Success with Interactive Whiteboards Guaranteed?

[I recently learned an article I wrote late this past summer was picked up in a publication called The State of the School Market Report. Thought I’d share with my blog followers until the time when I post more interviews as promised. Stay tuned!]

Interactive whiteboards are growing in popularity with classroom teachers around the globe.

Over the summer a relative who had just completed her first year of teaching came by for a visit. She was excited to share all the news about her classroom experience. My spouse and I are both teachers so we were excited to hear her news. She’s a smart, energetic and tech savvy person who, during her last visit, shared that she had found a great teaching position in the DC area. What she didn’t know until she started was that she would be the first teacher in her school to receive an interactive whiteboard. Not only was she thrilled to use this new technology, she said her students couldn’t get enough of it.

“What was it about the whiteboard that made your kids so excited?” I asked. She responded “The kids love to get up and interact with the board. It’s really empowering. Even students that show little interest during classroom time wanted to participate.”

“Not only that,” she continued, “I also received ‘clickers’ with my whiteboard, so I can conduct in-class polls and interactive quizzes in real time. Using the clickers with an interactive whiteboard (IWB) allows me to know who is participating and who is not. Who gets it and who doesn’t. I’m so lucky to have both pieces of technology available to me. Other teachers in the school often poke their head in to see what all the fuss is about. It’s really cool!”

Immediately I thought of that old Chinese proverb:

“Tell me and I’ll forget;
show me and I may remember;
involve me and I’ll understand.”

Could it be that interactive whiteboards have the potential to re-invent and re-invigorate education in a way never experienced before? You bet, but that journey has just begun and there’s a long road ahead.

While following a recent House of Representatives discussion on the Future of Education, I learned more about the successes of interactive whiteboards in the classroom but was surprised to find out that only 16% of classrooms in the US were using interactive whiteboards whereas 70% of UK classrooms were using the same technology. Why was the US so far behind in implementing IWBs into classrooms? This number will most definitely rise in the US, in part due to the ARRA stimulus package that recommends schools invest in interactive whiteboard technology, but still there are more issues at stake here than just universal classroom access.

This past spring, I was surprised to find many education publishers scrambling to figure out what their interactive whiteboard product response would be. They all wanted to be a player in this fast moving ed tech arena, but it felt that not enough serious thought was going into how best to use this new medium. I could hear the publishers thinking out loud; What new products should they consider making? How should they be developed? What states should they target? What relationships need to be formed? It’s clear that there’s huge opportunity here in the IWB product space, and proof could be found in many places. Testimonials from satisfied teachers, IWB visibility at this year’s NECC event, ed newspaper and magazine articles, the projected 700,000 IWB units to be sold in 2009. However, not all IWB solutions are destined for immediate classroom success.

In the same way that there are differences between what makes a textbook successful and what makes for a great online learning experience, publishers need to pay close attention to what makes an interactive whiteboard applications succeed. Simply converting static text pages into static PDFs is not the answer. That may work for overhead projectors, but doing so turns an interactive whiteboard into a very expensive overhead projector, a huge waste of technology dollars. Instructional specialists need to exploit the opportunities presented by interactivity and student participation. Instruction changes dramatically when you make the shift from linear print or “sage on the stage” lectures to interactive engagement. The IWB products that will succeed are ones that understand this small, but very important difference. It’s a vital component that traditional editorial experts might miss.

Media expert Marshall McLuhen, father of the phrase “The medium is the message,” quoted years ago that when communication changes as a result of new media technologies. “It is the framework which changes… not just the picture within the frame.” Publishers might easily focus to closely on the content that appears within the frame at the expense of the entire framework. Having an intimate understanding of the framework is what will lead to “frame” successes with interactive whiteboards. Until this concept becomes universally understood by creators and publishers of IWB materials, schools might easily end up purchasing products that will do little to benefit and involve students effectively. The same can be said with any new technology, not just interactive whiteboards.

So, if interactive whiteboards become commonplace in all classrooms and IWB products include meaningful interactions that students can benefit from, our education future looks bright and rosy, yes? Well, almost.

The last piece of the puzzle that will push interactive whiteboard success over the top involves teachers. The language and method of teaching in an interactive manner may prove a challenge at first for some teachers. Not because new technologies introduce technical hurdles that are too big to get over, though that can happen. The delivery of instructional content that is interactive is different. The teaching process can change when you invite student participation and interaction though IWBs. Interactive instruction can include many more two-way conversations, involving students at a deeper level of understanding than through traditional methods. This is a great opportunity, and one that needs to be supported with professional development. Those comfortable with the language of interactivity may thrive whereas teachers who are less familiar making a connection through such interactions with technology will need guidance.

