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Interactive whiteboards 1: what the research says February 2, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, research, Technology.

In an earlier post, I mused on the possibility of conducting a desk analysis of interactive whiteboard research. Once unearthed, there’s an adequate sufficiency through which to riffle, so  that took slightly longer than I would have hoped. The following constitutes a summary of that literature review, once more often frustrated by the number of articles trapped behind publisher’s paywalls.


As the millenium turned and IWBs began to filter into educational settings, research followed close behind. The majority of the early reviews were small-scale, localised case studies or action research, often in single institutions. Given that the spread of the technology was far from ubiquitous, this was hardly surprising. As time passed, and more and more schools began to explore the technology, which in the UK received pump-primed funding from national and local initiatives, the scope and scale of research could change to embrace larger scale deployments, over longer time periods and bring to bear greater resources in terms of research teams. This also meant the focus could shift towards more longitudinal matters, like the change process for accommodating this new technology and the impact it was having on teachers and learners. As the technology has become more mature, indeed reaching the point where it needs to be refreshed, are studies taking the opportunity to look back over the progress made since the early, exploratory steps?

I’ve assembled a timeline of research articles which are on the whole accessible (i.e. not behind paywalls). Included are my brief comments and where available, a link to the original report/article. Switch to the ‘Text view’ to see more detail in a list layout.

IWB Timeline

IWB Timeline on Timetoast

Early days (2001 – 2004): The honeymoon period?

These initial explorations tended to focus on the contexts within which the technology was deployed, the benefits which became immediately apparent and any issues which began to emerge. Given the brief period time period over which the technology had been available, tentative offerings with language couched in terms like ‘suggests’ and ‘indicates’ was only to have been expected. Evidence from many of these studies centred on teacher and student perceptions (Smith et al, 2005), so one is obliged to ask whether the findings from studies on early adopters are sufficiently representative to draw reasonable conclusions.

Mid-term (2005 – 2008): Adolescence?

As the technology became more ubiquitous and usage behaviours and experience became more mature, there was a shift in the nature and emphasis of the research. Public bodies and national government seeking evidence of efficacy commissioned more rigorous, extensive and analytical research which searched for the anticipated gains in achievement and changes in approach afforded by this new technology. The impact on student achievement became a rather contested area with some studies showing positive effects under certain circumstances, yet most were unequivocal in noting few if any gains. At the same time, the effects on pedagogical approach began to receive more attention, but the overwhelming impression is that change was minimal and that IWBs largely reinforced (or amplified) existing teacher-led, whole class approaches. Established, conventional styles of teaching might have been adapted somewhat, but remained largely unchanged with little evidence of teachers moving past the second stage of Lewin et al’s (2008) 3-Stage Model and into “Embedding technologies into transformed pedagogic practices.” Perhaps this is a consequence of failure to invest in the level of professional development required to effect this transformation, a point identified in numerous studies.

Recent times (2009 – present): Plus ca change?

With more than a dozen years of experience now to draw on, one might expect to see a degree of progression in the research with papers able to draw on previous findings, but also be able to focus on the current state of play where IWBs long moved past the novelty value and are now accessible to the majority of teachers most of the time (Becta, 2010).

Much of the early research originated in the UK, but now we have countries which were slightly later to adopt  adding to the knowledge base. However the tendency is largely to repeat what has gone before, with few fresh insights. Nor apparently is anything new emerging from countries further along the adoption cycle. Where are the studies exploring long term effects? Where are studies focusing on the truly physically interactive elements, especially now that mobile technologies enable the interaction to be easily dis-located from the board itself? Is the IWB morphing into new technology using Google’s Chromecast or Apple TV etc?. Has a distinction or divergence emerged between IWBs used in different sectors? Where are the studies looking at pedagogic progress – has it peaked and/or failed to live up to the promise?


Interactive whiteboards have achieved some measure of success where implementation projects were well-planned and executed, where the technology and infrastructure was robust and reliable, where schools and teachers were receptive to the necessary changes in pedagogies and enjoyed adequate professional development opportunities to enable them to meet that challenge, and where those new pedagogies leveraged the interactive aspects of this new technology to best advantage. It would appear however that the aforementioned conditions are rarely encountered, though the broad, large-scale research to either confirm or disprove this assertion is notable by its absence.

I’m curating a list of research and non-academic articles on Zotero. If you know of any to add to the list, do please leave them in the comments below.

Harnessing Technology schools survey 2010, 2010. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA).
Lewin, C., Somekh, B., Steadman, S., 2008. Embedding interactive whiteboards in teaching and learning: The process of change in pedagogic practice. Education and Information Technologies 13, 291–303.
Smith, H.J., Higgins, S., Wall, K., Miller, J., 2005. Interactive whiteboards: boon or bandwagon? A critical review of the literature. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 21, 91–101.


1. Bob Harrison - February 2, 2014

Good work Ian…the reasons Charles Clarke introduced IWB’s are interesting.. Even more ridiculous is the fact that the original deal included a cpd programme for teachers to accompany the boards being fitted.

Sadly the procurement people in DfES stripped this out to make savings!!

ianinsheffield - February 2, 2014

Thanks Bob. Have you any links to the rationale behind Charles Clarke’s thinking? Even op ed pieces would be helpful.
On the CPD issue, it’s sad, but as you’re well aware, only all too common.

Part of the Sheffield CLCs’ initiative included a major project which put an IWB into every Sheffield primary school. This project included a professional development programme for pairs of teachers in all the schools involved. I helped deliver that programme, which was around the same time as Philippa Levy’s research report (2002). I’d love to go back in to those schools and see how things moved on; they came on board with a spectrum of attitudes and approaches … unsurprisingly not all positive.

Levy, P., 2002. Interactive Whiteboards in learning and teaching in two Sheffield schools.

2. physicsteacher - February 2, 2014

Hi Ian, does the research apply mainly to secondary level, or include primary schools also? I would imagine primary-age children engage with it much more than at our level. I would also like to see what percentage of teachers now use it as little more than a glorified projection screen (I fall into this category, and am happy to admit it. I wonder are others?)

ianinsheffield - February 2, 2014

Hi Noel,
I didn’t crunch the numbers on that (maybe a useful exercise for me to return to?), but my impression is that it was about fifty-fifty, although there was one US study which addressed IWB use in a specific HE sector.
On the issue of engagement, I can see why there might apparently be more appeal in the primary sector, though the findings indicated improved motivation (at least initially!) in students across the age range. I suspect you’re right to identify a primary/secondary split and I think the IWB is more likely to have endured and subsequently become more embedded and successful in the former. However the longitudinal studies to confirm that just aren’t there. I’d contend that the organisational structure (and curriculum and pedagogical approach?) in the primary sector is more conducive to successful acceptance and integration of IWBs, where teachers are (largely) in the same classroom with their own equipment, rather than hopping from place to place. Also where substituting an IWB for a conventional board, rather than adding it alongside is more likely. And where continuity of contact with (mostly) the same group of students throughout the day makes some of the IWB affordances offer so much more potential.
Glorified projection screen? I suspect in many cases, yes.

3. Interactive whiteboards 1: what the research sa... - April 11, 2014

[…] In an earlier post, I mused on the possibility of conducting a desk analysis of interactive whiteboard research. Once unearthed, there's an adequate sufficiency through which to riffle, so that took slightly longer than I would …  […]

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