IWBs – Time to dismantle the Trojan Horse?

Roughly 80-90% of Irish primary classrooms have an Interactive Whiteboard, (IWB). clip_image001

However, now that they are part of the furniture in most Irish classrooms, what have we learned?

When IWBs came out, I spent a lot of time reviewing them and finding out which board offered the best value and service. I was convinced that a board that could be interacted with using touch was superior to pen-based ones. I also felt that the software should be child-friendly and teacher-friendly. Finally, I felt that the board should allow the teacher to write on them using markers so there would be no need for a separate board in the classroom. Today, I don’t think any of this matters.
I’m more concerned about how an IWB influences learning. To me, it was obvious quite quickly that the IWB was not a great device for anything other than whole class teaching. Apart from a few exceptions, a teacher can use the IWB to demonstrate or he/she can call one child to the board to do something while the rest of the class watch. While the latter worked for a while, as the novelty of the IWB ensured the other children were eager to concentrate, ultimately, once that ended, everyone except the child at the board became passive in the lesson.

However, the argument that the IWB was probably the first piece of technology to succeed in an Irish classroom is very strong. Before the IWB, a 2005 study showed that less than 4% of Irish teachers admitted to using technology on a daily basis in their classrooms. Since the IWB, we must be nearer to 90%. I referred to the IWB as a Wooden Horse, in that technology was sneaked into the classroom in the guise of something safe (similar to a blackboard) and all of a sudden the edtech-heads had won the battle.
Five years later, I hear anecdotal evidence that the USB lead connecting the IWB to a computer is plugged out in many classrooms. The interactive bit of the IWB is no longer being used. IWBs are being used to show PowerPoint presentations, videos and web sites. Children rarely, if ever, are invited up to the board to click or tap on them. If the IWB is used at all to demonstrate, it’s the teacher that does it.

I would argue that most good teachers now only use the projector part of the IWB. I remember the NCTE arguing against IWBs when they first became fashionable saying that one could do over 80% of all teaching using a projector and that IWBs were a waste of money. It seems that they were correct. Over the last 2 years, I have rarely seen or heard about a teacher using the interactive tools on an Interactive Whiteboard. Whereas a couple of years ago, many schools based their purchase of an IWB on whether they could get their hands on Promethean‘s ActivInspire software, it no longer matters as there are so many online resources to show children.
I think this is great. I think this is progression. For me, the biggest success of an IWB (and projector) is that it allows a large group of people to see the same screen. This is great for any whole class teaching methodology. Whilst being able to demonstrate something using a stylus or finger can be slightly useful, very few teachers bother as it’s often as easy to do this directly on a laptop. It’s also great that I rarely hear of children being brought up to the board to answer a question whilst the rest of the class sit passively. Having said this, I  think we had to go through using the IWB in this way to get to the point of not really needing it anymore.

Many IWBs are going to start breaking down in the next year or two and I would suggest that schools think about not replacing them and investing in a decent projector. The IWB has fulfilled its purpose. It got us using technology, it gave us a bit of a crutch to try new and different things. I love to hear about teachers showing videos as a stimulus for a lesson or taking part in video-conferences or even having a Twitter-feed scrolling in the background while projects are going on. It’s time to dismantle our wooden horse and march on.

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