wasting bandwidth since 1999

Wasting Money on Tools For Bad Teaching

Over the past few years, I’ve delivered a few rants (here and elsewhere) about the wastes of money and time that are interactive whiteboards.

But I’m just one of those evil central office types who never had one in my classroom. What do I know?

So instead read the reflections of a 6th grade language arts teacher who experimented with an IWB in his classroom for a year and then told his school to take it away.

His whole post, Wasting Money on Whiteboards…, is worth reading (as are the comments and his follow-up post) for some excellent insights on technology and learning.

I’d go even farther, though, and argue that even WITH time and training, Interactive Whiteboards are an under-informed and irresponsible purchase.

They do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning. Heck, even whiteboard companies market them as a bridging technology, designed to replicate traditional instructional practices–making presentations, giving notes, delivering lectures–in an attempt to move digital dinosaurs into the light.

Do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-deliver instruction easier?

If we could turn control of learning over to students, we’d probably see motivation AND academic growth levels rise all at once. Classrooms would become innovative places that students were drawn to instead of the snooze palaces that they seem to be for so many kids today.

If those are the outcomes we most desire, then why are we wasting money on Interactive Whiteboards–tools that do little to promote independent discovery and collaborative work? Sure–you could argue that when used as an instructional center, whiteboards become more interactive, but that is one REALLY expensive center, don’t you think?!

(emphasis is mine)

So, with IWBs we waste money on a technology that reinforces a “teacher-centric model of learning” and does “little to promote independent discovery and collaborative work”.

That’s IWBs in a nutshell!


  1. Jim Randolph

    I agree. I haven’t seen one great use for them, but I also haven’t had one in my classroom. A high school math teacher I know has commandeered a few of the unused ones at his school and swears by them. But, over all, I have not been impressed with what I’ve seen vs. the cost of these things.


  2. Mark

    Disagree, disagree, disagree. In K-3 IWB are a tool at which the whole class can do joint computing.
    *1st graders using the edit function in MovieMaker to order the elements of a story and product a video – together as a group of 5. Some pushing the video around, some giving advice.
    *K group of students building a photostory, for creating stories with a middle beginning and end. The group includes a special needs student who can interact using the computer running the smartboard and intellikeys – so she’s an equal in the process.
    I’m a big believer in letting groups of kids work together on a computer. See Sugata Mitra’s explanation of research which started the push for small cheap computers for the 3rd world. Kids naturally work together and learn from one another. The tactile nature and large screen of IWB are ideal for fostering sharing of tech learning in the D-3 environment.
    You are correct, there are many bad uses, but let’s not throw the babies (K-3) out with the bathwater (IWBs).

  3. Brett

    Some tools are useful* to some people and not to others (except Blackboard, that’s just crap). While I agree that IWBs are expensive devices that help teachers maintain traditional teaching approaches I could say the same thing about loads of other pieces of technology… it’s pretty clear that (many/most) teachers use technology to maintain traditional teaching practices (I mean c’mon, having kids word process instead of handwrite is hardly mindblowing integration). The problem isn’t typically the tool in the equation; the pedagogy and learning beliefs of the teacher are to question… Additionally, the education decision makers that make blanket decisions to standardize (often closed & proprietary) technology tools across the board (like putting an IWB in every classroom) without actually talking to teachers about what they think might be useful and needed (possibly b/c said “leader” thinks it might be useful – or, maybe they saw a cool demo at at show or something). In any case, I have seen teachers whose teaching genuinely improved when they received an IWB… but in those cases, those teachers asked for the IWBs and were able to discuss pedagogical implications to getting one. Again, this is NOT a testament to the tech, but to the teacher. If we want to have meaningful tech integration, we need to stop talking about the technology…

    *useful defined as a tool the teacher believes helps him or her be a better teacher

  4. Tim

    Mark: All of that sounds wonderful but in how many classrooms equipped with $1500 interactive whiteboards are these activities happening. In my possibly-limited experience, teachers control the technology and students only interact with it with permission and within the plans.

    However, invite me over sometime. I’d love to see examples of good, collaborative, truly interactive instruction using an IWB.

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