More on Interactive Whiteboards. . .

I’ve enjoyed the conversation that we had here on the Radical this week about whether or not Interactive Whiteboards are really valuable tools for redesigning schools.  Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect, considering that Ed Week ran this article on the impact of whiteboards on Friday. 

While there were dozens—literally—of great comments left by Radical readers sharing the full range of perspectives on the role of IWBs in teaching and learning, I wanted to spotlight and respond to a few in particular. 

First, Karen R. noticed an all-too-common phenomena that occurs in IWB classrooms when she 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.

Acreelman agreed, writing:

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.

For me, this is really the crux of the issue.  Teachers like to talk about how IWBs have changed their instruction, but then they give descriptions of classrooms that sound pretty darn traditional to me.

Need an example?  Here’s the way Ed Week described the work being done in a particularly progressive IWB classroom:

Interactive is the key word in Gilley’s class at Kent County High School here, a quality that is facilitated, she says, by the high-tech whiteboard mounted on the wall in front of the classroom.

Students take turns tapping the board with the controller pen to move the shapes into categories or calculate a complex problem. Later, they pass the pen quickly in a tag-team challenge at the board and use hand-held remote controls to show what they’ve learned about the day’s lesson.

When did tapping pens and rely games become our definition of an interactive classroom—and how, exactly, has the $5,000 whiteboard hanging from the wall changed those practices in meaningful ways?

The only thing that I see here that adds value are the student responders being used to collect formative assessment data at the end of the lesson, and despite what that snarky IWB salesman may have told you, you can get responders without buying a single whiteboard. 

Gary Ball argued in favor of IWBs in our conversation when he wrote:

[My IWB] HAS changed how students can access what I have taught. I now record and publish (to the internet) much of what I teach. 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.

Gary’s point about using IWBs to record content comes up time and again in whiteboard debates, including in Ed Week’s article:

The large, computerized screens—which allow Internet access, video and audio presentations, digital assessments using remote clickers, and recorded lessons for replaying later—are seen by proponents as an investment in modernizing classrooms to meet the needs of the digital generation.

Here’s my take: Recording and archiving presentations for students—whether they were absent or not—is a GREAT instructional practice, but using an IWB for this purpose is a lot like using dynamite to fish for Bluegills!  It’s just plain the wrong tool for the job. 

Cheap and easy software—both for desktop machines and based on the web—can make recording presentations possible for a lot less money.  I used Camtasia to build my library of instructional videos for students.  It cost me something like $80 bucks. 

And if I had to do it all over again, I’d use Dim Dim, a FREE webinar tool that allows presentations to be recorded.  Free, as my buddy Mike Hutchinson likes to say, is the nice price

Even the “Internet access, video and audio presentations, and digital assessments” that Ed Week spotlights can all be done with a data projector alone.  The actual whiteboard does nothing to enhance any of these activities. 

Finally, K. Borden made me laugh out loud when she wrote:

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!

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.  Try that with an IWB!)

While K may not have realized it, her discovery is an extension of the conclusions that Bob Marzano—edu-superstar himself—has drawn about whiteboards.  Ed Week described Marzano’s conclusions like this:

That finding highlights one of Marzano’s key conclusions…The teachers who were most effective using the whiteboards displayed many of the characteristics of good teaching in general:

They paced the lesson appropriately and built on what students already knew; they used multiple media, such as text, pictures, and graphics, for delivering information; they gave students opportunities to participate; and they focused mainly on the content, not the technology.

Now, Marzano goes on to argue that he’s an ardent believer that technology can make good teaching easier—and he’s right.  But Interactive Whiteboards don’t. 

Instead, they are disarmingly insidious gadgets—so stinking sexy to people making purchasing decisions that they’re almost irresistible whether or not there are proven strategies for meaningful implementation.

Need an example?  Listen to how James C. Corns, the supervisor of educational technology in Kent County—a district that has spent a half a million dollars on Whiteboards—explains the training program teachers go through before they’re given an IWB:

“The teachers have to agree to go through this rigorous process so that we know they are going to use the technology to augment instruction.”

