Interactive Whiteboards – Ye$$ or NO ?

In last week’s first inaugural Next Gen Teachers podcast discussion came up around interactive white boards and whether or not they impact teaching and learning. These boards are popping up in classrooms all around the world and there are definitely two camps with opinions on the issue.

I have over five years of experience using this tool in the classroom and have been involved in two major school implementations. Because of this people often ask for my opinion on the matter and whether they are worth the money. Here is what I tell them:

Decisions to purchase these boards are not easy ones to make. First of all they are expensive and need to be accompanied by digital projectors. For classroom use, projectors mounted on carts are good, projectors mounted on the ceiling are better. Second, interactive white boards usually require mounting (the mobile ones are not worth the hassle) and some sort of creative wiring solution is needed to clean up what could be a potential classroom management issue of loose wires and cables. Thirdly the boards need computers fast enough and with with enough RAM to run the accompanying software. Finally to really take advantage of all this pedagogical potential , a good internet connection would be a great addition to this team.

I would not move towards getting interactive boards until I could ensure that all of the above was common place in many or all of the classrooms in your school.

Why?

Well before you can expect teachers to use the interactive and mouse free capabilities of the boards there needs to be a certain level of comfort with the computer and the digital projector. A teacher who has some experience with these two tools will naturally enjoy the freedom that comes with not having to touch the mouse or mouse pad during a lesson while still maintaining eye contact and class attention. This just speaks to the teacher use. The student interaction is a whole other story.

However that being said. We just installed projectors and Smartboards in over 40 ES classrooms this year and it has gone smoothly. Lots of training and running around on my part, but smoothly none the less.

Ok, so yes or no?

Buy or not?

If you can, should you?

Here are my top 3 reasons why interactive white boards are worth purchasing if you can afford them and if your school meets the above criteria.

1. Collaboration and sharing among teachers: This new tool is exciting and after initial training teachers start to experiment and play with it. With a few example lessons and “wow!” features teachers begin to create classroom resources and also begin to share. Does this go on anyway in your schools without whiteboards? I would hope so but I have seen it accelerate in a way that I have never before witnessed around any other resource. Teachers feel like they are apart of something NEW and exciting and the buzz is contagious.

2. Teacher planning

Using this new tool forces teachers to think differently about media, visuals, resources and how the plan their lessons. I have seen it transform the way teachers teach and approach communicating ideas to their students and how their students interact with those ideas. The visual learners benefit right away but as the teachers get used to more student centered lessons so do the tactile ones. This can be achieved just with a projector but when a teacher and student are not tied to a computer but free to control their digital environment they way they control their physical one, something different happens and it add a whole different dimention to the classroom.

3. Student Centered Learning
The biggest complaint about interactive white boards is that they are no more than glorified white boards. Very true!
If left in the hands of a novice painter, a paint brush can produce some very ugly things. However with practice, help, collaboration and support that novice can turn into a master. Teachers are no different. At their worst interactive white boards are just expensive white boards. At their best they are fantastic interactive tools that allow students and teachers to interact with content, media, ideas and text in ways never thought possible. If you want examples I have many. If you want testimonials, i’ve got those too! I have heard the phrase “I couldn’t imaging teaching without it!” too many times to from veteran teachers to dismiss its use in the classroom as just a passing tech fad. What other classroom tool in recent memory has changed the way teachers teach? For me it was the computer. Then came the projector and then finally the Smartboard. I had to move along and experience all three before I could appreciate the last step. I wonder what the next one will be?

My top 2 MUST DO’s if you are thinking of implementing.

1) If you are going to pilot a few then don’t do it across grades put them into an entire grade and let the collaboration happen. If you can give them to the entire team. Your support cannot be everywhere at once. Build a team that can help each other , you will be happy you did. If you can go school wide. The momentum will carry and the collaboration will be infectious.

2) SUPPOR, SUPPORT AND CELEBRATE.

Make sure in the initial stages you have lots of just in time support to be there when there are problems. Like anything new there will hic’s ups, and do you best to smooth them over. Celebrate the teacher creativity and use. Broadcast it and let other teachers know what is happening in other grades. I keep learning new and interesting uses as fresh eyes view the tool in different ways.

The International school of Bangkok tested all of the interactive white boards that are presently on the market and went with Smartboard as their product of choice. I personally feel they have a superior product, however international support is another story. I do not work for Smartboard in any way…………….. however sometimes it feels like I do. 🙂

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