Posted by: tpierson | August 15, 2011

Interactive Whiteboard Debate

Fancy Projection Screens or Transformative Tools for 21st Century teaching?

OK, I really come down somewhere in the middle on this question.  Despite all the hype, an IWB is really only as good as the teacher using it.  In a novice’s hands, an IWB often is just a glorified whiteboard, with electronic ink replacing stinky dry eraser ink.  If a teacher is still trying to figure out classroom management and how to connect the curriculum to the unique profiles of her particular students, the fine elements of engaging reveals and interactive activities will likely be beyond her reach (although I should note that the IWB can help any teacher, new or veteran, in managing the basic routines of the classroom).  However, in the hands of an accomplished teacher, one who has invested some time to learn the board’s potential, an IWB can amplify learning, and in some instances, actually be transformative.

One of the ways IWB’s are transforming teaching and learning is the way in which it can become the digital hub of the classroom.  It is now possible to integrate a wide variety digital teaching resources into one teaching tool—video, still images, graphic organizers, websites, graphics—all linked into one application and viewable in a nonlinear fashion.  The nonlinear idea is important.  Powerpoints have the ability to link together digital resources, but Powerpoints are most often used in a very linear way, which removes spontaneity and the ability to follow student interest and direction.  In addition, with IWB software all the digital resources can now be housed within one learning object (think of it as a file)—in the case of Promethean, a flipchart, or with Smartboard, a notebook file.   Now all the resources for a lesson can easily be shared amongst teachers.  This is huge.  The time teachers have to create interactive, media rich lessons is very limited.  IWB’s enable teachers to collaborate on lessons within their school, across the district, and, with the IWB’s community sharing sites, across the world!

The digital hub idea is about teaching.  IWB’s also positively impact the dynamics of student learning.  Students today are distracted learners.  Their world is full of stimuli, and yet the classroom is often very one-dimensional.  Information is conveyed orally, and if the teacher is good, reinforced with visual cues, most often written on the black or whiteboard.  Students often tune out, or never turn on, this type of learning.  With the IWB, teachers can now capture students’ attention through using techniques like reveals, hidden objects, over and underlays, video frame capture, text deconstruction, object manipulation—the list is as long as a teacher’s creativity.  One aspect of IWB research that seems most conclusive is that student engagement does increase when IWB’s are being used effectively.  Students are more attentive and engaged learners, and teachers are spending less time on behavior and management issues.

The issue of whether an IWB is just a glorified projection screen or really a transformative tool boils down to more than a question of whether a teacher is a veteran or novice.  I have seen underutilized IWB’s in very accomplished teacher’s classrooms.  To realize the potential of teaching with an IWB a teacher needs to invest time in learning the IWB software—and the teacher needs to think differently about how he is going to deliver information to his students.  IWB’s can just be a replacement for the existing blackboard if the teacher doesn’t change her pedagogy.  And change is hard!  (This sounds like fodder for another blog post.)  For now, why don’t you share below how your IWB has changed teaching and learning in your classroom?

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