When any rigorous—and undoubtedly expensive—technology training process results in relay games, sexy has definitely trumped logic and we’re all in a world of hurt. 

Nope.  I’m definitely not a fan of Interactive Whiteboards.  Not at all.

13 thoughts on “More on Interactive Whiteboards. . .

  1. Jason Leonard

    I would pick a LCD projector, Elmo, Mac Mini or MacBook, and some free software over an IWB any day. Plus, sometimes you need that IWB out of the way and once you mount that sucka on the wall, you are pretty much stuck unless you want to break out the power tools.

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Chris wrote:
    Hate IWBs if you must, but don’t pull the “too expensive” card, because when you compare them to many other alternatives, they just aren’t that expensive.
    Chris: New, name brand IWBs alone—without any of the supplimentals (slates, responders, data projectors)cost somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, so they are the lion share of the cost even in the scenarios that you paint.
    Do you really think that the ability to tap on a board is equal to the benefits of the 5-10 netbooks that I could bring into a classroom for the same price?
    What’s more, you seem to be arguing that some form of large-screen delivery and presentation are necessary and valuable for learning.
    I believe that if we took the option of full class presentations away completely and provided teachers with tools that actually encourage group work, we might see collaboration become a more common feature in classrooms.
    As it currently stands, the only technology in many classrooms are IWB setups. There just isn’t money for both IWBs and sets of student computers.
    What message does that send about the kind of teaching and learning that we value? What kind of learning experiences does that make possible? Are those learning experiences the kinds of learning experiences that we say we want to see in classrooms?
    No matter how you spin it, in districts that invest heavily in IWBs, there’s a disconnect between technology purchases and the kind of learning experiences that matter.
    And that drives me nuts.

  3. Chris Betcher

    Bill, while I’m more than happy for you to have your strong opinions on IWBs, and there are aspects of what you say that might have some truth to them, can we at least disarm the “IWBs cost $5000” factoid. IWBs do NOT cost $5000. To have a functional IWB using the typical technology available to most schools (ie Smart, Promethean et al) you need an IWB, a projector, speakers, cabling, power, a computer to drive it all, as well as power etc. The actual interactive whiteboard panel would contribute no more than 20% of the cost of the total setup. Even if you leave the actual IWB out, I think you;d be hard pressed to make a convincing argument that a projector is not a valuable classroom tool, and if you ahve the projector you need to have it cabled for data and power, have speakers for sound, etc. It will cost at least $3500-$4000 to have all this and NOT include the IWB, and then you’ve got to add the cost of slates or whatever you think is a suitable replacement for driving the large screen image. By the time you throw in a couple of slates or whatever else you want, the cost of the IWB itself is really NOT THAT GREAT.
    Whenever I hear people say that “they could do just as much with a projector and a slate as I could with a complete IWB” I seriously question that. There is a great deal to be said for the added nuance of being able to point, gesture, make eye contact, all actually AT the point where the material is being shared, whether it’s the teacher or the student doing it. Wiggling a mouse around the screen using a distant mouse or slate is just quite disconcerting in my opinion.
    And besides, whether you include the IWB or not, ANY large screen technology can be used in teacher-centric ways, can’t it? Who says that simply leaving the IWB out of the package will make it more student focused? Surely it’s the single focal point that causes the lack of student-centeredness?
    Hate IWBs if you must, but don’t pull the “too expensive” card, because when you compare them to many other alternatives, they just aren’t that expensive.

  4. Nwinton

    If you need to keep a note of anything you’ve written on a board, take out your phone, photograph the board, and email it to yourself.
    If your being really clever, send it to Evernote while you’re at it…
    Great couple of articles. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Mary Hopple

    I have to say that I use my IWB a lot for various things: surveys, interactive quizzes with the Student Response Systems and other uses that I couldn’t have used an overhead projector. However, I have created student centered lessons that do not use the IWB, it may be a Wiki or a collaborative project where we use MovieMaker. The IWB is not the panacea, it is a tool of instruction for the 21st century. Student centered lessons are generated by a teacher who puts in the effort to make it work using whatever tools fit.

