I’ve just been watching a video online of someone doing an IWB demonstration at the recent ISTE event in Denver, and I have to say, I’m a little speechless.
IWBs are certainly a controversial technology and cop a lot of flak for being a waste of money in classrooms, and although I hate to sound like an apologist, I too often find myself defending them. I defend them because I believe that in the hands of a good teacher they can be valuable tools, and I get a bit tired of hearing the technology being attacked when it seems to me that all technologies are fairly inert until someone actually does something useful (or not) with them. As a concept, IWBs sound like a good idea to me… here’s a tool that can support all manner of digital resources and is connected to the wider world via the web, but still has that human element that brings the class members together to discuss ideas around a shared, large-screen environment, sharing talking, making eye contact. That all seems like an attractive idea to me. Of course, in practice, none of that potential is realised without direction from a wise teacher who knows how and when to leverage the tool in some pedagogically sound way.
I’d heard that IWBs were a bit of a circus at ISTE 2010, and that, as usual, IWBs were being hawked by vendors as the silver bullet for making your classroom a better place. (By the way, have you noticed that the demonstrations of IWBs by vendors at trade shows usually consist of showing Youtube clips or playing tictactoe on the board?) However, I assumed that in the non-vendor sessions – sessions that were run by practicing educators who should know better – the importance of sound educational pedagogy would be emphasized over the fancy bells and whistles. So, I was a bit shocked as I watched this video of a teacher demonstrating how to get the most out of an IWB, as the demo was nothing more than a collection of “interactive” websites that were found online. In this demo, the teacher showed site after site after site of cutesy examples filled with cliched animations and canned audio that did very little other than provide yet another way for kids to consume some pre-made Flash-game rubbish on the way to rote memorising a bunch of facts. To make it worse, the entire demo was done from the computer, not the board, so there was absolutely no benefit in the IWB apart from being an expensive projection screen. The whole demo was a collection of everything I think an IWB should NOT be used for, and I think was a perfect example of why there is so much hostility from some people towards IWB technology.
Look, there may be a time and a place for the occasional naff Flash game. There probably are some useful websites that can be used to help a teacher unpack a tricky concept in a more visual way. I’m sure that having a bit of colour and movement to help engage students attention is a good idea. And having access to an onscreen simulation can be a useful tool when doing the real thing is too difficult, expensive or dangerous.
But come on! Teaching effectively with the assistance of an IWB should, hopefully, mean doing a whole lot more than just having a collection of garish websites and predictable, premade content up your sleeve! Surely we can do much better than this! I don’t want my classroom to have an IWB if its sole use is to allow my students to consume shallow, crappy, poorly designed web content made by other people. What made watching this video worse was watching the backchannel conversation, seeing the participants lapping this up and asking for the URLs for all these sites!
There are some great sites out there on the web, and there’s no denying that many of them work stunningly well on an IWB. But teaching is not (in my opinion anyway) a set-and-forget activity where finding a cool website that the kids think is “engaging” and then simply using it on an IWB somehow qualifies as “good teaching”. It doesn’t. I was truly stunned to see a bunch of poorly designed websites being projected on an IWB being held up as an example of worthwhile IWB use! I would be less surprised to see the vendors doing this, but not a practicing teacher! Maybe the critics are right.
And yet, in the hands of a good teacher, when the IWB is seen as having a supporting role in the classroom, rather than being the star attraction, they can be a truly amazing technology. Their ability to allow a good teacher to explore concepts visually, stimulate classroom discussion with rich digital media, follow interesting ideas that arise in the course of the lesson, and so on, is undeniably powerful. When used well, I’ve no doubt that IWBs can be revolutionary tools.
One of my mantras about IWBs is that it’s not about what happens on the board. It’s about what happens because of what happens on the board. Good teaching and learning is not about some stupid Flash game, it’s about the discussion and conversation and the ability to stimulate deeper understanding about an idea because of the stupid Flash game! The minute that the content on the board becomes the focus of learning, I think we’re in very shaky territory. As IWB-using educators, we need to always be thinking about how to leverage that onscreen content to challenge, support and extend the thinking of our students, and not simply to “edutain” them.
