Monday, June 21, 2010

The Cat's Out of the Bag. More People Are Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

Sebastian Mondrone, from my personal learning network shared today, that he saw an interesting post that reminded him of my debate about interactive whiteboards. In the post the "Two Writing Teachers" blog asks the question, Do we really need SMART Boards to teach writing well?

They began to ponder this after reading the Washington Post's article, Some educators question if whiteboards, other high-tech tools raise achievement. The article shares something I touched on in my post that urges educators to erase unnecessary costs in IWB purchases and goes on to dispel the myths of interactive whiteboards.

From the article:
Many academics question industry-backed studies linking improved test scores to their products. And some go further. They argue that the most ubiquitous device-of-the-future, the whiteboard -- essentially a giant interactive computer screen that is usurping blackboards in classrooms across America -- locks teachers into a 19th-century lecture style of instruction counter to the more collaborative small-group models that many reformers favor.
It goes on to share this from Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University.
"There is hardly any research that will show clearly that any of these machines will improve academic achievement, but the value of novelty, that's highly prized in American society, period. And one way schools can say they are 'innovative' is to pick up the latest device."
The article digs a bit deeper into the research explaining that according to many academics, industry claims about whiteboards are not based on rigorous academic studies. They then share the frequently cited study, conducted by Marzano Research Laboratory and funded by Promethean, which surveyed 85 teachers who volunteered to teach a lesson of their choice to two classes, one with the whiteboard, one without. The teachers then gave a test of their own design, with results showing an average 17-point gain in classrooms with whiteboards.

I have a few problems with the study as do others. First, They are comparing the wrong thing. They are comparing a classroom with technology to one without the thousands of dollars less expensive combo of a projector/Tablet or laptop. Again, this suggests you need to spend thousands for the same thing you can have with a much less expensive alternative. Second, an interactive whiteboard company is paying the researcher a lot of money to do the research, promote their device and tour around the country talking about how it promotes student achievement...huge conflict of interest.

Steve Ross, an education professor at Johns Hopkins University says, "It's a suggestive study -- you can't conclude anything, and that's being generous." One of the most outspoken critics of the research is Jonathan D. Becker, J.D., Ph.D. and professor at the Educational Leadership Department at Virginia Commonwealth University does a peer review of Marzano's work and concludes it to be questionable research.

Perhaps the most insightful is Chris Dede, an education professor at Harvard University, who shares that interactive whiteboards are popular precisely because companies designed them to suit the old instructional style with which teachers are most comfortable. "No one should be beating up on these companies," Dede said. "They're just doing what a capitalist society tells them to do."


  1. Whilst I agree with much of what you say that used incorrectly an IWB does encourage a teacher to stand and deliver. I would like to point out that used well an IWB can be a powerful learning tool. In my classroom the students are the ones who control the software. It is installed on their laptops and for many of them is a program of choice for self-designed interactive games and presentations. Lets not forget also that at times the teacher does have to give instructions, or details or explain concepts to a whole class or a small group and the IWB certainly makes this job more interactive and so more interesting.

  2. @Henrietta Miller, you don't need the IWB to make the lesson interactive or to use the software. This is the myth of the IWB. You are able to do the same, and, I contend better, with just a tablet/laptop and projector for thousands less. You can put that money toward hardware in student's hands.

  3. I think you've hit this one on the head. Even when we talk about the benefits associated with student use, the cost involved is inappropriate. Let them use the interactive applications on their netbooks - surely a plug-in tablet would be far cheaper than a Smart or Promethean Board. Yes, it is highly useful, but does it really serve as a tool for innovation in our teaching, or simply make it a little easier with a different look.
    I would compare this to a comment in a blog about Steve Jobs (, don't wait for customers to tell you what they want. This product seems exactly like it was produced on order from educators and presenters to work seamlessly with our old-fashioned presentation setup. We can already do this well. Lets put our money into something that lets teachers, students, and classrooms collaborate better with each other.

  4. @Brett and Kim, thank you for your feedback. I would add that I don't think there is a benefit of an IWB over just a tablet/projector. I also, don't believe the IWB is highly useful. Instead what's highly useful is the laptop/projector and access to the internet.

    I like what you shared about what educators can learn from Steve Jobs too. It's exactly why I continue to make an issue of educators wasting thousands of dollars on IWBs that instead can go toward student resources. Steve's lessons apply.

    1. Be coura­geous. If you believe that something is right then do it, despite oppo­si­tion. -Agree. The IWB companies will spend thousands to market the devices, but hopefully, more educators/administrators are learning what is true and what is a myth regarding this unnecessary investment.
    2. Do what you think is best for your customers. -In this case our cus­tomers are the students who could have hardware money allocated toward resources for their direct use rather than on an unnecessary IWB.
    3. Think ahead. And as Apple does, think way ahead. - Use technologies that will help prepare students for their future, not our present. Why not consider harnessing the power of cell phones for instance.
    4. Trust your­self and have the courage of your con­vic­tions. -Innovative educators are ahead of the game. We often know what works well before others. Don't get sucked into the marketing machine. There are many free or inexpensive alternatives for educators. Spending big bucks isn't the best indicator of providing resources to students.

  5. What can we do, as teacher-educators, when we flat out tell administrator-educators (the ones who determine where the money goes) that IWBs promote lecture-style teaching and that tech money should be used in other ways, and they buy them anyway?

    Hypothetically speaking, of course... ;p

  6. I was around in the 80's when computers were first going into schools and we heard EXACTLY the same critique. And it was valid - because many schools were rushing to do something - anything - to look current. But they were not doing the planning and staff development to make it really work.

    As soon as Superintendents have a job tenure longer than 2-3 years they will do long term things. Until then - they will pick projects like this that create the illusion of progress.

    IWB can be a powerful tool - but not if they are just tossed into schools willy nilly.

  7. @Lee Wilson, the difference to me is this. Those who were actually using the technology could articulate its benefits and explain why a computer supports learning in ways not possible without one.

    I disagree with your postulation that an IWB can be a powerful tool in that, it's not the IWB that is powerful. The power in reality comes from the laptop and projector, not the glitzy 2000 dollar add on.

    Despite all my conversations and writing about the issue, no one is able to articulate why you need an IWB to accomplish the great things they are doing. The IWB companies are very good at leading buyers to believe that all these capabilities are the result of the board, when in fact you don't need the shiny 2k toy to do any of it.