The weekend before last I attended an amazing professional development seminar by a very switched on educator Chris Betcha who is an ICT support teacher in Sydney, Australia. Before Chris presented I quickly Googled him and found his website. One of the most recent posts on his blogs was about Interactive White Board’s (IWB’s). Here is the slide for you to go over yourself.

 

I have very strong opinions about IWB’s and I was quite surprised that Chris took a very balanced stance. Most people either love them or hate them but it seemed Chris weighed it up very concisely in his ‘Why IWB’ presentation.

What really resonated with me about Chris’s slideshow was the idea of using new technology to do old things. I believe that is what the majority of IWB’s are used for in schools, basically a digital chalkboard. I believe that the technology rarely gets into the hands of the students and the same thing could just as easily be done on a whiteboard or even a set of whiteboards for each student, at least each student would get to use it if they had one each (which is what Frank Noschese’s was trying to get at with the $2 IWB idea.)
The other problem I see is the cost. If you are going to spend thousands on a technology tool and use it just like a blackboard, then you are wasting a LOT of money on technology for the sake of technology. Let’s assume that it costs US$3000 for an IWB. If we compare that to what could be purchased as an equivalent, then that could stock one classroom with 3 Macbooks. Or 6 iPads. Or 15 iPod Touch’s, which is a class set in a lot of the classes I teach. Then if there are IWB’s being installed in multiple classrooms, which is usually the case, then four IWB’s would buy more than 1 class set of iPads. Six IWB’s could buy almost a full set of laptops. When you compare the benefits of an IWB against the benefits of technology in the hands of EVERY students, then I don’t think there is even a close comparison. Bill Ferriter, a 6th Grade teacher in Carolina, who was named regional teacher of the year in 2006-2007 sums this point up beautifully in his blog The Tempered Radical. He speaks a lot about why he dislike IWB’s, I encourage you to have a read of his thoughts.
The next gripe I have with IWB’s is that it encourages ‘chalk and talk’ style teaching where teachers stand at the front of the room and deliver. There is no guided discovery, no collaborative learning and very little Connectivism. This is the furthest from 21st century education that I can think of.
In Marc Prensky article in Edutopia named Shaping Tech for the Classroom, he talks a lot about doing old things in old ways, doing old things in new ways and doing new things in new ways. I think we as teachers, should be striving to provide 21st century education to our 21st century students. And by standing out the front of the room, not even facing the students to control an IWB, I think we are deluding ourselves if we think this is 21st century education or anything new at all.
Marking The Roll

One ray of hope is that teachers change their teaching styles and get away from the front of the classroom. Maybe, just maybe, then IWB’s could be a decent tool for the classroom. Just like this example, which I saw in a kindergarten class just the other day. This idea that Mrs. Peacock was using is a great example of how best to utilize the IWB as a tool and get the technology into the students hands. The students were clicking and draging their name from the ‘At Home’ section to the ‘At School’ section. Students do this as they walk in for the day, taking the technology out of the hands of the teacher and into the hands of the students.

I hope I see more great ideas like this that could help me change my mind about IWB’s and give me a more balanced view of them. So here is my challenge, change my mind by showing me ideas on how we can get this very expensive technology out of the hands of teachers and utilize it in a way that fosters 21st century education. Do you have any ideas?