In their defense, I think IWBs can be used to provide an amazing “window to the world” in our classrooms. I think they can provide easy access to an incredible array of rich digital assets that can be used to engage, inform and stimulate learning. I think that their use can become embedded into our teaching and learning environments in ways that become seamless, where the technology disappears but the benefits are tangible. With a little thought, there are lots of great ways that interactive technologies can be built into the daily DNA of teaching and learning.
But to get there I think we need to let go of the idea that finding some “cool website” where a daggy animated character says “well done!” for adding 2 number together is something to get excited about. We need to realise that using some rudimentary drag-and-drop activity that reinforces the notion of learning as “who can remember stuff the best” is not the high-water-mark of teaching with interactive technology. We need to stop being dazzled by pointless animations, shallow activities, rote-learning dressed up as a game, and so on. We need to slap ourselves upside the head when we catch ourselves treating the board as nothing more than a screen. As intelligent educators, we need to be critical of the role that an IWB plays in our classrooms, yet we also need to be creative about looking for ways to leverage the power of this tool. We need to be smart enough to know when an IWB is the right tool, and when it isn’t. And we need to realise that the IWB is neither the sole domain of the teacher, nor just the plaything of the students, but rather a place to host a shared meeting of the minds where important ideas can be explored together as partners in learning.
IWBs are no Silver Bullet by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
17 Replies to “IWBs are no Silver Bullet”
Hi Chris, I agree with all you have said, maybe it is time for you to show us how you use the board in real time – and have examples of other exemplary uses from other educators as a teacher tube video channel or even a real DVD to purchase to make money from your time. Reading about how it can be used and seeing it being used with real pedagogical objectives and outcomes is very different.
Sometimes educators get so closed in their classrooms and schools they just need to be shown the way out. I know I would benefit from such exposure.
Excellent point Dianne. You’re right, it’s tough to do on an ongoing basis, and I think it only comes with time. Everyone goes through the same learning curve, and we all start out by doing all the naff, cutesy stuff before we hopefully mature in the way we take advantage of the technology. And you’re absolutely right, it’s way easier to talk about than to actually DO on a consistent basis!
I’ve been invited to give the keynote address at the Interactive Teaching and Learning Conference on the Gold Coast next month. My plan is to actually use these technologies to help give the keynote in ways that actually model and demonstrate what I’m talking about. And it’s a challenge for sure.
I think that it really starts to happen when the technology just becomes SO embedded into your daily classroom routine that you sort of stop thinking about it and it just becomes part of what you do. There is a certain amount of contrivance to coming up with a bucketload of “great examples” because in a sense, it’s the uncontrived, totally authentic use that emerges from daily use that I think really becomes the best part of it.
I like the idea of the YouTube channel. There is also a pretty robust set of conversations going on over at the IWB Revolution Ning at http://www.iwbrevolution.com. Take a peek!
Great post and so well articulated.
We have to put good teaching ahead of “flash” always. The question is how to get beyond the razzle dazzle and into the real teaching–when the razzle dazzle is so much easier to see?
So true Chris,
I am still not sure how to get teachers to take the time to make the necessary change! I worry too that with the new emphasis on iPod’s etc in classrooms whether the same issues will occur. Using all the cool, glitzy apps and not content creation.
For a brief ‘blood draining from my face’ minute I thought you were referring to my presentation at ISTE. Reading through the detail I am now comfortable that you are referring to someone else. (Who?) In case you haven’t seen mine you can download a slimmed down version at http://exchange.smarttech.com/details.html?id=xaf5a796dc497479c8fea88b8ac06b8dc. I do quote your ever provocative and apt statement from our chat “don’t apologise for teaching” and reference your book and Ning – thank you. As with any contemporary technology I think we have to think beyond the technology and look at where it fits in a contemporary learning environment and most importantly how it can compliment contemporary (I am trying to avoid saying 21st Century as we are 10 years in) teaching and learning. I hope you do approve of my presentation – no need for a blog post 😉 Cheers, Simon
Haha, thanks Simon.
I don’t want to embarrass individuals so I’m certainly not going to mention any names… but I’m glad you don’t see yourself in the story! 🙂 And look, to be fair to the person, it was just one presentation… I’d hate to be judged on the strength of just one presentation, and for all I know the whole point of the presentation may have simply been to share a bunch of web resources… in which case, they did a terrific job. My intention wasn’t to call out any one person or infer that they did a bad job, but the things I wrote about are certainly a phenomenon I’ve observed too many times from too many people for it to be a coincidence.
