Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too

Last week I had a lengthy conversation with a big wig at an IWB company who was trying to convince me that my idea that educators could Erase Unnecessary Costs by Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards was way off. He couldn't understand how I could think that it was unnecessary to spend money on a tool that will allow students to collaborate, promote interactivity, and connect the classroom to the world. Ugh! This is what these IWB companies spend millions trying to get you to believe. Purchase their board and you get all this. So, I shared, that while I do agree those things are valuable, I don't need an IWB for any of it and that they just trick people into thinking they need the device for these things to happen. He asked if I've ever used one. Yes! And, I hate them. There is not a single thing I can do on an IWB that I can't do without one more effectively. Then he went into the whole training bit. No, I don't want training on something that's really expensive that has no value over teaching without one.

It just irks me that these companies lead people to believe they need to spend thousands when they can do the same thing and better using free tools.

Well, I have a blog post brewing that really dives into why these devices make learning worse and why schools and districts should instead spend their dollars on resources for students, but I haven't had the chance to write it (someday, I hope). However, serendipitously I came across a piece that shares many of my sentiments. Mine has a slightly different spin, but until that post makes it's way to the top of my pile, I'll share this one written by educator, author, blogger Bill Ferriter. Like many educators after a year of trying to make the best of a bad tool, Bill began Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

In his article "Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards," Bill, who gave his IWB away, shares in my belief that...
most of the time, interactive whiteboard programs are, in fact, nothing more than vain attempts to buy change. Sharing that even with time and training, interactive whiteboards are an under-informed and irresponsible purchase. They do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning. Heck, even whiteboard companies market them as a bridging technology, designed to replicate traditional instructional practices (make presentations, give notes, deliver lectures) in an attempt to move digital teacher-dinosaurs into the light. I ask you: Do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-deliver instruction easier?
To read more pearls of wisdom from Bill visit his article here Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards.


  1. I believe part of the issue is that the people who make the decisions about these purchases are people who fall for the "pitches" by the IWB companies. And the reason they fall for them is because they don't know any better - they're not connected and don't know the other side of the argument or alternatives. Until this particular group of people who approve spending hear the whole story, they'll continue to think that purchasing IWB is the "tech" answer.

  2. I am sorry to say that I partially agree with you that in the wrong classroom or in the hands of the wrong teacher IWB's can become a fancy chalkboard. However, just like anything else, the teacher that takes the time to make it interactive for their students will find it very useful. I sometimes teach from the front, I usually teach by being a facilitator and creating lessons that my students can be the interactive participants in. Using the lesson toolkit that comes with smart board or other interactive web 2.0 sites keeps me and my students energized. As a science teacher I want to model creativity and self learning. I find my IWB to be an asset in my classroom. I am lucky in that I also have a tablet, document camera, digital video and still camera, set of six computers and access to a computer lab. I have access to a set of 30 flip cameras and best of all I have access to students that are willing to try new and adventurous activities. They are willing to go with the flow, change it up, and see what happens. Some things work, some do not and when my white board is not accessible, which is rarely, then I just reinvent what I was going to do. Good teachers are not good because of technology but technology can help them bring in reluctant learners and provide access beyond the boring textbook. Please rethink using the IWB software in your classrooms to enhance your already terrific lessons. You might be surprised by what you see.

  3. @winterscience, I have no doubt that you are doing all the great things you mention and that you are doing them on an IWB. However, you don't need an IWB to do these things. Another fallacy that some who love the IWB software (which companies will admit is designed to promote dependency) don't realize is that you don't need an IWB to effectively use the software. A recommendation I make to schools who a couple thousand extra bucks to spend is rather than purchase an IWB purchase a class set of student response systems. This way you've put resources in the hands of all students and at the same time have access to the software. Or, if it's the software that you really love, you can purchase that without the costly IWB.

    I remained unconvinced that this purchase is a wise one for schools, many who are strapped for funds and if empowered with knowledge could put their dollars to better use.

  4. I absolutely agree with you for two main reasons:
    1. I also haven't seen anything mind blowing on an IWB that couldn't be done using other tools.
    2. The truly cutting edge schools that I've seen/visited (i.e. those that effectively integrate e-learning and put authentic learning first and foremost) haven't invested in IWB's.
    For my school the question of whether 'To IWB or not to IWB' is a no brainer anyway as we have some ancient classroom computers that need upgrading.

  5. ...and one other thing...
    I have asked a number of teachers with IWB's these two questions:
    1. Could you live without your laptop? Answer is always an immediate 'No'.
    2. Could you live without your IWB? Answer is often a pause, sometimes a 'depends' or a 'Ermm, it's cool to have' type comments. Admittedly not a scientific survey but if I was spending thousands I know where I would focus my money.

