Why are we STILL Wasting Money on Whiteboards?

If you’ve spent any time reading the Radical, you know that I hate Interactive Whiteboards—and the companies that sell them as instructional silver bullets—with an unhealthy passion. 

Recently, though, I’ve dialed back that passion.  I guess that’s because—thankfully—conversations about teaching with technology have started to shift into healthier places. 

I hear less and less from educators who just HAVE to have an IWB.

More importantly, I hear less and less from school leaders who are ready to plunk down their schools’ already limited technology budgets on a small handful of glorified presentation tools that do NOTHING to change teaching and learning in our schools.

That lull in the lunacy ended this week.

You see, I bumped into a friend who is a well respected instructional technology leader in his large middle school.  He was completely jazzed because his principal had asked him to help spend the school’s technology budget.

That excitement was short-lived, though.  Turns out that his principal—who’d recently attended a conference and seen a slick presentation in the vendor hall—had already bought and paid for 6 IWBs.

Total cost:  $18,000.

Stew in that for a minute, would you?  Do you have ANY idea what you could do with $18 THOUSAND dollars?

Here are 5 different ways I would spend that cash:

You could buy 75 netbook computers with $18 K.

I’ve been more than a little riled up lately about the fact that I have TWO working computers in my room. 

That makes it really difficult for my kids to access the internet, which makes it really difficult for them to explore and to wonder on their own.

If I had $18 grand to spend, I’d think about buying a bunch of cheap netbooks—like these $240 Eee PCs—to spread around my classrooms.

You could buy 87 iTouches with $18 K.

While they’re not as functional as netbooks, 87 iTouches could go a long way in classrooms too.  They could function as eReaders and student responders.  They could function as web browsers and video cameras.

They could be loaded with educational applications and used in remediation stations.  They could serve as impromptu voice recorders and video conferencing tools. 

Most importantly, they would be in the hands of kids—not teachers.  That matters.


You could buy 360 Livescribe Pens with $18 K.

One of my favorite digital tools is the Livescribe pen

A digital gizmo that records every stroke that a user makes on special Livescribe paper and pairs it to a time-synched audio recording, Livescribe pens have a million applications in the classroom.

Teachers can use Livescribe pens to easily create and upload tutorials for students.  Students can use Livescribe pens to capture content from lessons they would have otherwise missed. 

Teachers AND students can use Livescribe pens to extend learning or provide remediation whenever—and wherever—a pen and a notebook can go.

And at $49 for a refurbished 1GB pen, they’re easily the cheapest tool you can spring for in today’s digital marketplace.


You could buy 7 YEARS of Poll Everywhere subscriptions for $18 K.

I’ve written for years about my struggles to integrate formative assessment practices into my classroom. 

While I get that collecting—and then acting on—data about what my kids know is essential to driving learning gains, collecting and acting on student learning data isn’t easy when you’re armed with nothing  more than post it notes and three ring binders.

That’s why Poll Everywhere is a service that I’m currently exploring

Paired with student cell phones, computers, or handheld wireless devices, Poll Everywhere makes it possible for teachers to collect instant feedback on student learning.

With $18 K, you could buy 7 YEARS of premium Poll Everywhere accounts for 50 teachers. 

You could buy 36 YEARS of VoiceThread subscriptions for $18 K.

I’ve been a believer in VoiceThread for years. 

A simple service that allows teachers and students to engage in asynchronous conversations around text, images or videos, VoiceThread taps into the essentially social nature of learning—and of kids.

I’ve used VoiceThread to give students forums for their poetry and to extend Socratic seminars on topics like hate and genocide

My kids almost always love VoiceThreads because they can choose the strands of conversation that they want to participate in.  VoiceThread also appeals to the quiet kids in my class who might never take the chance to share in front of their peers.

And for about a BUCK, you can get an Ed VoiceThread subscription for a student for one year. 

Divide your $18 K up any way you want.  Have 18,000 kids in your district?  Outfit them all with a VT subscription for one year.

Have 500 kids in your school?  Spend $500 per year on VT subscriptions and your $18 K will last for THIRTY-SIX YEARS.

My buddy’s principal—not to mention his state’s taxpayers and the parents of his school community—ought to look at this list and CRINGE. 

Instead of getting 75 netbooks or 87 iTouches or 360 Livescribe pens or 7 years of Poll Everywhere for every teacher or 36 years of VoiceThread subscriptions for every student, he bought SIX INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS.

No matter how you slice it, that’s wasting cash.



