Interactive Whiteboard Middle Ground

This is third time I’ve tried to write this post. I’ve had a hard time trying to cover all the bases and still say what I want to say. So I think at this point I’m just going to be as direct as possible and go with it.

I believe interactive whiteboards can be an incredibly engaging instructional tool when used properly. Now what does it mean to use the IWB properly?

First, you have to actually unpack the equipment and turn the board on. When teachers refuse to even try I have to ask how that board ended up in that room in the first place. I would love to see some kind of application process put in place before a teacher receives a board. I also question whether the teacher really has the best interest of the students in mind. I think of this quote often, “We need to prepare students for their future, not our past.”

Interactive whiteboards are called interactive for a reason. They NEED to be used interactively! That means let the students touch the board. Stop blocking the board with desks and tables. When kids aren’t allowed to touch the board, the board becomes exactly what the critics say it is…a glorified overhead. It focuses attention on the front and center of the room and kids just sit and watch. Certainly not the best use of something supposed to be interactive.

I realize it takes more time to plan and adjust lessons to incorporate technology. But any teacher that is a good teacher actively reflects on their lessons and adjusts them accordingly. It bothers me tremendously when a teacher says they’ve been teaching for 25 years when actually they’ve taught 1 year, they just taught it 25 times. There are so many resources available now it would not be that difficult to make some adjustments. I also don’t expect teachers to modify every lesson plan for the entire year at one time. All I ask is that they make an effort. Try modifying one unit or one section of a unit and see how it goes and move on from there. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but at least try it!

There are critics that claim these boards are a colossal waste of money and there are the champions that claim their mere presence can transform classrooms. I agree with neither. There has to be some middle ground. They are only a waste if they’re not used properly, and when they are used to be truly interactive they can be quite effective. Is taking the middle ground a cop out?


5 responses to “Interactive Whiteboard Middle Ground

  1. Thank you for this post! And greetings from Finland! In my school, we only have two IWBs at the moment, and teachers are rather baffled about them. We don’t have the luxury of having our own classrooms, so many teachers teach in the rooms with the boards. And many never touch them. No training, nobody to guide them, no idea of how to use them, fear…

    I haven’t had the chance to teach in these rooms yet, but started asking colleagues who have used them what exactly the word ‘interactive’ means here. They kept umming and arring, and in the end came to the conclusion that the name is wrong, they should simply be called ‘white boards’, since they couldn’t think of what the ‘interactivity’ would be! Ie. for them they were nothing but the ‘glorified overheads’ you mentioned. At first I bought this, but after reading your post and hearing some other similar ideas internationally, I think we are simply clueless about all the possible applications, and more importantly about the importance of changing old teacher-centred, lecture-style classes.

    Thank you once more for pushing me to learn about this before I can finally try one myself!

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful post. Great nuggets of advice. Love the line about teaching one year 25 times. I’m definitely borrowing that.

    I love your point about an application. This is exactly what I am doing in a grant I am running. All teachers must apply for the equipment they want, indicate how they will use it, and also what standards it addresses. Upon receipt of the equipment, after they do the project they must publish their work and share with others. We have just launched the site and it will be populated with a dozen projects by June. Check it out at This too is the topic of a post I must write about indeed…something like, “Spend your tech dollars on the teachers who want it most.”

    While I agree that a classroom with an IWB is more effective than one without and you make a good case for that, what I contend is that IWBs cost a lot as I write about here and that you can get the same functionality with a tablet/projector for A WHOLE LOT LESS MONEY.

    Regarding your question is it a cop out? My thought is this. If a school had $5300 to spend, which would you recommend?

    Option 1)
    Laptop or Tablet and Projector
    and 9 netbooks, or 9 iTouches, or 4 more projectors, or 28 smart pens, or 1 student response system

    Option 2)
    Laptop and Interactive Whiteboard

    My issue is that you can do everything possible with a Tablet/Projector as you can with an IWB and most educators don’t know that…hence my post about ten myths.

    If you really think one laptop and one IWB outweighs, a classroom where students have resources directly in their hands, then a post explaining why is in order. Right now, you’ve just explained why a classroom with an IWB/laptop is better than one without an IWB/laptop. You have not explained why a room with an IWB is better than one w/a laptop and tablet and lots of resources in students hands. Not doing that comparison, which is the crux of the issue, is the cop out.

    • Lisa,

      Thank you for getting in on the discussion! When my district began purchasing IWB’s for the elementary and middle schools, there was a process in place for teachers to have to submit an application with exactly the information you note (how they will use it & what standards they will be addressing). As the CFF Grant and other monies began to flow in, that process went by the wayside for whatever reason…which I completely disagreed with. Since this post was written back in November, I have certainly come to agree with you that IWB money could be better spent! I believe that your option 1 is much preferred!

      I don’t recall indicating that a classroom with one laptop and an IWB is better than having resources directly in students’ hands, but if they throw a board in a room it’s better than no tech at all. I was not involved in the decision making process in my district and my thought is that if they are going to place IWB’s in classrooms, they should also provide the professional development to be sure they are used in a way that garners the most bang for the buck. I hope that helps clarify where I’m coming from and it certainly was not my intention to cop out on the post. Thanks again for your insight…I love challenges that make think about my position!


  3. I didn’t realize you wrote that back in November. Seems like a perennially timely topic for sure.

    I made the assumption about how you were comparing IWB/laptop rooms to rooms without laptops/projectors because in the last paragraph you say you don’t believe that they’re a colossal waste of money and you do believe they can be used effectively. I agree that they can be used effectively too but at a much lower price tag and without the IWB.

    I think that when we don’t mention the alternative we are leading people to believe that it’s either IWB/laptop or nothing.

    Your comment does clarify this, though I’d prefer to see it explicitly mentioned in the post.

    • Excellent point, Lisa. Thank you for engaging! I’m relatively new at this blogging thing and offering the alternatives while discussing a topic is something I plan to add to my blogging toolbox. Thanks again. I think these conversations help everybody involved. Take care.

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