Although I try to blog about observations that I’ve made directly, sometimes I might represent them as a single story whereas in fact they are more of a conglomerate of observations from more than one source.
So nah… you’re off the hook mate. 🙂
Diane if you’re looking for PD, collaboration and good examples there is also the IWB challenge that Jess McCulloch is organising that people can take on.
The wiki is available here http://iwbchallenge.wikispaces.com/
Thanks for the “don’t apologise for teaching” comment in relation to IWB’s in particular. 90% of classrooms at school have ‘boards’ at my school and random audits indicate that 50% are not switched on – 75% even when switched on were not in use.
The one team that did use them used the tools – number lines, clocks, with young children taking turns to manipulate the tools and explain their number patterns and the mathematical rules being used.
I don’t think I’m expecting 100% usage of the technology.
I think part of the answer is in challenging activities that show a belief about learning – empty vessels to be filled e.g. using web site number games mentioned above.
The other is to have a teacher in each team who has a constructivist lense who looks to build student understandings using technology so when teams plan- that make explicit commitments to each other to try certain tools or applications that support active learning. The team I mentioned above had that and they supported one another – visiting each others classroom to see things in action.
No, I think you’re right… expecting 100% usage is a bit of an ask, and won’t ever happen. Probably a good thing too. I’m not sure any tool should be used 100% of the time. That just lacks balance.
I would guesstimate that an IWB ought to be switched on and used about 70-80% of the actual time? Would that seem fair? Too much? Too little?
I’ve often wondered why IWBs don’t have some system where their use can all be logged in one place. You wouldn’t think it would be too hard for each board to have an IP address or a MAC address (they probably already do) that reports back to a central management console various statistics about their use. I think it would be interesting to get an email at the end of each day that summarised all the boards across the whole school, telling me how long they were turned on for, how many clicks were registered on the boards, how many hours the projector lamps were on for, etc. Such an application could also show the busiest times of the day, which subjects used them most, which teachers never used them at all, how many hours left in the projector globes, etc, etc… it would be enlightening (if not a little Big Brotherish!)
Still, from a management point of view, it helps to have some metrics. You then know where to allocate your resources, both technical and human.
I believe you were probably talking about my resource sharing session in this post, and I am not embarassed in the least. I agree with the sentiment behind your post. Teachers shouldn’t use their IWB solely as a vehicle for teaching with animated skill building pre-made content. But, that wasn’t what my presenation was advocating. I believe you made a lot of assumptions about the purpose of the presentation and the content and missed the point of the resource sharing.
The presentation was completely focused on sharing online resources and was not designed to highlight IWB best practices or even best ways to integrate those resources into classroom instruction with an IWB. I didn’t even use the IWB in the presentation. First of all, it wasn’t functioning, and secondly, in a half an hour session there wasn’t time to interact with the audience in an authentic way to model the use of the sites in a classroom setting.
Here in the US, one of the IWB companies conducted a study (unpublished) and found that 60% of the boards in schools are not being used. There are a whole slew of reasons they are collecting dust, but one of the main ones is that teachers don’t have time to create content and find lessons for every class they teach every day. Nor are all teachers trained instructional designers.
I believe that one of the solutions to this is to provide teachers access to a library of interactive content to pick and choose from to integrate into their lessons. The IWB manufacturer websites provide teacher created lesson plans, but this doesn’t provide a total solution to the issue of time to create and find content. Having a library of pre-made interactive content (not a full curriculum lesson) that teachers can select pieces and parts from to use when creating their own lessons provides a practical solution–and a good one when that interactive content is used as a portion of a lesson.
Obviously, if interactive sites are all you use for your IWB instruction, you are doing a disservice to your students and to the technology. In the same way that teachers shouldn’t solely use the math textbook and worksheets provided with the canned district curriculum, teachers shouldn’t rely solely on pre-made IWB content for their instruction. But to suggest that if you incorporate a flash site into your lesson that allows kids to explore the meaning of fractions or to apply the concepts of probability, you are not using the board well, I believe that is doing a disservice to teachers as well. Having a collection of resources to draw from to integrate into your lessons is a helpful tool.
