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To IWB or not to IWB: that is the question . . . or is it? September 9, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Management, Resources.
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Interactive whiteboard

from 'Irregular Shed' on Flickr

The perennial argument about interactive whiteboards (IWBs) raises its head on a regular basis, yet never seems to get resolved. IWBs good, or IWBs bad? A really extensive and wide ranging discussion was opened recently by a post on WhatEdSaid’s blog, once again attracting responses from both camps. Rather than try to add more fuel to the fire by arguing the case one way or the other, when people have already made quite convincing points, I’d like to take a different approach and attempt to deconstruct the debate itself. There are three main themes:

  1. The Cost argument goes something like “I could get ‘n’ netbooks for the cost of 1 IWB.” This one lacks validity from two standpoints:
    • The sums don’t add up, by which I mean that the initial purchase price represents only one small portion of the total cost of ownership which also includes maintenance and support costs, additional peripheral costs (like software), training/PD costs, recurrent costs (consumables), disposal cost and factors in replacement at end of life. So only by accounting for TCO can a true cost comparison be made.
    • How many of something else you could get is irrelevant if an IWB is what you need. It’s like saying “I could fly to New York for the cost of the rail fare to London.” If you need to go to London, then buying an air ticket to New York . . . . well you see where I’m going with that.
  2. The Learning argument is along the lines of “IWBs promote teacher-led pedagogies.” Nope! Only teachers determine the pedagogies they will employ to support the learning of their students. IWBs will be teacher-dominated devices if teachers choose to use them that way, as indeed they will be ‘front-of-whole-class’ devices if that is the way they are used. Resourceful teachers will use the boards in whatever way they feel is appropriate for the needs of their pupils.
  3. The Training argument can be summarised by “Boards fail to deliver because teachers are inadequately trained.” Possibly. There’s no question that it helps if you’re shown how to switch them on and the rudiments of using them interactively, but after an initial introduction, it should move beyond training to become professional development . . . and with the support of their school, sorting your professional development is down to individual teachers.

I have to confess that I often see IWBs being used inappropriately and the minimal learning benefits being far outweighed by the cost. But then I often see TV/VCRs (yes there are still a few around!) being used poorly too . . . I’ll hold up my hand and admit I didn’t always made the best use of our bank of videos. Let me go further and touch on sacrosanct ground if I may – I don’t think textbooks are always well-used, and by ‘well’ I mean for sound learning purposes. TVs and even textbooks are sometimes used for little more than occupying the class for a while. But I don’t recall any debate over whether we ought to have TVs or books in classrooms and how much they cost and whether teachers have been adequately trained to use them. Perhaps it’s time to start?

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