New Slide: Teachers, Chainsaws and the Dreaded Interactive Whiteboard

While I cringe to send any attention to the Tech Learning website after their derogatory jab at educators who question the usefulness of Interactive Whiteboards—apparently anyone who hasn’t chugged the Promethean Kool-Aid is nothing more than a “hater” to the Tech Learning editors—I really think everyone needs to read this Gary Stager bit.

In it, Stager—a passionate advocate for Constructivist learning, the only real “student-centered” approach to educating our kids—lays out one of the most engaging, entertaining and articulate arguments against wasting your school and/or district’s cash on IWBs.

Stager’s main complaint—outside of the fact that IWBs reinforce teacher-centered, lecture-driven, bore-em-until-their-eyes-bleed instruction—is that districts often drop heaping piles of cabbage on IWB “initiatives,” outfitting EVERY classroom on EVERY hallway in EVERY grade level with these overhyped gadgets.

And in response to the all-too-common “but some teachers do great things with IWBs” push-back that us ‘haters’ always get, Stager writes:

“We don’t buy a chain saw for every teacher. If we did, a few teachers would do brilliant work with the chain saws, a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess.

Even in the case of the great teachers, the best we can hope for is one of those bears carved out of a log—not high art.”

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

That’s hilarious, isn’t it? But more importantly, it’s TRUE.

And I’m completely tired of seeing the already limited resources that schools have for digital solutions wasted after someone with a budget sees ONE amazing teacher teach ONE amazing lesson with ONE Interactive Whiteboard and then buys ONE HUNDRED of the @#%* things.

How can you avoid falling into the “buy a teacher a chainsaw” trap?

Try following three simple steps:

Craft technology vision statements for your school

Have you taken the time to sit down and imagine what ‘effective teaching and learning’ should look like in your building?

Could your teachers describe an imaginary classroom that perfectly aligns technology use with your other instructional priorities?  Are you making digital choices based on evidence of what your students do well and/or what your community cares the most about?

If not, WHY NOT?

And if not, spend some time developing a set of technology vision statements before you spend any money at the Promethean store. Here’s how.

Look a little closer at the research that IWB salesmen are pushing.

Spend any time with a educational technology leader who has just broken the district’s bank on a cheese-ton of Interactive Whiteboards and you are bound to hear a lot about Bob Marzano—a hero in the educational research world who has been churning out reports on the glory of the Interactive Whiteboard for Promethean in the past few years.

The main finding of Marzano’s recent research is that IWBs can improve student achievement by SEVENTEEN percentage points.

Juicy, huh?  Kinda’ makes the district credit card get all sweaty in your palms, doesn’t it?  SURELY that’s evidence enough to pull the digital trigger, right?

Not if you spend any time looking closely at the report, which was bought and paid for by Promethean.

While I love Marzano’s work most of the time—he’s done more to quantify what works in schools AND to make those findings approachable to the average educator than any single researcher working today—his IWB stuff is flawed enough to make you think twice about dropping dimes into Promethean’s pockets.

Interested in learning more?  Then read this.


Consider differentiating your technology spending.

One of the best points that Stager makes can be found in the comments, where he spends a TON of time arguing with Alan November—an educational thought leader who has apparently swallowed the IWB bait hook-line-and-sinker.

In what has to be a surprise to the Tech Learning editors, Stager proves that it’s not IWBs that he hates.  Instead, it’s our propensity to waste money on tools that some teachers will never use.

He writes:

“If a teacher needs an IWB, clicker set or anything else can make an educational case for, then they should be supported. I object to the reckless top-down purchase of these expensive products to satisfy the whim of people far from the classroom.”

So the question for educational leaders is a simple one:  What are YOU doing to differentiate technology spending in your schools?

Are you surveying your teachers—and your students and your parents and other important stakeholder groups—about the tools that they’re likely to use?

Have you asked practitioners how the budget-busting gadget that you are thinking about buying will align with the instructional practices that they believe in?

Have you set money aside for teachers who CAN make cases for tools that they’d like to use to support instruction in their classrooms—including IWBs?

