Monday, 26 April 2010

Reply to a letter requesting to see IWBs in action

I had an email today from a lady in Australia planning a study visit to the UK in the Autumn to see Interactive Whiteboards in good use, I'm happy to host her but I feel she needs to broaden her study, if you go looking to see something being used well, that's probably what you'll find, but that misses all the bad use and arguably better use of alternative technologies.

Here is my reply, I hope to broaden her view and paint a picture where IWBs have their place in learning but there are certainly not the be all and end all.

Hi Jenny,
Great to hear from you. I'd be very happy to host you for a visit if our schedules fit, but I thought I better tell you a bit about my feelings on IWBs.

I would be able to show you teachers who make great use of IWBs and to meet a trainer who runs our City Learning Centre, which is a good practice hub and was heavily involved in IWB training delivery when they took off here a few years ago and I'll be able to show you lots more use of New Technologies.

What I need to say is personally and it's a view that's becoming common IWBs aren't much to get excited about and I wouldn't recommend a large scale investment in putting them in to classrooms. If individual teachers and departments want them because they suit their pedagogy fine but they are not as good as their marketing strategy might suggest.

The use of a computer, projector and screen is fundamental and every classroom should have them, but most Interactive Whiteboards are at best just electronic black boards, they tie the teacher to the front delivering learning in a modernised version of traditional didactic 'chalk and talk', not a bad thing often but an expensive way of achieving this and it can encourage the teacher to teach like this too much.

They can be used interactively with children but there are issues, children might not be able to reach, don't have the skills with the pen or more often are too scared to come out to the front- remember how scary it was for us as teaching students.

Personally I feel it's a much better investment to have a Bluetooth slate & pen or tablet style computer or just a humble wireless mouse to allow the teacher to control the screen from anywhere in the room, perhaps standing with the child they are talking to at the time or with the child who doesn't listen well and then there is risk free interaction as the students can be given the device to control the screen from where they are sitting. Spend the money you save on a Visualiser and USB Microscope if relevant and you have a far more powerful and flexible teacher set up that will have more impact on learners.

IWBs took off here, I think, because policy makers and politicians could see what they did, understanding it in the context of a computerisation of how they were taught, so because they could grasp it and see it they backed it. It's harder to explain the concept of a Personalised Online Learning Environment to someone who probably barely uses the internet but a blackboard that talks to a computer, bingo- massive investment.

Now don't get me wrong, I like using my IWB but you need to know that context when if you come here and see lots of teachers aren't teaching at all with them or just using them as screens a lot of the time. Some of the research really does confuse this, for example I've read research saying IWBs are good because, for example, short video clips can be used- that's the projector and the screen, not the IWB.

You'd be very welcome non-the-less! Keep in touch.