to understand the transformative power a 1 to 1 program can help facilitate, then they are just fancy word processors. The transformation needs to change BEFORE the purchase of the technology. I’m unsure why IWBs are being vilified. They are not at fault; the expectations of their impact are skewed. ANY technology in the hands of a teacher who doesn’t understand the pedagogy behind constructivism, or 21st Century teaching/learning, or whatever you decide to call a progressive mindset/pedagogy about the power of technology, will be nothing more than an expensive tool that BOEs can point to and use as a PR tool.
    Now you’ve got ME riled up. 🙂

  37. Acreelman.blogspot.com

    Good discussion. It’s another case of how we use technology to maintain the traditional classroom paradigm instead of radically rethinking the whole process of learning and education. We use technology to support familiar methods instead of starting from scratch and seeing what new things we can do with the amazing resources available today.

  38. Sharnon007

    I agree wholeheartedly. Too bad that the administrators let the company representatives tell them what to buy. How many teachers actually KNOW that the WIImote option is truly a VIABLE option? How many administrators know that?

  39. Vanessa Cassie

    Jdornberg, I completely agree with your sentiment! ALL products (technology based or not) are a success or failure based on the teacher who chooses to use them. I’ve seen both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples of teaching with an IWB, but I’ve also seen just as many ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples of teaching using computers, textbooks, TVs, Internet, etc.
    I would like to offer one varying viewpoint that I have yet to see on any blog post (and I know I’m going to get criticism for this one!) Is there really, truly anything ‘wrong’ with stand and deliver lessons? I believe that they still have their place in education, right alongside student-centered learning, small group collaboration, etc. Why must the pendulum swing from one extreme to the next? Have we not all seen a teacher who is a ‘good’ storyteller teaching one class over from a teacher with ‘bad’ facilitation skills? If IWBs can be viewed as a tool to further enhance whatever style of teaching that best works for THAT educator, then I am a firm supporter of them.

  40. jdornberg

    You’ve got to tip your hat to the marketing departments of hardware manufacturers, software developers, and even textbook publishers. They could sell the proverbial ice to the proverbial eskimos.
    IWBs are just the latest “thing” for school districts to throw their money at. Let’s review: desktop computers, Palms, laptops, clickers… what have I missed? Soon it will be iPods, netbooks, eReaders and the Apple Tablet that we’re complaining about. Back in the day it was probably filmstrip projectors with cassette tapes, and who could forget laser disks!?!
    As an instructional technology specialist, my experience with IWBs is no different than any of the aforementioned devices. There are those teachers who simply don’t “get” it or even “want” it(probably because they don’t have “time” for it). There are teachers who adopt and then adapt the technology and do amazing things for and with their students.
    But these same teachers could probably do amazing things with a cardboard box and some markers. They are creative, passionate, dynamic professionals who love their job and their students.
    I guess what I’m saying is that IWBs are not inherently “good” or “bad” so let’s not choose up sides and label them as such. Instead, let’s question the wisdom of purchasing ANYTHING, including textbooks, without devoting a considerable amount of time for research, training, and professional development.
    But in the minds of many superintendents, PD isn’t as “sexy” as a shiny new thing that can be featured in the local paper or on the nightly news.

  41. Caitlin

    If one teaches the same lessons on an IWB, then yes, it is a waste of money, even with all the time and training. If you don’t see the advantages of using an IWB, you’re not really using it. And, as TJ points out, YOU should not be the one using the board anyway, your students should be.
    Regardless, the touch capabilities of an IWB put the teacher, whether an instructor or student presenter, up front and allows him/her to work with content, not just show it; with IWBs, the days of clicking through slide presentations should be gone. Additionally, because an IWB works via a computer, class activity can be recorded for absentees or for review purposes.

