Relative newcomers to North American schools, Interactive Whiteboards are seen by many as revolutionary tools, as a salutary innovation for modern-day teaching. Others, however, are left wondering what exactly makes those boards so much better than a plain old whiteboard and a projector. This blog is an attempt to answer this question with a quick, simple dive into the realm of possibilities offered by IWBs.
Before even considering the interactive powers of such technology, one must consider how they make it easier for teachers to write more clearly on the board, as pointed out by R J Tolley in his article. Math teachers can make any geometrical shape appear, or create any graph from their computer instead of drawing them with overly approximative lines and measures, while history teachers can create a clear and clean timeline and annotate it directly on the board. Those possibilities, along with mind-mapping, drawing tools, built-in maps and countless other applications, allow teachers to present well structured and designed material to their students directly on the board.
Moreover, IWBs offer the advantage of easily combining slides, videos and audio material and of allowing students to participate to problem solving directly on the board. This means that they make it easy for teachers to create hands-on, multisensory lessons, which, as pointed out by Annie Teich in her article on IWBs, is the best way to get students to learn. Things like interactive problem solving or virtual trips naturally tend to make the students more involved, more interested.
IWBs can also be used by teachers to save everything they write on the board. This way, a student missing class could easily be sent all of the examples or notes that were presented by the teacher. These notes can also be reused in a revision class, during which they can be annotated or modified, without any of these alterations being permanent. These possibilities are part of a long list presented in the following article.
Now amidst all this wonderfully positive information about IWBs I managed to gather, I happened to stumble across an interesting blog article in which it was explained how a school in the U.S. was actually getting rid of its IWBs because they were not any use. This article explains that such boards are good for a “teacher speaks in front of the class” format, which must disappear from our schools, and that iPads or other such tablets are much more useful as they can be used by each student and can still be linked to an Apple TV when needed. This option may indeed seem good, but for schools which do not have the luxury of equipping each student with his personal tablet, my feeling is that IWBs are probably the best option available.
Of course, like any other innovative technology, Interactive Whiteboards have to be used wisely and to their full potential if they are to improve education in a significative manner. If they are used as mere projectors, then that is what they will remain, and the simple fact that they are new won’t do anything to get students more involved in their classes.