Related Radical Reads:

More on Interactive Whiteboards

What I’d buy instead of an Interactive Whiteboard

Teachers, Chainsaws and the Dreaded Interactive Whiteboard

Five questions to ask BEFORE buying IWBs

39 thoughts on “Why are we STILL Wasting Money on Whiteboards?

  1. Susan

    I totally agree. Many schools use Blackboard these days and can easily set up online quizzes to be done at home. Too much time spent on interactive work in the classroom can take away from teaching the basic concepts with examples. There are better ways to spend the school budgets.

  2. Zoe

    I”m so glad that I found your thoughts on this.
    Tonight I typed “I hate interactive whiteboards” into a search engine and came up with your blog. Hallelujah.
    I’m the mother of a five year old and I’m appalled at how much time he spends sitting in front of an interactive white board at school (here in Australia). Every single classroom has an interactive whiteboard and it’s enough to make me seriously consider pulling him from the school.
    The thing I’m struggling with is that I have no idea how to talk with the teachers about my concerns. Or with the other parents. I don’t think that a negative aspect has ever even been considered. And to think, my child ran laps around the school oval for whole afternoon to raise the money to buy the *!*#*! thing. No more P&C lapathons for us!
    Thanks for your voice on this, it’s so very refreshing.

  3. Bob

    My favorite is all the people saying I can buy an Apple product instead. Now there is a true waste of educational dollars. With multiple other vendors making products in a competitive marketplace instead of the monopoly world of Apple – costs of competitors products in almost every market are significantly less. On top of that our students are not likely to graduate and get a job working with Apple products with 80%+ of the market Windows based – we do our students a dis-service forcing them to use Apple products because Apple markets so heavily to education.
    I’ve worked in IT for schools for years – I have seen the waste as the latest new toy comes out. As you have seen once one person has something and seems to be putting it to good use, everyone else tends to say me too, me too – or they feel they aren’t keeping up. There is little or no planning and most of it amounts to creating a Technology Plan that is usually a re-hash of already standing justifications for doing exactly what they want. Sort of like a Mission Statement.
    As others have pointed out there are some good uses for IWB, when the teachers actually integrate an utilize them but the other 9 out of 10 teachers end up using them as a glorified mouse. Now if you are choosing an expensive IWB technology that’s a major issue, if however you realize there are over 40 different IWB manufactures – You might just locate one that doesn’t cost that much more than a wireless mouse.
    Unfortunately, much like many people become married to Apple many also become married to the more expensive IWB makers and continue to pay a premium with minimum impact on the quality of instruction in the classroom.
    Ooops, never-mind onto the next latest fad – The Cloud….. or as those who understand it – Outsourcing your IT operations in the name of saving money.
    The problem with education is that those who break it are the same ones that are charged with fixing it. (Top down is how the fix needs to happen.)

  4. white boards

    I agree with Mike Fisher in that teachers will “automate” their teaching and that will reflect heavily on our children as they are exposed to mediocre teaching in the classrooms.

  5. Stephen Harris

    Just read your article via ‘Top Radical Reads’. I stopped buying IWBs a couple of years ago because a learning space becomes far more flexible when combining a 1:1 BYOD strategy with converting a whole wall into an ideas space (using IDEA paint). There’s an example or two on the Vimeo video link from Sydney Australia (my school):

  6. party bags

    Many people are actually using this. Even in our school. But I guess, using CHALK is better. The only problem about it is the chalk dust being inhaled.

  7. Nicole

    I agree. The EdTech industry (and textbook publishers… don’t get me started!) have a stranglehold on our education system. It’s a crime, and one more example of politicians in bed with special interests, and the reason our state and country are bankrupt.

  8. Mr. D

    I agree with the author. IWBs can be a big waste of school funds. They are becomming outdated and obsolete. Better to invest in PC tablets (preferably Windows platform) and interactive projectors (like the BenQ MX810) to achieve the same results and with more benefits.
    Who in their right mind wants to spend that much on changing a classroom teaching to lecture stlye? What happens when that mounted IWB needs to be upgraded? It’s not simply upgrading the software to match the latest technology (think of the new boards that uses multi-touch) – you will have to replace the hardware/firmware.
    These companies are all about making profits. I like the marketing terms they use to get to buy-in to IWBs. The leading company has a slogan ‘Extraordinary made Simple’. What a laugh. It’s not very intuitive to use their software that’s why they have extensive training for it. They also know if you just use the software with a projector there won’t be a need for the boards so they prevent you (legally) from using it on other proprietary devices (ie. tablets) other than theirs.
    For more like this topic read: http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/search?q=IWB

  9. crazedmummy

    However IWBs cam be written on with markers by several students at the same time, and then they can whip out their illegal cell phones and take a photo to record it. Sure we could have done that with butcher paper and colored pencils, but then we’d look so 19th century…
    and we’d have to stop complaining about the lack of money to buy new technology.
    Just turn the projector off, they work perfectly well.

