IWB – The Emporer’s New Clothes?

As ICT-aware educators, we are always looking for opportunities to embrace and integrate new and emerging technologies in our classrooms.

Adopt and adapt.

But what if the new gadget turns out to be a dud? How long do we persevere before we make a professional decision that the new gadget isn’t promoting quality teaching?

Example of an IWB

IWB

The latest ICT gadget to attract interest in schools is the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). They were once described to me by an industry representative as a “great product looking for a comfortable home”.

IWBs have been heavily promoted in classrooms in the UK since 2002. The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) has undertaken a great deal of research about the impact of ICT in the learning process, and has released a number of reports on the effectiveness of IWBs in an educational environment. Becta’s document What the Reseach Says About Interactive Whiteboards enthusiastically lists the following “potential applications” for IWBs in the classroom:

• using web-based resources in whole-class teaching;
• showing video clips to help explain concepts;
• demonstrating a piece of software;
• presenting students’ work to the rest of the class;
• creating digital flipcharts;
• manipulating text and practising handwriting;
• saving notes written on the board for future use;
• quick and seamless revision.

Does anyone else notice something here? Is using an IWB the most effective (and efficient) technology that I can use to achieve these tasks? Are these tasks a valid and wholesome part of a Quality Teaching environment?

The Quality Teaching model, promoted by local education authorities (see NSW Curriculum Support), is built around three ‘dimensions’ – intellectual quality, quality learning environment, and significance.

The intellectual quality ‘dimension’ in particular, includes elements of deep knowledge, deep understanding, problematic knowledge, and higher order thinking skills.

Blooms Taxonomy (See ICT and the Learning Matrix) provides teachers with a framework in which they can develop a learning environment that recognises and makes provision for a range of feasible and measurable cognitive learning activities. The Bloom model is at the core of a quality teaching and learning environment.

Skills in the Bloom’s cognitive domain revolve around knowledge, comprehension, and “thinking through” a particular topic. Traditional education environments tend to emphasize the skills in this domain, particularly the lower-order objectives.

There are six levels in the taxonomy, moving through the lowest order processes to the highest:

• Remembering
• Understanding
• Applying
• Analysing
• Evaluating
• Creating

How many of Becta’s “potential applications” of IWBs in the classroom extend students beyond the lowest cognitive levels of Remembering and Understanding?

And where we do move to the activities that encourage higher order cognitive processes? How many students in a class are actively engaged in this process when it is demonstrated at the front of the room?

The enthusiastic, unquestioning take-up of IWBs by education authorities highlights an old-fashioned understanding of how ICT is used in the classroom, so regularly displayed by our digitally-naive “leaders” who have long since left the classroom (if they have ever been there in the first place).

The wow factor, the “we’ll be left behind if we don’t have these” thinking of non-technology-literate Principals and other bureaucrats, seem to be the real reasons for the enthusiastic embrace of these devices, rather than any valid research that confirms support and enhancement of a Quality Teaching and Learning environment in our schools.

But no-one seems to be able to bring themselves to challenge the accepted thinking. What if the Emperor discovers that these gadgets are not all that they promise?

IWBs may have forced themselves onto classroom walls, and no doubt look good to publicity-seeking politicians (and in the minds of the government bureaucrats), but how effective they are in promoting and supporting quality learning environments is debatable.

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2 Responses to IWB – The Emporer’s New Clothes?

  1. Bob Harrison says:

    I couldnt agree more…see my recent ncsl piece at

    http://future.ncsl.org.uk/News.aspx?ID=181

  2. Graham says:

    Whilst I follow your argument I don’t know that the IWB is in the same arena as the BWD (Big White Dish) that appeared on school roofs back, last millennium, and were never used.

    The IWB makes admirable sense as a 21stC answer to the 19th century “blackboard” and the lack of governmental will to bridge that gap with whiteboards.

    The real question is, however, how does teacher education and curriculum development aid teachers to use this technology in conjunction with personal digital learning tools.

    If anything, your real commentary should be:

    How can a government justify disenfranchising students from Kindergarten to Year 8 by not providing personal digital interfaces as they have provided for years 9 to 12.

    Australia is in competition with China and India. The two most populace nations earth.

    The idea that spending billions on rooms and halls will somehow help our students in that competition when that very decision on how to spend the billions has been made by people that, ostensibly, were educated within a 19th Century model of education is now showing its fruit in the lack of vision and policy we now find ourselves watching unfold.

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