Thursday, 9 June 2011

Interactive Whiteboards: the Right Technology used in the Wrong Way

My long standing enthusiasm for wireless slates has often been confused with an out and out rejection of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs). This isn't the case. My objection to IWBs has always been that they have been installed as whole class teaching and learning aids in place of large display screens and other methods of providing interactivity. By combining the display function with the input function you end up with a compromise and therefore not the most suitable display, and not the most suitable input device. The display is not big enough, or high up enough for good visibility to the whole of the display area from the back of a classroom, and you have to come to the front and obliterate the view for some of the class for some of the time in order to utilise the touch-sensitive surface. So as a tool for use with a typical class of 30 learners in a typical size classroom (around 56 square metres or less) it is sub-optimal.

However, in a different teaching and learning environment, with much smaller groups of pupils, I am a keen advocate of IWB technology, especially now that the hardware manufacturers have cracked multi-touch, such as with the Smart SB800. In conjunction with a short throw projector, I have seen some fantastic collaborations between learners around a board, whether this be with gifted or talented youngsters, or those with special needs. Software is key to this, of course, but the ability for learners to model, to control simulations, to try things out together is motivating, captivating and exciting. It is not just vertical boards, but table top versions too, that can offer hours of fun learning. And why shouldn't learning be fun?

The real challenge now though, in these belt-tightening times, is whether the comparatively high cost of these systems makes them unaffordable. Can schools justify the cost in relation to the improved outputs, that is, higher attainment? I suspect they will. For example, I am currently working with four schools seeking to install interactive touch-panel screens in Nursery classrooms, for small groups of children.

So I do believe that IWBs are excellent, albeit quite expensive, tools for teaching and learning. It is their place at the front of a classroom for interactive whole class teaching that I dispair over.

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