See it to believe it

From inspired to dreadful, Peter Kent’s seen just about everything when it comes to interactive whiteboards. Here he talks to INTERFACE editor Greg Adams about their potential and how teachers should be using them.

What value do interactive whiteboards (IWBs) have in today’s classrooms?
IWBs are very important. Their value is that they provide ‘technology’ to teachers while they teach. In the past, teachers used to use technology to prepare their lessons before they entered the classroom, and then to keep assessment records and the like after they left. Before IWBs, when teachers ‘taught’ in the classroom usually their only tool was a stick of chalk and their voice. Research shows that it is the quality of the ‘teaching’ that has the greatest impact of the standard of student learning. But an IWB can improve the quality of teaching by giving access to the potential of ICT.

What do you see as the reality of IWB usage – in terms of the way they’re being used, compared to optimum use?
Mixed at best, but unfortunately this is often just a reflection of the current reality of a broad range of teaching standards at the moment. The introduction of an IWB into the classroom in itself is no guarantee of success. In many respects, an IWB can be thought of as an ‘amplifier’ of teaching practices. If a teacher’s underlying pedagogy is good, usually their use of an IWB will be inspired. If the teacher uses a predominately didactic method “this is the content we have to get through for the test” then their use will probably be dreadful. In general, an IWB is probably being used poorly unless it’s being used to: source content that makes lessons relevant; promote engaging discussions and thinking in the classroom; differentiate the curriculum and support different learning styles; or create meaningful links between different curriculum areas.

How can teachers and schools make the most of technology?
For school leaders in technology-rich schools there is no more important challenge than to create a culture of innovation and success. First get the people right. Successful teachers and students are innovative and focused. They know that they cannot know
everything, they collaborate and form networks. They may not know the answers but they know who to contact. If schools plan to have ICT that enhances teachers while they teach, students while they learn, and ensure that the links between teaching and learning, home and school are seamless, then they’re on the right track.

What about professional development?
Within this debate, valid points are often made about the need for more professional development for teachers. However, I think there’s a deeper underlying issue that relates fundamentally to the difference between ‘teaching’ and ‘learning.’ Not only does it seem that teaching and learning are not married, one could be mistaken for thinking that ‘teaching’ does not exist at all. As a concept, e-Learning is well established but the term e-Teaching is almost nonsense. This lack of focus on ‘teaching’ when it comes to the classroom use of technology is a big problem, and one of the main reasons why the educational potential that ICTs hold out has been so elusive and generally unfulfilled.

Can anyone use – or learn to use – an interactive whiteboard?
Yes. It’s easier than integrating other forms of technology. This is one reason why they are so popular. They provide IT dummies a safety net, in that if all else fails it can be used as a regular whiteboard!

What skills are required?
Most of the files that I use in my presentations require only three: how to insert clipart; how to insert text; and how to lock text and clipart. We know how easy this is in PowerPoint or Word – well, it’s even easier in most IWB software. For beginners (their first lesson), I usually encourage people to check the board’s resource library or simply surf the Internet to find an interactive learning game. This is probably the best place to start.

What are the benefits they bring?
I could write a book about this! But briefly: Multi-modal/multiliteracy teaching (encompassing various forms of communications technology) becomes a lot simpler due to the constant abundance of multimedia. Negotiating the curriculum is easier as the Internet can provide a wide range of resources, so that you can teach concepts in almost any context. Scaffolding is a lot simpler in that all your lessons are accessible at anytime. With training, students can scaffold themselves by making their own links to previous lessons (perhaps in differing curriculum areas).

Can you give any specific examples of the ways in which IWBs can enhance and improve the teaching/learning process?
Yes, but not easily. Using an IWB is somewhat of a ‘see it to believe it’ type of thing. I find that when you try to convert the rich teaching and learning activity into text you lose a lot.

In your experience, what is done wrong with IWBs?
The most common mistakes are (in no particular order):
• ‘Mobile IWBs’. It usually takes around 15 minutes to set up and another 10 to pack up. Most teachers will not bother;
• ‘Buying only one to see how it goes’. Teachers starting out with IWBs need to share and reflect with other teachers using them. If there is only one board with one teacher this cannot happen;
• ‘Not providing teachers time to share and reflect’. Professional dialogue is very important and teachers need to have time quarantined from the rest of the week so that they can do this.

Is there anything else that can impact on the effectiveness of IWBs?
The ability for teachers to move beyond the basics is often limited by the amount of ICT peripherals that they can combine with their use of the IWB. For example, an Internet connection and access to a digital camera are a must, though microphones, scanners, digital slates, microscopes, data loggers, student response systems … all add to the richness. A stand alone IWB is like a Porsche with $5 worth of petrol in it. It will work, but what’s the point!

Do you have any general advice?
Whichever pedagogical model a school uses to guide the implementation of IWBs, make sure that the teachers and school leaders have a general capacity to both describe and differentiate between ‘pointless’ and ‘inspired’ teaching practices. And invite a ‘resident expert’ in curriculum and pedagogy to become a critical friend towards, or better yet an active participant in the implementation of IWBs.

What do you think the future holds for interactive whiteboards?
I think there is a certain amount of inevitability around their uptake and, in the future, 99 per cent of classrooms will have one. However, I’m not expecting much upgrading of the hardware, as is the case with the Internet, most improvement will come in software upgrades.

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Categories: Article, Issue 1