I also believe that in elementary school, there is still room for practice of basic skills and from my personal experience, students are more interested in practicing with a “edutaining” website than with a worksheet. And, let’s not kid ourselves about the value of nice graphics and animation. Do they add to the educational value of the lesson? Absolutely not. Are they necessary to enhance the learning objectives? No. But, I taught in an elementary classroom and as such knew that I needed to capture and hold my kids’ attention. And getting the attention of students who were used to video games and telelvision and animated websites sometimes meant using content that appealed to their likes and interests outside of the classroom. I didn’t use this content evey day, nor was it the focus of my lesson when it was used but using content with animations and graphics is not an inherently bad thing.
In the same way that individuals are railing against all IWBs as bad technology, I believe it is also a mistake to rail against all pre-made content. As you state above, it is the teacher that makes the difference in how technology is utilized. It is the same with interactive content. It is the way in which the teacher integrates the content into his/her instruction in a way that supports the lesson goals and objectives, engages the students in questioning and fits into the overall design of the lesson.
For sure, if all a teacher does is bring some Flash practice problems up on the board and have students take turns answering problems for the next 10 minutes, that is not the best use of that particular content. But that does not make the content bad.
Somewhere in education we have gotten away from practicality and moderation. As teacher advocates, we need to strive for the best use of IWBs while always being mindful of the realities of teaching 6 or more lessons to 25+ students every day. It is not practical or even possible for an elementary teacher to design lessons for 5-6 subjects every day or to create IWB content for even a fraction of those lessons. Assistance in the form of interactive websites when used in moderation to support your lesson is not bad teaching.
Shame on us if we tell teachers that ALL skill practice is bad, ALL flash websites are worthless, and “edutainment” is evil. If we do this, we’ve failed classroom teachers struggling for practical solutions to help them use their IWBs and are no better than those claiming all IWBs are bad.
Emily, you had me in agreement until you said,
“Teachers don’t have time to create content & find lessons for every class they teach every day. Nor are all teachers trained instructional designers”.
To me, that is where the training comes in. Using the software for whatever IWB the teacher is using is the easy part. Helping them craft meaningful lessons using an IWB or ANY technology is where the real work comes in. Collaboration between teams of teachers at the school/district level (or beyond) is key to this success. Also, creating these kinds of lessons during the curriculum writing process is a way to help unsure time is there for creating worthwhile content. There is a difference between pre-made content and sites that can be used for skill practice. As you mention, IWB companies have tried to create a place for teachers to upload their content; most are not great from what I have seen. I support the use of IWBs and train teachers in how to create content that is meaningful to their students. The websites you suggest (and I have not seen your presentation, but based on your description of Flash-based websites and skill practice) would be best left as a center activity or “Great Sites for Practice” links on a classroom website, in my opinion.
I’m sure Chris’ blogpost wasn’t meant as personal attack and I applaud his choice for not revealing the exact presentation he watched. The beauty of this kind of discourse is that we can push each other’s thinking and be pushed to really dig into what we believe. Part of why I have a variety of people in my PLN, like you and Chris, is that I can learn from different viewpoints and form an opinion based on my beliefs, experiences, and biases.
Thanks for pushing me to think a little more deeply about what I believe the role to be with IWBs in teaching and learning.
Who made the content for old fashion chalk-board?
“Teachers don’t have time to create content & find lessons for every class they teach every day. Nor are all teachers trained instructional designers”. This sounds like a bit of a cop out to me.
I don’t follow the chalk-board analogy since you can’t use pre-created content. When the overhead projector began to be used in classrooms and teachers had the opportunity to save transparencies and re-use them, then publishers began “content creation.”
Yes, “I don’t have time” is a cop out in the sense that we choose how to use our time. However, the huge workload placed on teachers (at least here in the US) is also consideration. The reality is teachers are busy, and teachers are using time as an excuse for not using their boards. There was a suvey conducted here in the US last June in which 88% of teachers responded that they would use their interactive whiteboards more often if provided with more content.
