wasting bandwidth since 1999

Still Moving Backwards

Our annual state technology conference took place earlier this week and, as always, the three days offered a lot to think about on the drive home, including an element of ambivalence as to whether meeting like this are still relevant.

As has been the trend at edtech events over the past few years, many presentations are focused on using interactive whiteboards (IWB) and their adopted second cousins, student response systems (aka clickers).

Part of that is likely driven by the fact that one or both of the largest vendors of these devices are usually big sponsors of the conferences, and that was no different here.

Anyway, I’ve offered more than a few negative posts on IWBs around here, but I still try attend a couple of sessions on the subject with an open mind, hoping that maybe someone has found an innovative way to use them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything new.

Although students are sometimes invited to poke at the board, the examples still show the IWB being used and controlled by the teacher, and generally locking the classroom into one-way information delivery mode.

And the accompanying software, in which lessons are built, is essentially PowerPoint with lots of extra animation pieces and flashy gimmicks.

Then there are the clickers.

From where I sit, activities using them offer the illusion of student interactivity but are still completely teacher-directed and feel like little more than a multiple choice/true-false quiz show.

Advocates for these technologies always seem to arrive back at motivation as a primary justification for putting these expensive devices in every classroom.

Not that they offer students opportunities to communicate, express their creativity, or even show their learning beyond a basic, standardized test level.

Ok, fans of IWBs and/or clickers, tell me what I’ve missed, why I’m full of it and have no idea what I’m talking about.

Better yet, point me to some examples that use these devices in ways that don’t emulate teaching from fifty years ago enhanced with a few special effects.

I want someone to convince me that we’re not wasting millions of scarce dollars on technology that moves the classroom backwards.


  1. Ruth

    No, you’re right. They CAN be used interactively, but they are not. People forget they are just tools. And I’m still trying to figure out if our education with technology is any better than the education my parents got…but somehow I don’t really think so…although I’m sure the papers we turn in are neater.

  2. GingerTPLC

    Someone told me recently that it’s a “common fallacy” that IWB’s are supposed to be interactive with kids. Nay, this person went on to say, they are meant to be interactive with the material.

    I immediately clicked off that thread.

  3. Tyler Stubenhofer

    Right out of college, I started every school day for two years firing up my IWB and wireless pad. I found the accompanying software helpful with archiving – which Bill calls “GREAT instructional practice [but] the wrong tool for the job” – and it allowed making math videos for my school a bit easier.
    With that said Tim, I agree with much of what you’ve said about IWBs, for instance “IWBs make it much easier for those teachers with a lecture/demo style to avoid change while still looking progressive and techie.” You’re right; I got high-fived for two years for that reason exactly. And I ate it up. Looking back however, I was probably one of the least effective teachers at that school in terms of the math my kiddos learned.
    IWBs make some things easier. But in the end, as with too many things, they’re just a product of someone trying to make a buck who doesn’t give two rat turds about the educational experiences of kids. My goal was always just to show the kids I cared about them and loved them. That matters more anyways.
    Enjoying the blog so far and will be back frequently.

  4. James

    Trying to package “clickers” as an interactive tool is completely ignoring the true worth of them which is to gather data. I never tell my teachers that a classroom participation system is an interactive tool. It is a tool for gathering immediate data in a quick and easy way that kids seem to enjoy.

  5. Tim

    James: It’s certainly possible to use clickers to quickly assess where students are in their learning, but I don’t see a lot of that happening in the schools I’m in. Most teachers who actually use them (a relatively small percentage) do so in rather superficial ways, for games or as a “motivation”. Is that worth the $1000+ cost of each set?

  6. Meg C.

    At my school, we already have document cameras, laptops, and projectors. Several teachers have gotten IWBs (I was one of them, but chose not to take it with me when I changed classrooms). Love, love, love the document camera — I hope to never teach without one again! But as far as the IWB, I’ve found that for me, a better option is an iPad that uses AirDisplay to become a wireless 2nd monitor for my computer. I prepare a presentation ahead of time (I like the SMARTBoard notebook software, but PowerPoint or even a graphics app would work too) and then during class I wander around the room with the iPad and write on the big screen wirelessly. The iPad is about 1/4 the cost of the IWB systems, and I can hand it to a student and they can do a problem on the big screen too (math class). Then I can save the notes as a pdf file and post online for students to download later. For me, it’s a presentation tool. It is not some fancy, game-changing interactive solution. But it’s a cheaper replacement for an IWB, and rather than having to turn my back on the classroom, I get to wander among the students and lurk near troublemakers :)

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