  10. Tom D'Amico

    If your focus is on the technology then I agree; however, if you focus on the professional learning community, and the co-creation of resources, and the resulting change in teacher practice, then I disagree with your comments.
    As a Board committed to 21st Century Learning/Teaching, Interactive Whiteboards have been a key stimulus for change in teacher practice, increased student engagement, and increased student achievement. This has taken place because of a focus on teacher practice in our Board, supported with PD and coaching. T. D’Amico, Superintendent of Student Success Learning Technologies – Ottawa Catholic School Board

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Geez, Caileigh.
    The bad news is that you really wont have a whole heck of a lot of control over whether your school buys IWBs or not. The sad fact of the matter is that purchasing decisions are often made long before teachers find out about them. Think about it: Even in this piece, the leading tech teacher in the school—a guy that the principal wanted to get involved in tech spending decisions—had no idea that $18,000 had been spent on IWBs.
    You can keep pushing for more student-centered uses of technology in your school—and you can keep modeling more responsible uses of technology in your classroom—-but dont be surprised if you wake up one morning to an IWB in your classroom.
    Sorry to be a pessimist, but thats how it rolls sometimes.
    Rock on,

  12. Caileigh McCulloch

    Mr. Ferriter,
    My name is Caileigh McCulloch and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am a senior and my major is Health Education. I have read what you have to say about IWB’s and I could not agree with you more. I think they are absolutely a waste of money. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a classroom and watched my teachers/professors struggle with IWB’s. It is painful to watch! They try to write something with the “magical pens” and something else on the screen gets deleted. They try to touch something on the screen and they hit something else. I have also had to use the IWB’s for various projects. If anything, they just confuse me, and I feel as though I am spending more time figuring out how to use it, than interacting with my classmates.
    I also was very impressed with your calculations. You found many different types of equipment that schools could spend their money on. Frankly, I think that the other forms of technology that you mentioned would be more beneficial to the students. As a student, I would prefer to use your suggested resources as opposed to the IWB’s. I would like to know what you think I could do as a future teacher to change people’s minds about the Interactive White Boards. Any suggestions would be great!

  13. Mary Anne Lock

    I’m so with you on this one! Most of the time I don’t see the interactive part of the WB! By theway, Bill, thanks for the tips regarding Voice Thread and Poll Everywhere. They’re great! I will say teachers need to make certain they are incorporating those higher level questions with Poll Everywhere or it could be ineffective for pedagogical reasons (sort of the same reasoning as the IWB.)

  14. Ove Christensen

    I see, there’s not need for me to comment on your post in that most of us agree that iwbs have some build in pedagogical problems – teacher centering being just one of them.
    The next big thing, however, may be interactive tables which once again will be restricting student activity in engaging with the outside world.
    Go for mobile will be my suggestion and focus on student activities – not for tech. Go for the flexible solutions – not for fixed.

  15. Mike Fisher

    I’d *REALLY* be interested in seeing some of “Anonymous”‘s research that is mentioned. (That wasn’t paid for by Promethean or SMART…) I don’t disagree that it’s a great tool, but it’s expensive, and many teachers “automate” with it–bolt it onto already archaic practices–but NOW WITH TECHNOLOGY! Woo Hoo! Not so good for kids.
    Perhaps it would be great for Anonymous to know that teachers don’t need to “regulate the devices!” The kids already have them in their pockets–the school just has to give permission for their use. (Anon-I’m talking about their cell phones–just so you’re clear.)
    Also of note–I really like how preachy anonymous folks can get! Little slice of awesome.

  16. Hatcherelli

    Please do not misinterpret the intent of Bill’s article. To me, he is venting because it seems that when we think about spending money on tech, the first thing that everyone thinks about is an IWB. He is simply letting us know that there are alternatives to the IWB.
    If you have read Mr. Ferriter’s articles in EL (and his books), you will find that he is definitely “with the 21st century” and he is a tech mentor to many of us, as well as to his students.

  17. Anonymous

    This is the most ludicrous article. Schools that have the technology you mentioned aren’t even using it correctly. IWBs are more important than the other technologies you mentioned… if teachers don’t know how to properly use their IWB’s, what makes you think they will know how to use other forms of technology?
    The problem with handing devices to students is that the teacher has to manage the use of those devices…. I don’t think teachers want to regulate the use of devices by their students when they can make their lessons interactive using an IWB. The IWB is the best investment because it impacts every student. Look at the research… IWB’s do increase student achievement. It is an investment, but it is about time we invest in our youth.
    If the IWB is not used properly, it is due to lack of teacher training… and subs? They are only there for a day or two…. plus there are free online training courses! Teachers expect their students to learn new things, and yet they aren’t willing to spend the time to learn how to use their IWB? Get with the 21st century!

