Finding New Things to do with an IWB

The following post was originally written as a reponse to a thread about interactive whiteboards on the www.iwbrevolution.com Ning.  One of the thread participants there made a statement about needing to see IWBs used in new ways.

I’m interested (read desperate) to see the revolutionary value adding aspects. I have an IWB, I love using my IWB, but I need to grasp the ideas and strategies that move people to describe it as a ‘revolution’ in learning. Show me an idea that is actually new!!!

While I appreciate where he’s coming from, I think the question is somewhat flawed. In responded to the post, I found myself “thinking out loud” about the value propsition of interactive whiteboards.  For what it may be worth, here’s the post. As always, your thoughts and feedback are welcome in the comments…

I used to own a mobile phone, an iPod, a digital camera, a video camera, a GPS, and a voicerecorder, and I often carried many of them with me at any given moment. I also used to carry photos of my kids in my wallet. Gradually each of these devices has become subsumed into devices that could combine many of these functions – at first, my mobile phone gained a camera, and then my next phone had a camera, and a voice recorder. I still needed an iPod if I wanted to have my music with me, and I still needed a GPS if I wanted to know where I was going. I could maybe carry 3 or 4 photos of my kids at most.

My latest device is an iPhone, and it has finally merged all of these tools into a single pocketsized device. I now no longer carry all these things around with as individual tools, but I still have all these tools in my pocket. They are now just one device. The phone, the cameras, the voicerecorder, the GPS, the iPod with all my videos, music and photos accessable whereever I go, combined with mobile internet access and the dozens of amazing apps I have installed for doing just about anything you can think of, has fundamentally changed the experience of interacting with these devices individually.

I find my iPhone to be “revolutionary”, not because it allows me to do anything I could not do previously with all these individual devices, but rather because of the way it has combined all these tools into a single device. The revolution has been in the convergence, not in each the specific tools. I could do all this stuff before – I just had to carry a bag full of devices to do it! It’s also evident in the way these tools interact with each other… the maps can talk to the GPS, which in turn can access the web to look up an address, which in turn can let me make a phone call to that address. There’s nothing terribly “new” about the map, the GPS or the phone. Individually, these are all old, existing tools, but combine them together and they produce an overall experience that is new, different, and dare I say it, revolutionary.

The argument I hear that “an IWB does not let me do anything I couldn’t do with xxxx” – pieces of cardboard with words on them, sheets of butchers paper and blu-tack, an overhead projector, a pair of real dice, a big wooden protractor… you name it… is a complete piece of misdirection about the real value that an IWB can bring to a classroom. It is NOT about whether an IWB can “only” be used to do something that was already possible using a different technology. The real point is that the IWB, by converging so many classroom tools into a single, digital, point of contact on a large shared screen that every participant of the classroom can see, hear and engage with, fundamentally changes a whole lot of things.

There ARE great examples of how IWBs can reinvent what happens in classrooms, but if the onlookers want to constantly dismiss them because they might be able to be done in other ways with other tools, then they will never see the value that convergence brings to these tools.

You say you are desperate to see something “new”, but what do you need to see before you class it as “new”? There are very few new ideas under the sun… if people are waiting for that magical moment where they see an IWB being used to do something that is so unique and special it has never been done ever before by anyone in teaching history, they might be waiting a while. Few examples exist.

However, many examples exist of IWBs enabling teachers to bring digital media, online video, rich learning objects and realtime data into lessons. There are lots of examples of IWBs being used to bring disparate resources together in ways that were cumbersome and awkward using disparate technologies. If you’ve ever tried to show students specific scenes from a DVD – or heaven forbid, several DVDs – in a class, you will know that juggling disks in and out of the DVD player and trying to find specific places in the movie can take up most of the classtime. The same lesson, where the relevant video clips have been pre-prepared and embedded into a flipchart is a totally different experience.

Likewise, the ability to have an IWB as a “window to the world” where not only is the answer to so many random questions just a Google search away, the important thing is that it is only a Google search away in a shared, publicly viewable, social space of a classroom. I would argue that classroom participants using the shared digital space of a large screen connected to the internet and able to divert a lesson into unexpected directions at a moments notice is fundamentally different to traditional classrooms. The ability to do this is, in effect, new.

Perhaps we should stop looking for these profound, earth shattering instances of how an IWB can be “revolutionary”, and instead see the whole picture. The convergence of tools into a shared space that can be instantly adapted into whatever digital tool that might be appropriate is a an incredibly fundamental difference. A large screen tool shared by the whole class that is a place to write, a spreadsheet, a video player, a photo album, a maths lab, a world map, a link to world libraries, an encyclopedia, a highlighter pen, a post-it note, a place to brainstorm, and so on and so on, is an incredibly valuable tool. The fact that these individual parts can be dynamic, realtime and interactive makes it even moreso.

Whenever I hear people saying that an IWB can’t add anything to a classroom, I ponder how they are using it. Are they using a narrow set of IWB tools or do they use it in a myriad of connected ways that build on each other to create a dynamic ecosystem of tools. Do they treat their IWB like a hammer or a Swiss Army Knife? Is it just an expensive highlighter pen, or is it an amazing pandora’s box of digital tools waiting to be combined in interesting ways by creative teachers and students?

That’s where you’ll find your new stuff.

The REAL trick to all this is to ensure that this potential is being realised by teachers who understand the world of possibilities their IWB offers. If a teacher cannot see the potential, then of course we will struggle to see genuine “newness” in the way the IWBs are being used. As always, it is the creativity and insight of a talented teacher that brings this potential to the surface. Let’s stop being so hung up about whether IWBs can add value to a classroom. They can. The real question is whether the teachers who work with them can make the most of that potential and use them to bring that “revolution” into their classrooms.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Finding New Things to do with an IWB by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

3 Replies to “Finding New Things to do with an IWB”

  1. I think IWBs are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. As you say they are a result of selecting and combining technologies to be used in the classroom.
    Maybe people are looking at the cost and wondering where the big bang is for the buck. But sometimes evolutionary steps need to be a bit bigger and not always justified by an immediate return on investment.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?