Now, I know almost nothing about the budgeting and spending policies that govern your decisions.  I’m not a principal and that’s not an accident.

But I’ve gotta believe that there are more sensible ways of spending money than trying to force the same tools into the hands of teachers who are very different instructors.

And if there’s not, it’s high time you started fighting for them.


Does any of this make sense, or are the Tech Learning editors right: I’m just another simpleton blinded by my Whiteboard hate?

Better yet, how can we (read: YOU) make sure that we are spending the dwindling pile of cash that we are given on people, programs and/or tools that might actually support the kinds of changes that we want to see in our classrooms?

7 thoughts on “New Slide: Teachers, Chainsaws and the Dreaded Interactive Whiteboard

  1. Lisa M

    And that’s the problem I have with Smartboards! My district bought one for EVERY classroom in the district! How many teachers actually use it.? How many teachers use it as a movie projector? As a teacher who knows that tech is more than the tool, do u know what I could have done with that money? Grrrrrr… It makes me so angry every time I think about it!

  2. Dave

    Reading Tech & Learning’s preface to Gary’s article left my jaw dropped. Reading the comments on the site have shaken my hope in humanity.

  3. Shellran

    I completely agree with Stager on what the REAL issue is with the purchase of technology– any technology for teachers: “I object to the reckless top-down purchase of these expensive products to satisfy the whim of people far from the classroom.”
    Our school district bought the interactive whiteboard technology hook, line and sinker. Every single classroom in the district has one, K – 12. NOW they are attempting to provide a netbook for every single student in our district. While this may be an “upgrade” from IWBs, it will mean nothing if the teacher has no idea or desire to use them. I REALLY like the idea that districts purchase the technology that teachers request– through a written proposal, demonstrating how it will be used to improve instruction in their classroom.

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Courtney,
    Thanks for stopping by the Radical. Its always good to see preservice teachers thinking transparently about issues connected to the profession.
    Im going to be interested in hearing more about what you think of IWBs once you see them in action and have some experience with them. I had one in my classroom for a full year—-I was writing professional development courses for a technology company on the role that IWBs could play in instruction—and found it to be pretty darn close to useless. The problem wasnt that I couldnt think of things to do with it—-instead, it was that:
    (1). None of those things was particularly revolutionary. Instead, they were digital applications of pretty traditional practices.
    (2). They were pretty darn time consuming to create. I spent hours on lessons that I could have created in minutes if Id used more traditional materials and approaches.
    Thats why Im so opposed to IWBs. They are expensive alternatives to—instead of replacements for—-traditional instructional practices.
    Anyway, be sure to stop back and share with us what you are doing with your IWB.
    Rock on,
    Bill Ferriter
    101 Wax Myrtle Court
    Cary, North Carolina

  5. crazedmummy

    Courtney I don’t know how to operate a chainsaw either, but I do know they cost a lot less than a IWB, and if I fire one up in the classroom I’ll get a lot more attention than I will from standing at the front of the room playing with technology – even if I do include 3 kids with me. I’ve got 30 other kids who are texting their friends to make dates. I can guarantee you that if I have a chainsaw I can whack that cellphone problem instantly. See, my kids are “digital natives” (eyeroll)- they are not impressed with technology. They are also street smart. They are impressed with tools and danger.

  6. Courtney Mathis

    My name is Courtney Mathis and I am in Dr. Strang’s EDM 310 class. I have never used an interactive smart board, so I do not know all the pros and cons of them. We do have a project due this week in EDM 310 on a smartboard and I am excited about learning how to use one. I know that they are very expensive, and some classrooms may just not have a need for one. But for the teachers that learn how to operate them and can really enhance their students learning experience, I believe they are a very good thing. If you would like to visit my blog you can at

  7. crazedmummy

    You know I read (past tense) your blog and bought the livescribe pen. So, how do I trade in my whiteboard (now inoperable since the kids stole the wireless USB plug-in) and get a chainsaw?
    (I have never actually used the whiteboard since it was installed over winter break, but the control software was not installed until mid-February. And I did point out that the kids would steal the little USB doohickey).

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