  18. Bill Ferriter

    Another great example, George!
    Im going to spotlight it in its own post later this week. Heck, I might even consider starting a What would YOU do with $18 K? strand on my blog. That could be a lot of fun!
    Good to see you and hope youre well….

  19. Bill Ferriter

    Heres the thing, though, Peter: Theres nothing that you mention in your comment that you actually need an Interactive Whiteboard for.
    While everything youve listed are reasonable instructional practices depending on the content that youre teaching and the current level of understanding of our students, the IWB is kind of like overkill. You could do all of that stuff with just a data projector—-or maybe a data projector paired with a slate.
    That would have saved your school about $2,000.
    Does this make any sense?
    Im not saying that youre not using the IWB in the right way—Im saying that youre using the IWB just like most people do.
    More importantly, youre using the IWB in the way that it was designed to be used.
    But that kind of proves my point: The work we generally do with IWBs can be done without IWBs for a fraction of the cost.

  20. Peter Wilkinson

    I love my interactive white board. We all see the same thing: its not me looking at my screen and putting something else on the board.
    We Moodle, extemporize, and co-operate all on the WB. They will shout “down a bit, you’re going too fast”, or “send that page to the printer” or if totally frustrated with me rush up and say “give me the pen, it’s like this … [scribble scribble] … now save that… ” and we ALL get to see.
    I can turn up at a lesson and the only thing I need to remember is my magic WB pen. Wouldn’t be without one.
    The clue is in the name: INTERACTIVE white board.

  21. Tammy Stephens

    Some of the research I’ve been collecting supports this viewpoint. In one study it revealed the more constructivist a teacher was the less likely they were to use the Interactive Whiteboard provided to them. Teachers who used a more traditional transmission pedagogy were more likely to use their Interactive Whiteboard and had them predominately placed at the front of the room. I think one of the hard things about this tool is that it can be used to reinforce this type of pedagogy. Other data I’ve collected for other studies has shown that student proficiency with technology went down after a district heavily invested in Interactive Whiteboards as did student engagement over time.
    I think an important question to be asking when evaluating the impact of Interactive Whiteboards is who is using it and for what purpose? Too often the answer is the teacher to disseminate information.

  22. George Mayo

    For $18,000 you could buy a rolling multi-media digital lab complete w/ ten Apple 250 GB Powerbooks, 5 digital video cameras & firewires, 5 digital cameras, tri-pods, and 5 USB Blue Snowball microphones. You would still have cash left to buy other items or sotfware as needed. Imagine the student output you could get in your school having one of these multi-media labs around for teachers to use.

  23. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Jessie,
    First, thanks for stopping by the Radical. Its good to see you here and Im glad that youre starting to question whether IWBs are a good use of your schools technology dollars. While they CAN be useful in the hands of a remarkable teacher, all too often, they become an expensive waste of limited dollars—-and even in the best case scenario, they cost so much that they handcuff technology budgets, leaving schools with a limited number of devices during a time when we should be trying to get as many digital devices as possible into every classroom.
    Id encourage you to poke through the Related Radical Reads listed at the end of the post. Theyre also great conversations about IWBs, too. Also, dont miss these two posts that are linked early in this article:
    Wasting Money on Whiteboards
    Examining Prometheans Recent Research on IWBs
    Hope this helps…and be sure to let me know if you have any other questions.
    Rock on,

  24. Jessica

    Bill (and everyone else who commented),
    Thanks for providing a physical conversation that I am able to show to everyone in my school. I am the local “Bill Ferriter” in that I am outspoken against IWB where I am. We are considering some big IT purchases in the near future and I will definitely be showing all of these points to the admin before the purchases are made. Thanks for (hopefully) stopping another waste of money on IWB.