We can choose to work within that construct and provide help to teachers as a way to encourage them to begin using their boards so our foot is in the door to work on changing their behavior, or we can bash teachers that they need to quit making excuses and create content even though they may already feel overwhelmed with work and have had inadequate professional development on the IWB. I find that with the encouragement of not having to create all of their own content, teachers can move from “I don’t want to use this board” to seeing how it impacts their students in a positive way, to wanting to use it more effectively with their own content. Absolutely, best case scenerio is that all teachers will take the time to create content, and the content they create will involve crititcal thinking and problem solving, and it will be well designed. In order to get many teachers there, it takes a progression of use.
On another note, I there is some great online content available for teachers. Using online content isn’t always a “lesser” use of the IWB. I’m working on a blog post to share some of those resources….if only I had more time…..;)
(Note: I speak only with experience as an elementary teacher having worked with hundreds of elementary teachers–middle school and high school may be entirely different. It is my personal belief that anyone who is speaking about teachers at a specific level should have classroom experience at that level.)
I completely agree that too many trainers show the teachers how to operate the features of the IWB software but never go beyond to show them how to create meaningful lessons with the features. (Which makes sense as many of them are AV dealers with no classroom experience–at least here in the US)
Schools are lucky when they have someone in house who can fill in this missing piece. And, you are right that collaboration between teams is a big key and makes creating lessons more feasible when the workload is shared. I wish all schools realized the importance of this kind of professional development because you do describe an ideal situation. Unfortunately, in the five years I have been working with schools on using IWBs, the schools who provide this type of environment have been few and far between. It should be the standard that we expect!
My intention with interactive sites is to share content that can be used within the context of a full lesson to help those educations in particular who haven’t had great training or who haven’t yet had the opportunity to work in teams to fully develop their own content.
Yes, some of the sites I shared are definitely best for center activities for individual practice or for a few guided practice problems to assess understanding at the end of a lesson. Many of the sites also include open ended virtual manipulatives and problem based activities that work well as an opportunity to explore a concept.
I’ll have to work on a blog post sharing how to use these resources appropriately!:)
As a side note, I know and respect Chris, so there was no offense taken. We’re on the same page more often than not and in this case we are coming at the issue having different teaching backgrounds and having had different experiences with teachers using interactive content.
First, thank you for taking the time (and having the courage) to respond as you did and to explain from the other perspective. Like I said in a comment above to Simon, it really isn’t fair for a judgement be made based on a single presentation, and without knowing the full circumstances of who, what, why, etc, perhaps it was a little unfair of me to be so blunt about something that I wasn’t actually there for.
Let me start by also saying that I know and respect you too, and I’m thankful that no offence was taken because on a personal level, certainly none was intended. You and I have crossed paths enough times and in enough places to know that we pretty much see eye to eye on this stuff most of the time, and I know that you are a competent and professional practitioner when it comes to IWBs. So please allow me to start from that point of respect and to confirm that I had absolutely no intention to embarrass anyone on a personal level… one of the reasons that I tried to keep everything very anonymous in the original post.
Can I also just preface this by saying that I’m an unashamed idealist who always wants the world to work as I think it should, and not always as it does. I know that sort of idealism often comes across as brash and impractical, but it’s just the way I’ve always been about things. I guess I’m quite stubborn that way… If the world doesn’t work the way I’d like it to, I tend to put my emotions and my energies into trying to change it rather than simply work with it. It used to drive my poor mother mad when I was a child! 🙂 I guess it must drive some of my colleagues crazy too.
There is a wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw that has always resonated with me… “A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Despite the sexist overtones of it being a “man” rather than a “person”, I think GBS is onto something… if we just try to work with the world as it is, rather than is we want it to be, then how will be ever bring about change?
So, I take your point about these web resources being a nice easy way to bring teachers along and get them using interactivity with their classes. It was unfair of me to suggest that the person doing that presentation was trying to suggest that these are the ONLY, or even the main, way that teachers should be using interactive technology. Clearly, that wasn’t the suggestion or the intention. I guess I sort of latched onto that idea and before you know it I’d written a blog post that perhaps focused too strongly on the negatives… so for that I apologise, as I know it is an unfair representation of you and your ability.