  6. Mary Hopple

    I was a classrooms for the future coach for my district during the WOW initiative started by PA Govenor Rendell. Practically every state high school received laptops, projectors and interactive white boards. The coaches were supposed to “change” classroom instruction towards a more student-centered classroom with the use of the interactive white boards and other technologies. I have to say the intentions were good, I received adequate training from the state’s department of education, but the program fell short of miraculous on many levels. Indeed the “technology” became the focus to say we enacted change or a PR enhancer. Our district purchased over 100 IWB’s this past year but didn’t keep me on as the coach (I would have had to teach .5 day and with my lunch and prep, fit in the rest of the district; I personally did not feel that in the best interest of my students or myself). Change takes time, patience and collaboration with other teachers who are making the changes in their classrooms. Most of my time was spent fixing problems or showing people how to use the features of the board. Only in the last year of the three year initiative did I have the opportunity to work with teachers who wanted to explore changes leading to a student centered classroom; we definitely needed a plan and time to complete the initiative. If you have any questions feel free to email me at

  7. tarfford

    Far from the basic idea of the chalkboard, an interactive whiteboard is the 21st century version that enables the teacher to connect with the pupils in ways they could only have thought about previously. I think it is a good idea to use Interactive Whiteboards.


    I have not tried any of the better slates available. I have only tried some of the cheaper models available from retail stores. I was not impressed with them. Maybe I need to try a better model. Until then I am not going to give up my IWB.
    Do you have any links to the videos they are making?
    Gary Ball

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Gary,
    Good to hear from you again! And again, I love your work to record your lessons.
    To answer your specific question, the math teachers in our school are making the same kinds of recordings that you’re talking about with their slates and screencasting software. None of them have whiteboards, while many have video libraries of lessons.
    Again, the whiteboard itself is the tool that I think is a waste—the slates and responders that are often paired with whiteboards are beautiful tools for learning, and a lot cheaper when purchased as stand-alone items.
    Any of this make sense?


    Bill you still need some sort of interface to write on (especially if you are recording like I am). I am not aware of any ways to type out math equations quick enough to record an instructional video. Unfortunately math equations are still best done with a handheld writing device – such as a pencil or an IWB pen.
    I do use Jing for recording- Camtasia’s cheaper little brother – but I still need something to record. That is where the IWB comes in. Maybe I am missing something?
    As I said in my last post, my IWB and how I use it does not really change things during the actual class, it’s benefit comes in after school hours.
    I agree with you when you question the decision to outfit every classroom with an IWB – that is a waste. However there are classrooms where an IWB will be used effectively (it just won’t cause a pedagogy change). I would compare it to putting a microphone and sound system into a classroom. It works great for some classrooms but it is not necessary for all classrooms.
    Gary Ball
    (Still loving my IWB.)

  11. sharon elin

    When Marzano began promoting IWBs, it was like God pronouncing the world created (“… and it was good”). His authority as an educational guru would be impressive if it weren’t so disturbing in its blind following and unquestioned pervasiveness.
    Just because someone is a well-known name in the field doesn’t mean every idea he has should go unchallenged. Although Marzano has added impressive clarity to pedagogical principles (most of which are not new, by the way), he is not a seasoned expert in instructional technology.
    I’m thankful that people like Gary Stager shook my thinking and challenged Marzano’s affiliation with Promethean. It opened my eyes. In the past couple of years, I’ve seen my district embrace IWBs, citing Marzano’s IWB research, but I have not seen the benefits, other than the “wow” novelty and initial increase in engagement the boards bring to the classroom.
    I haven’t seen true improvements in instructional styles. The teachers are still standing in the front of the room delivering content to basically passive recipients. I haven’t seen students creating, collaborating, exploring, or doing anything independently — they merely come up to the board to move stuff around in a cool way.
    And the numbers are still out regarding any rise in test scores or hard data to back up the effectiveness of the IWB technology.
    At $3,000 per board, that’s a huge and bitter lemon. … Especially bitter now that my district is facing a $40 million shortfall and will be making cuts this year that affect instruction — including teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, and reduction in teacher pay and benefits.
    But those interactive white boards sure are pretty, and they make us look so daggone progressive!

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