Thursday, January 7, 2010

Interactive Whiteboards Alone Are Not Interactive

I participated in my first #edchat on Twitter Tuesday night and was intrigued by the animated discussion in response to the topic: Do interactive whiteboards in the classroom translate to interactivity with students?

The conversation was fast and furious generating 46 printed pages of tweets in a little over an hour--many of which were not complementary to interactive whiteboards. (View the archive here) This negative impression was echoed in Bill Ferriter’s Wednesday blog post on The Tempered Radical.

I can relate to the feelings shared in his self described “rant” that interactive whiteboards are a waste of money.  I have been regularly dismayed by the amount of funds spent by schools on these expensive pieces of hardware without careful consideration as to how they would be utilized on a practical day to day basis by the classroom teacher to improve student learning. However, I’m not willing to generalize that because of poor implementations that interactive whiteboards are useless and that those using them ineffectively can not learn to do otherwise.

Being disheartened by the amount of money schools were spending on interactive whiteboards that eventually sat in classrooms gathering dust was one of the core reasons I founded StarrMatica. I have been shouting from the rooftops for the past five years that an interactive whiteboard is just a piece of hardware without a teacher who knows how to use it effectively and interactive content that engages students. This is the case with any piece of electronic hardware—computers, ipods, phones, televisions. Supplying the hardware is only the beginning. For successful technology integration, you must have three factors: Hardware + Knowledgeable Teacher + Quality Content

After thousands of hours working with teachers and schools on interactive whiteboard implementations and conducting hundreds of on online classes and in person workshops, I know that putting those three factors together is an enormous task requiring a tremendous amount of time and effort.

• You must have teachers willing to accept and learn technology.

• They must be taught how to operate the hardware and navigate the software.

• Additionally, they must be instructed on how to create and/or find interactive content.

• And finally, they must understand how to integrate that content into daily classroom instruction.

Whew! Is that all?!

The need for ongoing professional development and quality interactive content were common themes throughout the hour long Twitter #edchat. The comments were music to my ears, knowing from personal experience and having read the report that 88% of teachers would use their interactive whiteboards more often if provided with more content.

Interactive whiteboards are pieces of hardware that require content to be effective.

This need for interactive content was another core reason I founded StarrMatica. I began teaching with interactive online resources in my classroom via a projector and a $20 wireless mouse that I could pass from student to student. I spent hours a day searching for online interactive content and integrating it into my math lessons, but I was committed to this new method of teaching because I saw the impact it had on my students. All of my students were excited and engaged during math class and their grades began to reflect that engagement.

Interactive content allowed me to present problems to my students and have them test their answers with virtual manipulatives. It allowed my students to learn new information from sources other than their teacher or their textbook. And it allowed us to practice rote mathematical operations in a more motivating way with my students responding to questions by writing on dry erase marker boards because they all wanted to be chosen to answer via the wireless mouse. At the same time, I was free to roam the classroom, consult with small groups, and monitor individual learning.

To be clear, though I believe they can be used as effective teaching and learning tools, my primary advocacy is not for interactive whiteboards. My mission is to help teachers integrate interactive content into classroom instruction because I saw how it motivated and engaged the students in my classroom, and I have seen it excite teachers and enhance the education of students in districts I have visited across the US.


  1. Thank you for echoing my thoughts exactly! I share your frustration with feeling like we spend too much time debating technology items and not enough time on solutions for making their implementation more effective! I am a firm believer that "good" teachers could teach students with a ball of yarn, some post-it notes and a piece of chalk, but these will also be the ones who find relevant ways to use whatever items come their way, IWBs included.

  2. Well said, Vanessa! I whole-heartedly agree that effective implementation of technology should be our focus. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  3. Thank you for the enlightning post Emily. It just goes to show that, again, it's not about the technology. It's about "good teaching, reflecting and focusing on (relevant?) student learning." Regardless of the tool you might use.

  4. Absolutely, Alex. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  5. Emily,

    Look at your list of factors that effective integration of whiteboards relies on. It's certainly accurate--which is what makes it so frightening.

    If ANY of the factors that you list are overlooked, whiteboard efforts fail. What are the chances that every factor is implemented successfully in every classroom and every school dumping thousands into whiteboard programs?

    And more importantly, what are the tangible benefits for districts who somehow fight through your entire list of factors successfully? How does instruction change? What makes whiteboards a better investment than netbooks?

    Shouldn't we focus our efforts on technology integration efforts that are less complex?


  6. Bill,

    I appreciate your comments and the conversation you have initiated and facilitated over at The Tempered Radical.

    As I stated in my blog, I'm an advocate for interactive content, not interactive whiteboards. I'm on the same page with you that school administrators should be educated consumers before purchasing hardware, and it is important to debate what technologies schools should be investing in. There are an increasing number of hardware options available to schools with varying prices, most of which accomplish the same goals.

    However, with the prevalence of interactive whiteboards already in schools, isn't it equally important to help those districts who have invested thousands in IWBs to realize that if their IWBs are not being utilized effectively it is not the hardware choice but the implementation that is most at fault?

    This allows for schools to be empowered to change their situations with well thought out and consistently applied implementation plans rather than lamenting their purchases and accepting their failures.

    Even then, I am agreed that it is unrealistic to expect that every factor in my list will be successfully implemented in every classroom in a district. After all, teaching with IWBs isn't appropriate for every classroom.

    But, does that mean that teachers who can benefit from quality targeted professional development shouldn't be given the opportunity?

    I appreciate your questions about the benefits of teaching with interactive technologies and plan to address them in depth in subsequent posts.

    I'm curious, which technology integration efforts do you consider to be less complex?

  7. You wrote "After all, teaching with IWBs isn't appropriate for every classroom." Can you explain what you mean?

  8. João,

    Thanks for your comment! There are several throughs behind that sentence:

    1. It is difficult to "force" teachers not interested in teaching with IWBs to accept the technology let alone use it effectively. Even with targeted and long term professional development, it has to be the teacher's decision to learn.
    2. Some teachers may already be using alternative technologies such as mobile pads and be reluctant to add another piece of technology, or they may not believe that the two can paired. They may feel their solution is already "better" than an IWB.
    3. Teachers who already use effective teaching techniques in hands-on learning classrooms shouldn't be forced to integrate a piece of technology if they don't believe it will add additional benefit to their already successful teaching model.
    4. It makes me uncomfortable when a "one size fits all" approach is taken to anything in education. Every classroom is different and we should be leery of saying one piece of technology is appropriate for every classroom.

  9. Hi Emily, thanks for your quick reply.
    I agree with the points you state, of course. When I read your sentence ("After all, teaching with IWBs isn't appropriate for every classroom.") what I understood was that you were referring to the setting, i.e. in some teaching settings the IWB would not be an appropriate technology to use. Well, every technology (not only IWBs) is only appropriate in the classroom as long as the teacher is willing to use it and can use it effectively.


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