Having said that, I think that the general principle of teachers relying too heavily on cutesy pre-made resources (that I really do think are quite shallow a lot of of the time) is somewhat endemic thanks to an IWB industry that I think we’d all agree promotes this technology as a panacea; literally a simple, silver bullet solution to the incredibly complex and nuanced problem of how children learn. They want us to believe that simply using the technology will solve everything. I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that.
While I totally understand that teachers struggle to find the time to build their own IWB resources from scratch (trust me, I get reminded of that all the time by my colleagues!) I was more suggesting that IWBs can be used really well for teaching “on the fly”, where it’s not about actually preparing resources in advance at all, but rather in the way they can use the technology to explore issues that arise in class discussion, etc. For most teachers, just getting them to remember that they have fulltime access to Google, Flickr and Wikipedia in their classroom (and use them!) would revolutionise what they do! I find the true value of IWB technology in being able to, in the middle of a class, stop and say “you know Johnny, that’s a really great question, lets go find the answer right now”. And look, that’s part of what makes “good IWB use” so elusive… it can look like many things. There is no one “right” way to work with an IWB.
I guess what struck me as I watched the video and saw a steady stream of cute Flash* websites, was that it was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security that using them was “enough”, and I’d hate to think that teachers might begin to believe that these site were the main course, rather than just a snack. I guess one of my particular frustrations with these types of resources are that they can slow down the pace of learning or dumb down the content, and then celebrate that mediocrity with canned applause, or a repetitiously condescending”well done!” each time you answer a really basic question. I’ve never been a big fan of the “drill and kill” style rote learning exercises that these tools too often become, and as someone who tries to defend the potential of interactive technology I guess I’m a little defensive of these types of sites eroding the credibilty of what IWBs are really capable of.
I completely understand your suggestion that such resources are appropriate in some instances, and that they are never meant to become the main way of using the technology. I know that it’s impractical for teachers to make all their own resources, and it’s convenient for a busy teacher to slip one these sites into their teaching every so often because the kids probably like them. We all know that great teaching takes a lot of work, and that it’s easy to just revert to something premade, even if we agree that the quality isn’t quite as good as it should be or it doesn’t exactly match our philosophy of what quality education should be about.
But if I can use an analogy, it’s a bit like believing that good nutrition is important to a healthy lifestyle but that it’s still ok to eat fast food 3 or 4 times a week because it’s more convenient. Of course it’s more work to make the healthy meal, and its easier to just grab some KFC on the way home from work, but in the long run you have to ask yourself whether the KFC really fits your philosophy of what it means to be healthy and eat well.
But look, I know you do have a balanced view on this stuff, so again, I’m sorry if I made it seem like I was attacking the messenger rather than the message. I was probably a little out of line in being so blunt. Like I said to Simon, seeing the video may have been the trigger to cause me to blog about what I was thinking, but there have been many similar instances from many other people in the past that also niggled away at me about this very same idea… I just finally decided to write about it, but clearly this is something that had been simmering away in my mind for a while. So, yeah, it’s not as personal as maybe it came across… 🙂
Anyway, thanks for engaging in the conversation. You’ve definitely cause me to stop and think about many of these issues, and to soften my views in places. As you say, it’s all about the professional discourse and challenging each other to think about things a little more than maybe we would have otherwise, so thank you for that!
* For the record, I’ve nothing against Flash as a technology, per se. I just don’t know what else to refer to these sort of sites as , except calling them “Flash games sites”. The fact that they are Flash or games is not the issue… it’s more the lack of true instructional design behind them that seems to be the bugbear for me.
I agree with the sentiments of many about IWB’s. I prepare a whole unit of work for the IWB before delivering and print it off and give it to my students. My students are of a low academic ability and therefore I can engage them by really mixing up lessons with video’s, quizzes, notes, discussions etc.
Imagine my dismay when I arrived at school yesterday to find that the classroom that I have used all year has been taken off me and I am now in a class with no IWB. As one of the few teachers in our school using an IWB on a regular basis and I am supposed to be role modeling their use, this has been devastating.
My talk and chalk lesson was very flat. Very difficult to make soil erosing exciting!!!!
On another topic, has anyone used a 2touch board? I have them being demonstrated next week and would like feedback. What I have seen in my one demo of them, I couldn’t fault it.
Comments are closed.