June 13, 2010

Do we need Interactive White Boards (IWBs)?

Many times it comes up in a conversation, "Why don't you have any 'SmartBoards' (Interactive White Boards or IWBs) at your school?" I have been answering this question for the past few years with the response that when we have met the goal of one projector for every classroom then we will be ready to look at the option of adding whiteboards. Some people can't resist asking me if I had no money restrictions would I want them in classrooms. The buzz for IWBs, especially when districts are building new facilities, has been increasing for the last few years. At the spring CUE conference Robert Marzano presented data from a study that indicated better test results in classrooms using IWBs and clicker response systems. This research was funded by Promethean, a company that makes IWBs and response systems. Currently Marzano and his team are conducting workshops on the use of these tools.

Given that we operate in a world of limited resources I continue to believe that putting cameras, microphones and mobile computing tools in the hands of students along with a projector to allow students to share their work and teachers to bring the outside world into classroom are priorities ahead of IWBs. The other day there was an article in the Washington Post raising some of the questions that I have. In my professional network I recently saw this posting in Tech & Learning that struck a chord for me:
Before wasting thousands upon thousands of dollars on costly interactive whiteboards take a moment and think. Will my teachers really utilize these boards to enrich instruction in a way that justifies the cost or might my students be better served by having access to technology in their own hands? A school can start with just a projector and save thousands of dollars. You can always purchase IWBs at a later time. In fact while IWB companies fund research that shows they are effective, more and more people are finding that student achievement is no higher in classrooms with IWBs than those with projectors only. To date in five years of searching and upon visiting many classrooms, I still have not seen instruction enhanced with an IWB. It may be happening somewhere, but I haven't seen it. Smart principals should ask those teachers who want interactive whiteboards to write a proposal to justify the expense and that proposal should clearly explain and state compelling reasons explaining how IWBs will result in more effective instruction than if they used a projector alone. If they can make a case, consider the purchase. If you find, as I have, that they can accomplish most of what they are talking about with a laptop (ideally a tablet) and a projector, you may want to reconsider.
Author: Lisa Nielsen is an educational administrator and permanently certified teacher with more than a decade's worth of experience working in educational innovation at the city, state, and national level. She currently serves as Technology Innovation Manager for the NYC Department of Education.

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