  42. Steve Ransom

    Yes, yes, and yes 🙂
    However, I do want to add that IWBs have a legitimate role and function for certain pedagogical frameworks that can’t be denied. With the right training for the right purpose and with the right audience, they can be useful and effective tools. But, just as we don’t dump data probes and Lego robotics into every classroom, we shouldn’t be doing so with IWBs either. Give one to each grade level. Watch/evaluate what happens. If it appears as if one teacher is doing great things (however one wants to define ‘great’) with it, give him/her one. If the self-contained special education room can provide of sane rationale for why one would really benefit the students, install one. If another teacher seems to be doing great things with and is limited by the shared document camera, give him/her one.
    Let success breed success rather than mediocrity breed mediocrity. Give teachers the tools that they feel would help them help their students. There is no one “correct” pedagogy. If that were so, we would be a miserable and failed nation. Let’s stop wasting money in the name of being “fair” by making sure everyone has the same when it comes to specialized tools.
    But lets stop forcing unique (and expensive) technologies in settings where they are unwanted or do not belong… perhaps, as Sylvia stated, to claim progress.

  43. Cytochromec

    Great post and comments. I propose we call them Touch Screen White Boards TSWB instead of Interactive IWBs. If anyone quotes Marzano’s “research” about the effectiveness of Promethean boards you should read the actual study and this critique http://edinsanity.com/2009/06/02/marzano_part1/
    I am a tech trainer and I would rather be teaching teachers about blogs, wikis, rubrics, peer editing, etc. than about how to use a TSWB.

  44. Joel Zehring

    I agree whole-heartedly, Curmudgeon Bill. Sarah’s and Karen’s comments also resonate.
    I set up a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Nintendo Wiimote. The whole set up costs about $100, but I don’t use it much. The wiimotes are better used as game pads for internet games.

  45. TJ Shay

    I have an interactive whiteboard and it has fundamentally changed the way I teach SOME parts of my curriculum. I spend approximately 5% of the time in front of it (and get sort of exhausted by the people who claim it is a tool for lecture), and the rest of the time using a tablet and having STUDENTS using the board to explain and explore content.
    The thing on which I think we agree would be best summed up in a blog post I wrote that got at least one annoyed response. To me, the only thing more misguided than the people who think that IWB’s have no place in the classroom are the people who think there should be one in every classroom. There SHOULD be some checks and balances and their use in classrooms should be studied for their impact on reaching objectives.
    Though I wholeheartedly agree with Sylvia (as I usually do) you can’t buy change. You can provide tools for change. Could I go back to teaching without a whiteboard? Yes. Could I also go back to writing letters without a computer? Sure, but who would want to. If the tool works, use it.
    I think we agree more than we disagree, but wholesale discounting of the power of this technology does not seem correct. It seems to me the creativity and skill of the teacher has a strong force in change…if that can be aided by a piece of technology, let’s do it.

  46. Bill Ferriter

    Karen wrote:
    I do know teachers who love their whiteboards as they lend an air of interactivity to their lessons without fundamentally changing the way the classroom functions.
    Brilliant comment, Karen. You’ve captured in one brief sentence why whiteboards are so well received by some teachers. Dangerous thinking, isn’t it?
    As far as clickers and tablets go, I’m a bit more open-minded. At least with clickers, I can quickly collect information that I could use to make more meaningful instructional decisions. The benefits to assessment could be worthwhile.
    And if I had several slates in each classroom, I could have groups of students working with content on the board at the same time. What if I put a collection of ideas related to a concept up and asked student groups to sort the ideas into categories. It might be fun to see them visibly arguing with placements and categories together. A kind of transparent thinking deal.
    But you don’t need whiteboards to do either of those things…and the whiteboard is the most expensive part of the setup!
    Rock on,

  47. KarenR

    As I read this, I wondered how many other “21st century technologies” you could substitute…clickers? tablets? They’re fancy ways for kids to answer questions, aren’t they? I do know teachers who love their whiteboards as they lend an air of interactivity to their lessons without fundamentally changing the way the classroom functions.

  48. Sarah K

    Great points made here. In fact, last year some of my students asked me why I didn’t use the SMART board more. I said I didn’t know, and constantly tried to think of ways to use it that were better than the other methods I was already using. I still didn’t use the SMART board much beyond it being a projection of my computer screen.

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