wasting bandwidth since 1999

IWBs: Good Instructional Strategy?

I’m sure lots of interesting stuff came through the data stream while I was gone but catching up with all, or even most, of it is not worth the effort.

However, one item that several friends and colleagues brought to my attention is a short article from the Post on one of my favorite topics, interactive whiteboards.

Even in these rotten economic times, schools in our area are spending lots of money on these devices, despite little or no evidence they do anything to improve education.

Increasingly, though, another view is emerging: that the money schools spend on instructional gizmos isn’t necessarily making things better, just different. Many academics question industry-backed studies linking improved test scores to their products. And some go further. They argue that the most ubiquitous device-of-the-future, the whiteboard — essentially a giant interactive computer screen that is usurping blackboards in classrooms across America — locks teachers into a 19th-century lecture style of instruction counter to the more collaborative small-group models that many reformers favor.

“There is hardly any research that will show clearly that any of these machines will improve academic achievement,” said Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University. “But the value of novelty, that’s highly prized in American society, period. And one way schools can say they are ‘innovative’ is to pick up the latest device.”

Innovative?  I’m still waiting to see an IWB being used for anything other than traditional teacher-directed instruction.

And for some research (other than the highly suspect Marzano study, paid for by Promethean) showing any significant, long-term effect on student learning, something commensurate with the high costs.

Update: As an added bonus, Sylvia shows you how to save most of the $6500 cost for the next big thing, the touch table, by using some of the original interactive classroom tools: finger paints and blocks.


  1. Jenny

    Tim, make plans to come on over next year. I can’t promise to show you anything truly innovative, but I can show you instruction with smartboards that is not teacher-directed. I’m not sure it makes it worth the cost, but we have teachers who are using these devices well.

    I’m back to the idea that the device is not the issue here. Those teachers will teach in a teacher-directed way whether they are using a smartboard or not. Of course, that means they shouldn’t have that kind of money spent on this device. But we need to address the larger issue.

  2. Tom

    I’ve been looking for useful things to do with IWBs myself since we are insisting on buying them by the gross.

    In response to Jenny’s comment, I think the IWB is a tool but certain tools certainly facilitate specific actions and patterns of thought.

    The IWB does a lot to facilitate teacher centered classrooms. It seems that if you were working to get away from that (as many districts claim) it would not make sense to invest in them.

    It’d be like I was encouraging people to start eating healthy food and then we buy them a bunch of really nice deep fryers. You can figure out a way to make some healthy food using a deep fryer but it sure isn’t what it’s made for.

  3. Tim

    Jenny: You’re absolutely right that technology is probably not the driving factor in how a teacher teaches. But I agree with Tom that IWBs make it much easier for those teachers with a lecture/demo style to avoid change while still looking progressive and techie.

    I will take you up on your offer to visit next fall (I love coming to your school anyway!). I still want to keep an open mind about IWBs so even if I don’t see some innovative, I’m still hoping to see the boards being used for something beyond what creative teachers were doing with felt boards twenty years ago.

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