I’m excited by the opportunities that lie ahead for schools that embrace interactive whiteboards. Our young relative is too. She’s eager to return to the classroom, having just accepted a new teaching position at Virginia school that has an interactive whiteboard in every classroom. “That’s fantastic!” we exclaimed! “Yes, it is,” was her somewhat somber reply “but friends of mine who are just now accepting teaching positions in other areas the country are not so lucky. Many of them are going into schools that have yet to invest in interactive whiteboards. I can’t imagine doing that after the success I had in my own classroom.” I said not to worry. “They will have their chance. This is a change that is moving quickly. If they don’t have whiteboards available this year, I’m betting they will soon, and I’m sure the IWB hardware and software solutions are certain to be even better next year.”

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9 Responses to “Success with Interactive Whiteboards Guaranteed?”

  1. Warren Buckleitner Says:

    More great stuff Scott. I’m just back from NAEYC and played with the Hatch smart table — they’ve hooked a document camera into it, so can quickly import a picture and turn it into a sliding tile. I’ll post a video shortly — promise.

  2. Susan Gunnewig Says:

    Thank you for the excellent, insightful look into interactive whiteboard in classrooms. In early childhood, there an activity bundles that can be uploaded into the board that is tied to scientific research and standards.

  3. Tim McManus Says:

    Scott, my daughters’ school installed these about two years ago. I am a serious propeller-head and have seen them in a corporate environment, but these things were a notch up. They are a complete interactive large-format display device. They blew me away.

    The kindergarten teachers gave us a demonstration and it was fascinating. The boards take the place of a traditional chalk board, an overhead, a television, a VCR, a DVD player, and much, much more. The software integration is fluid and the interfaces are easy for children to work in.

    We saw a demonstration of interactive flash cards, matching games, using your fingers to write large capital letters, and such. I was especially pleased that they were in every classroom K-8.

    I am delighted that this technology exists and is being leveraged in this way. It is very expensive to integrate, but well worth the expense. Let’s hope it evolves and gets into every classroom in America!

  4. Scott Says:

    Thanks for sharing Tim. Great to hear your experiences and it sounds like the state you live in has a forward thinking approach to technology in the classroom. I was reading recently that about 85% of all school districts in the US have an interactive whiteboard, but that number is misleading if you compare it to the 16% of classrooms in the US have an interactive whiteboard. While some states have most classrooms wired with these devices, other states have really yet to begin the effort in earnest. I think the future of this of technology will migrate to any surface, not just the one at the front of the classroom. Imagine each student’s desk interacting with the whiteboard at the front of the class!

  5. John Koetsier Says:

    I was recently in SMART Technologies (one of the key IWB vendors) head office in Calgary and had the opportunity to tour the projects they’re working on. Not only are their current products very, very good, they are working on some amazing things for the future.

    I’m pretty sure every classroom will have these fairly soon.

  6. Mark Says:

    Great post. Having used a Promethean one for four years I could not imagine teaching today without it and the Expression clickers that we got recently. I think the real magic is in how one second I can be writing and drawing like on the old chalkboard and the next flying round the world on Google Earth or getting kids to share and present the work they put on the network.

    I tried to express it to a colleague who was talking about 1:1 with laptops and decided that what made the interactive whiteboard special and potentially more powerful as part of the classroom tools was that the multimedia was open for all of the class to discuss and not a solitary, private experience…. truly social media!

    I also do think publishers are getting it and I see National Geographic, Pearson and others are all putting lessons on Promethean Planet (which is an awesome site BTW) http://www.prometheanplanet.com/

    The SMARTtables sound interesting but I was told they were $8000 EACH!!!

  7. Scott Says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for sharing. I think an important part about technology for everyone to keep in mind is that no one platform solves everything. 1:1 computing can be great for 1:1 instruction. Interactive whiteboards can be great for a whole classroom discussion. Smart Tables (yes they are expensive, but cool!) are great for small group instruction. One day when we finally have our Apple Tablets, they too will be good for both 1:1 and small group.

    I do think it’s great that publishers are making their materials more readily available for IWB, and Promethean Planet is a great resource, but what I find discouraging is that a majority of the materials listed there are “Promeathean Ready” as opposed to “Promethean Powered”. Anyone and any publisher can create static graphics and call them “whiteboard ready”. Only a few forward thinking companies actually produce great IWB products that take advantage of effective interactive features.

  8. Sandra Rerecic Says:

    Working for an education publisher in the IT department I have seen how our companies has transformed the way we look and produce new products. We have interactive whiteboard resources , EBooks (whiteboard friendly) and other digital resources. Making sure these resources are compatible with all IWBs is important. We are doing what our tagline says “Bring Literacy to Life”. Thanks for great post Scott.

  9. Scott Says:

    Thanks Sandra for your thoughts! Portability from one platform to another is definitely in an educators best interest. At the same time, taking advantage of specific benefits one platform may offer over another is also equally important. Take note publishers!

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