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Back to the Boards

A few weeks back I ranted about my lack of enthusiasm for interactive whiteboards and got quite a reaction.

While my focus then was on not seeing a compelling instructional purpose for the expensive devices, there was something else about their effect on education that was in the back of my mind.

It didn’t come to the front until one day when I was helping install one of the boards.

Mounting the technology in one place in a classroom anchors the focus to that one place. In many ways it reinforces the space as teacher-centered with rows of students facing one way, the attention on one spot.

But that wasn’t all that bothered me about sticking the board to one end of a room and shining a projector at it. The whole idea was still an incomplete buzz in my warped little mind.

Until I read Gary Stager’s thoughts on the issue.

Over the past few years we, like many school districts, have been advocating (not to mention spending a lot of money on) the use of laptops and other mobile devices to make “anywhere, anytime” learning possible.

At the same time we install these interactive boards that lock instruction to one place, severely limiting both the where and time loosened by portable computing.

Stager takes an equally dim view of the devices.

They’re big, expensive, stationary and make excellent backdrops for political photo-ops. If your definition of school is four walls with a large writing area bolted to at least one of those walls, then whiteboards are for you. This should not in any way be confused with modernity or the future of education.

He also goes back to a point I made earlier about creative teachers and the larger number of those who use technology grudgingly, if at all.

I know that some teachers can create classroom wizardry on their “interactive” whiteboards. This is a greater reflection on the creativity of that specific teacher, than the technology. I would imagine such teachers could dazzle with a chainsaw. This argument does little to advance the hope that expensive whiteboards will transform teachers who have refused to use modern technology for a quarter century.

We always seem to be relying on the Field of Dreams model of instructional technology: if we buy it they will use it – and education will be magically altered forever.

Interactive whiteboards seem to be the ball field de-jour.

interactive, whiteboard, teaching

1 Comment

  1. Patrick

    If Freud could respond to your post he would just say that “somtimes a board is just a board.”

    Critics who always want to find that magic bullet in a classroom technological tool that will transform instruction will always be disapointed.

    Most, maybe all, new technology will always be a small evolutionary step forward, not the revolutionary second coming to solve education’s problem of how to help teachers better integrate technology. It’s not unlike the next version of an operating system or software- small improvements, not the final and last solution.

    Yes, interactive whiteboards and any other tool’s value will always reflect the ability and skills of the teacher using it, and that will always be the case for any instructional tool. Many will make use of it’s basic features (and the simple ability to record and distribute teacher notes quickly and easily is often overlooked as a selling point); some will understand how to integrate the more advanced features, a few may use the board to teach in a way that they couldn’t teach otherwise. And others may just use it like a chalkboard.

    The whiteboard or any other technology won’t transform teaching, because it wasn’t designed to do that. Those who want that transformation in teaching will need to look for an instructional or staff development solution.

    All teachers I know who use the interactive whiteboards in the classroom love the device and way it facilitates their teaching. And from classroom perspective, that’s good enough for evaluating if these boards are worth it.

    So, unless one wishes to advocate for a return to the green chalkboard, eraser, and chalk, appreciate the progress of interactive whiteboard for what it is, and understand what it isn’t. After all, it’s just a board. And unless one longs for the days of chalk dust, progress, though evolutionary in its small steps, is a good thing.

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