  25. Bill Ferriter

    Andy—in a comment that echoes the thinking of timeoutdad—-wrote:
    I agree wholeheartedly with Timeoutdad. Its not about the tools, its
    about the connection you make WITH the tools (through proper training)
    and the ability to use them effectively with what you teach.
    Yall are preaching to the choir here, Andy and Time Out Dad. I couldnt agree more that spending technology monies without a clear vision for how those tools and services are going to support meaningful learning in your classroom. In fact, Ive written about that a bunch of times. Here are two specific posts:
    Does YOUR School Have Technology Vision Statements?
    Making Good Technology Choices
    And thats one of the reasons Im so passionately opposed to Interactive Whiteboards. Nothing that Ive seen done with IWBs—-or that I actually did with the IWB that I had in my classroom for a year as I wrote professional development courses for Promethean and Pearson—-supports any of my own personal beliefs about what good teaching and learning looks like in action.
    I think its important, Andy, to specify that many of the progressive teaching practices that people attribute to IWBs are really a result of peripherals that you can buy without ever investing in a $2,000 board. I have nothing against sets of student responders or the tablets and slates that IWB companies sell. They all support the kinds of teaching and learning practices that I believe it.
    But the board itself should be dragged out of our buildings and burned! It promotes a vision of teacher-directed learning that needs to be shelved.
    And Time Out Dad: Id support spending the $18 K that my buddys principal blew on IWBs on ANYTHING else. Books, tutoring, teacher professional development, field trips, OR technology. My central point is that IWBs are an irresponsible purchase and a waste of taxpayer cash.
    This kind of unintelligent waste makes me want to join the Tea Party.
    (I never thought Id actually say THAT!)
    Any of this make sense?

  26. D Mailloux

    We bought on IWB this year, our first . As well we purchased 5 media carts, 5 projectors and 5 sets of laptop speakers for our middle school. The teachers all have laptops already to use with the purchased equipment. The rational wasfirst funds and the best use for the entire population of the school. Technology changes very fast and do we need to be consumers or educators with effective quality tools. It is a good lesson for the students to also see .

  27. Andy

    I agree wholeheartedly with ‘Timeoutdad.’ It’s not about the tools, it’s about the connection you make WITH the tools (through proper training) and the ability to use them effectively with what you teach.
    Are you arguing that IWB’s are too costly or ineffective teaching tools? The former is certainly up for debate, but the latter is most definitely not. There are thousands of good teachers out there who have learned how to make connections with IWB’s in delivering effective whole group instruction. Thousands more have taken it one step further and integrated formative assessment into those lessons via LRS devices for even greater gains in student achievement.
    I’ve seen IWB’s used as back drops for the morning announcements and I’ve seen a hundred broken laptops sitting in a tech’s offoce a month after a 1-1 initiative was implemented. Fundamentally, it’s not about the tools, it’s about the teachers and the training.

  28. crazedmummy

    I am so used to “you can have input, but we already decided” that this does not surprise me. The gap between the words “investigative learning” out of their mouths and the supported practice of silent rows of students in lectures or on fill-in-the blank worksheets (these are the “good classes”) is so prevalent, I wonder whether administrators really understand what the words mean.
    Sales of these devices should be covered by the same consumer protection, whereby if you sign up for anything at a conference you get to retract that agreement once you come to your senses.
    Yay for Livescribe!!

  29. Joie

    Well said, bold and realistic. I like it. If that was me I would use it to pay for students who are smart but their parents can’t afford the tuition fees.

  30. Timeoutdad

    Until teachers learn how to integrate the technology into their teaching and their students’ learning, spending that 18 grand on other technology can still be a waste of money.
    iPads, iPod touches, Livescribe pens, netbooks etc. sound awesome to have in the classroom, but if teachers don’t know how to transform their teaching and students’ learning with these devices, they can easily become expensive toys or dust collectors, rather than tools.
    iPads, iPod touches, and netbooks lose much of their value if you don’t have good WiFi in your building, especially if you want the students to access the internet with them.
    The biggest problem is that we are spending before planning. It takes TIME to really think about how to use these devices for our students’ learning.
    If there is no active planning on how these things are to be used effectively, then we should buy BOOKS with them. No tech issues to deal with and lots of effective learning can still happen.

  31. EdTechSandyK

    Or 45 interactive slates which offer the same technology as stationary IWBs but don’t tie the teacher (or students) to the front of the room AND depending on the brand allow for interactivity between teacher and student slates, as well as formative assessment options when integrated with a student response system. Anyone looking at IWB technology should check out eInstruction Mobis (I don’t work for eInstruction, but I have used their products and feel they are very education centered and offer high quality integration options.)

  32. KDerushia

    Wow…I have bought IWBs many times but never paid $3,000/ea. Educational funds are being misspent daily.

  33. IAppleLearner

    Wow?! I couldn’t agree with you more. Great points. He could have bought an iPad 2 for each classroom and covered his whiteboard thrill and then some but served the needs of five times as many teachers and every student in his school. How sad he was caught in a vendor trap and impulse buying.

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