A few days ago, Google announced on their multiple blogs a new product called Jamboard. Breathlessly described as “a collaborative, digital whiteboard that makes it easy for your team to share ideas in real-time and create without boundaries. We’re moving the whiteboard to the cloud”.
Many educators I follow on Twitter and elsewhere passed along the post, some playing up the tight integration with Google G Suite (once known as Drive, Docs, Apps for Education and maybe a few other names) and Chromebooks, with more than a few touting how wonderful this device would be for the classroom.
There were a few voices yelling back at the hype, of course. But the hype that accompanies any big corporate announcement like this – whether the product is free or “under $6000” – usually wins.
However, I want to yell back anyway.
Based solely on Google’s press release, it’s pretty clear the Jamboard is just another interactive whiteboard (IWB). The hardware certainly appears to be top notch, including a 4K display, HD camera, speakers, Wi-Fi and a “cool stand” (according to one tweet). But it’s still an interactive whiteboard, technology that should have died as a classroom tool years ago.
Schools have already wasted tens of millions of dollars on these devices that are generally used as little more than a glorified chalkboard crossed with slideshow software featuring rolling dice. More than anything, installed in a classroom, they further lock in place the traditional teacher-directed model of instruction.
I have heard from IWB advocates who insist that it’s possible to design meaningful activities in which student interact with the boards. I’m still waiting to see it. To see anything beyond kids lining up for their turn to touch the board in response to a question. Or several students participating in some kind of contest at the board. Activities we used to do with raised hands and chalk.
Even if the price of this Google board drops by 90%, it will still be a waste of money. Instead we need to spend the meager funds governments are willing to provide for public education on technology that students use directly. Devices and software that allow them to create, communicate, and express themselves in new ways and to new audiences.
That will never describe a whiteboard, no matter how digital you make it.