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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.

Diffusion … but not gaseous January 3, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Reading, research, Resources.
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diffusion of innovationsI recently finished Everett M Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innovations, a volume I’d been meaning to get round to reading in full for some while. In exploring how technology establishes itself in education, I’d long been aware of the notion whereby individuals within a social system can be classified into categories, based on their attitude to innovations. The rate at which an innovation is adopted by the members of a system can be plotted against time and the following is produced.

diffusion of innovations

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Wesley Fryer: http://flickr.com/photos/wfryer/2564440831/

A little mathematics divides the curve into segments, characteristics of people occupying each of the segments are established and voilà, you have the different adopter categories. You can read more about the categories in this Wikipedia article – which category are you in by the way?

I’d often wondered whether or how the five categories of adopter might be applied within a school setting, but also felt I needed to know more about the background, which is why I bought the book. The cases Rogers uses to illustrate the principles of Diffusion Theory are taken from widely varying fields (no pun intended!) like farming, health care, contraception, cell phones etc. But whenever I’m reading a book of this nature, I’m always wearing my educational specs and looking for ways to interpret and apply the findings or theory for the contexts I experience at work or in my own learning. We have a couple of major initiatives at school at the moment which would be ripe for analysis using a Diffusion Theory framework. But then something else popped into my head …

With unerring regularity, discussions (and I use the term loosely!) on the merits of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) bubble to the surface. Evidence can be seen through blog posts like this or this and  Twitter exchanges or on discussion threads like MirandaLink, the ICT Research Network or EduGeek. Opinion really can be quite polarised! To nail my colours to the mast, I’m fairly squarely in the pro-IWB camp which I guess stemmed from the time I changed careers to work in a City Learning Centre where one of my first duties was to support the roll-out of a major IWB project in primary schools across Sheffield, providing the training for the teachers involved. I guess you don’t become an accredited IWB trainer without developing some degree of passion for the subject? But that was over ten years ago; do I still feel the same? How much have we moved forward now that the technology is more mature and more ubiquitous in our classrooms? Given their age, some of the IWBs will doubtless be coming to the end of their life (I know we’ve a couple in school which are ready for replacement), so do we replace like for like … or consider alternatives like interactive (boardless) projectors, large touch-capable display screens, tablets with screen-mirroring capability?

With all those questions swimming around, it struck me that Rogers might be able to help here. First to provide a lens to look back at how IWBs were deployed originally – what might we learn by considering that deployment from a diffusion theory standpoint? And secondly looking forward to the next stage and whether we replace our IWB estate and if so, with what? So I started by looking back through the research, which is when I realised this will probably merit a bit more than a single blog post, or even two or three, so I pondered what might be a better forum through which to undertake that examination? A wiki? Maybe a Google site? Hmmm … any ideas?

More to follow …

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?

If you wish upon a Wall – Wallwisher October 3, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in Teaching Idea, Tools.
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As part of their Study Skills lessons, our Year 7 students are provided with an induction session to our learning platform.  Developing and delivering this session has fallen to me.


One of the starting points with any new class is to find out a little of their previous experience; often this might be through a Q&A session.  However since the students had access to ICT, I thought I might try an alternative approach with a tool I recently came across.  For wallwisher.com, think online noticeboard – one to which you can attach sticky notes.  It’s incredibly easy to use and quick to generate a wall, though on this occasion I took the trouble of registering – this allowed me greater control and flexibility as I was able to prepare the look of the wall and add instructions to the students explaining the task.  It also meant I had a URL I could deliver to the students through our learning platform.

The task was a simple one – “Tell me about any time you used the Internet to help your learning.” The sticky note format restricts comments in a single note to 160 characters, but image, audio or video links can be added to the post.  It didn’t take long for us to have 20+ stickies, but then things got more interesting.  Because there was an IWB in the room, we could look at all the comments on the wall, discuss any issues arising from them and using the IWB, move the notes around, creating groupings where appropriate.

A couple of things I had to bear in mind:

  • the notes were going to be visible to all on the IWB which could be open to abuse, but the students were a pleasant group of Y7s and as a result, the worst I got was one or two comments which weren’t focused on the task (The wall owner can delete notes if necessary).  Simply a matter of setting expectations.
  • walls can be either private or visible to everyone, and the same two levels of control exist for the submission of notes.  So to allow student access, I had to open the wall up to the world, with all the issues that might entail.  So I only opened the wall a few minutes before it was needed; even then we did get one comment which clearly wasn’t from the group, but fortunately in spanish!  It simply provided an opportunity for a chat about e-safety, being careful about what you post in a public place, and strategies we can use to deal with the unexpected.

It was interesting to see the students’ reactions; this is clearly not something they do often and certainly not in a learning context.  Wallwisher offers much more in a classroom context than a place simply to post notes – that’s only the starting point to lead into further discussion or a classification exercise done as a whole class or in smaller groups.  It can provide a means of drawing out comments and opinions and has obvious uses in brainstorming.  Certainly one to come back to.