Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Got Money for a Really Expensive Set of Training Wheels? I’ve Got An IWB to Sell Ya.

Editor’s note: Here’s another in the series for those who have been following the great debate going on here at The Innovative Educator over the effectiveness of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs).

I’ve never understood how the IWB companies could fool so many into needlessly wasting their money by misinforming them of the capabilities of the device which I believe provide no value over the Tablet / projector combo, yet cost as much as $1000 - $3000 more. Yet the debate about the device has helped answer this question thanks to many who’ve contributed comments, including, most recently Peter Kent who sums up some of the debate to date here at The IWB debate - where do you stand?

In our latest round, Mr. Kent acknowledges in his comments that he agrees with my belief that “everything that could be done with an IWB could be done with other / cheaper technology,” however, he shares that this is besides the point. As I read through his insights into my misguided flaws in thinking, I realize, he’s right indeed. He breaks it down in two parts. Here is an excerpt from Part 1 where he helps me understand why schools are wasting thousands of dollars on these devices when money could better be spent on resources for students.

The problem is with the message you are weaving, the narrative. It is misguided, though well intentioned, and if there has to be a right or wrong in the issue – you would be wrong.
    • 1st Wrong Thing - Humans are emotional and are not rational, and you are insisting that teachers act as if they are absolutely rational.

      In your posts you never mention the broader context in schools that we need to consider. Non-techie teachers (the vast bulk of teachers) are not comfortable with technology, with the concept of computers within classrooms, and while it is not rational we need to accept that. Prior to IWBs (last century) the concept of 2 or 3 computers in a classroom used to freak out the vast majority of teachers. They were however comfortable with the concept of a ‘Board’ in the room. This was the revolutionary nature of IWBs, and still is. For emotional and non-rational reasons it was technology that the vast bulk of teachers were prepared to buy into. This is what I think IWB manufactures talk about when they use the term ‘bridging technology’.
      An IWB is like the training wheels that teachers need as they come to terms with and hopefully eventually move to a richer and more diverse range of technologies within the classroomSo the while the detail of what your posts say are true on the surface, they are wrong within the context of ‘the real world’.

Mr. Kent is correct. I lack some of that social emotional empathy that others have and in it’s place have a more black and white view of things. A decade into the 21st century and I’m tired of the training wheels already. Especially when the funds to purchase those extraordinarily expensive wheels means fewer resources for students. I’d prefer to save those dollars by spending some time with teachers showing them how they can teach more effectively when they ditch the board, and have a seat to get down and dirty with their students (who may or may not be in the same room as them) and get to the work of learning. I understand that many teachers cling to what they believe is their rightful place, front and center of the room, but there is a better way, and it involves tying learning to people not places. And, if you’re wondering, that doesn’t mean I’m suggesting abandoning direct instruction, but rather that we make a shift in the thinking about the place from where it is delivered. When we break down the wall between the teacher up front and everyone else behind him or her we can all move ahead into the 21st century together regardless of physical location of the teachers or learners.

Note: For my response to his 2nd wrong thing about my thinking, read the comment section here.


  1. @innovative educator.

    Firstly I am happy with @Kent3ed, Peter Kent or Peter, but not really Mr Kent. We cringe at formality in Australia, it is part of who we are.

    Secondly, don't you just love it when your words get thrown back at you, well done.

    This will be short, but there are just a couple of things I want to throw back at you:

    You Said:

    I agree that there are a LOT of tech no nos. In fact a lot of teaching no nos and each one could have an entire book dedicated to them, but for now, I’ll pick the one that is extremely expensive and provides little value add for now.

    To this I say 'good point', and I would love to be a fly on the wall when you next meet a smarmy representative from one of the high end video conferencing companies suggesting $20,000 + room fit outs to do what Skype and many others technologies can do for free (just not in 1020HD). It is easy to get the impression that maybe an IWB installer van once backed into your car and refused to pay the damages.

    Also I think the next place this particular debate should go is around the concept of 'teacher centric' classrooms and how best to facilitate student use of technology in the context of limited funds (ie not a 1:1 environment). Particularly where an IWB / Laptop Projector could fit in to this.

    There is a lot of token student use of tech out there, and while I have not got onto it yet I am not convinced that a projector and a laptop / tablet is a good way to go.


    Peter @Kent3ed

  2. Thanks Kent, among other things, for the cultural lesson. Noted and I think that makes sense.

    Love your point about video conferencing. As you may have guessed, YES!!!! Another pet peeve. I just emailed a teacher looking for equipment and training and advised him to forget the expense and video conference for free with Skype sharing this post: Make your classroom a global communication center for free with Skype http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/04/make-your-classroom-global.html to connect with experts.

    As far as an incident with an IWB installer van, not the case. In fact I am friends with many of the employees of these companies, but I just have never liked the wares they sell.

    As far as the next place, “teacher centric” is a good way to go, another is learning that doesn’t need to be tied to a place…or even time. Additionally, when we think outside the ban embracing student-owned devices including cell phones, the possibilities for learning increase tremendously. It is then that the projector indeed may lose significance as with this type of learning students are not all sitting in the same space, learning the same thing, at the same time from the same person.

    So many great things to talk, think, write about. Now I need a gadget to help me find more time…

  3. We will have to be careful not to find too many points of agreement. Where would the fun be in that.

  4. My IWB is too high for students to reach the top half which defies the point of the interactivity and is a symptom of the teacher-centric mentality of whoever installed it.

    I solve this problem by giving students my wireless mouse to use, so it may as well be a screen and projector set up, with maybe a tablet thrown in.

    Our school was recently had a $30 000 hi definition portable video conferencing tv and camera set up forced upon us by the department. The setup only conferences with the same equipment, which limits us to other schools in the state (Victoria, Australia). Our techies have been able to bypass the fancy technology, plug in a cheap webcam and use it to skype, or as a simple display when teaching. Something that could have been bought for $1000. What a waste!