  6. My district has money for tech, so it continues to purchase IWBs, because there is no one advising the decision-makers on a more cost-efficient alternative. I'd love to be that person.

    However, since we have a few IWBs in the district, admin says, "Great, these are cool, let's get more."

  7. Mark - that is exactly what I am saying...principals think they're "so cool" so they continue to purchase them and upper admin continues to approve the purchases. They don't consult anybody and are overcome by the "wow" factor. They look great for PR when they publish a picture of one in a classroom for the quarterly newsletter. It is frustrating for sure.

  8. This is all very interesting. My school is installing them into many classroom, including mine, over the summer. I am excited but apprehensive as I don't know what to do with it. Does anyne have any science suggestions? In the meantime I have started Is this something that an IWB could use? Please comment as to scope of this tool for the uninitiated.

  9. @Raeanne, My advice to you would be to not try to fit a square peg in a round hole. I know teachers who felt obligated to use the board because it was so expensive but it made their teaching worse so they stopped, but unknowledgeable administrators reprimanded her for it. She taught writing in a one-to-one environment and knew that modeling on the keyboard while being able to have eye contact with her students was more effective than tapping and handwriting.

    I wouldn't ask how you can use the board. I would start with your learning goals and see what tools work best around those goals.

    I would also recommend that you don't use the interactive whiteboard and instead use your laptop and projector teaching from your laptop which should be placed so that you are facing your students during instruction. All the amazing connecting and collaborating you may want to do can be done without the device which allows you to get off the stage and among the students where the learning should be occurring anyway.

  10. @Raeanne My suggestion would be to use it as interactively as possible with your students. Have your students use the board so you don't become the sole operator of the board. Not sure what level you're looking for but here are some interactive science links I've collected -

  11. Sorry for the length... a bit embarrassing really, I had to post this comment in two parts it was so long.

    A bit of context, I saw the following tweet by @grahamwegner

    I would enjoy a keynote showdown between @InnovativeEdu ( and @betchaboy ( - that would be informative

    While I am not @betchaboy, we are friends and I am easily sucked in and decided to pick up the challenge.

    I should point out that I am taking a break from creating a Keynote presentation about 'success with IWBs' for a conference.

    Anyway… my arguments. Lets start by looking at what the research says. The following are some extracts from meta-studies by BECTA UK, the largest and probably the most respected public Educational ICT research body in the world.

    “Research has repeatedly shown that the context determines any effects which ICT may have on attainment, and that it is extremely difficult to seperate the impact that the context has on attainment from the specific uses of new technologies”
    A review of the research literature relating to ICT and attainment: BECTA 2004

    “At present the evidence on attainment is somewhat inconsistent, although it does appear that in some contexts, with some people, in some disciplines, attainment has been enhanced”.
    The impact of ICT in Schools - A Landscape Review: BECTA 2007

    And my favorite piece of stating the obvious…

    “The relationship between ICT and improved student outcomes is a complex one.”
    Evidence on the impact of technology on learning and educational outcomes : BECTA 2009

    We have to embrace this complexity if we are to get the most out of ICT and / or IWBs . Lists of why we should hate IWBs, or dispelling spurious myths about them with simplistic arguments is not embracing this complexity.

    What all this research sums up and tells use clearly is…. ICT USE ON THE WHOLE DOES NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES.

    While I won’t go into listing all the research, what does make a difference is the QUALITY OF TEACHING (that thing the teacher does in the classroom).

    It is a cliché to say it but… ICT is just a tool, it is the teaching that counts. An analogy, if you had to drive from NY to Washington and you had 4 different vehicles to choose from (helicopter, car, boat, bike) it doesn’t matter which vehicle you choose if you don’t know which way to go. A helicopter will get you to Washington the quickest, but it will also take you in the opposite direction the fastest as well. Technology is not just a tool, it is an amplifier. It will amplify the users underlying skills and ability.

    Being a good teacher requires a great deal of skill, and it kills me to say this but a great deal of teachers are not very good. Whether it be a lack of motivation, lack of support, lack of a professional learning culture, or all of the above, there is a lot of poor teaching going on. The mass (and poorly thought out) distribution of IWBs is just amplifying this problem, not causing it. Though I will say that it is also amplifying the effectiveness of a large number of highly skilled teachers as well. On a large scale these two effects cancel each other out in large-scale research. It is like our head is in the oven, our feet are in the freeze… so overall we are there is no change to our average body temperature.

  12. Part 2

    One of the differences between IWBs and the suite of technologies you would prefer is the mass rollout nature. To collect the suite of technologies that you would advocate in a classroom is still quite rare on a global scale. In Australia (where I am from) and the USA 40% of classrooms have an IWB, in the UK it is 75%. I would guess that in Australia and the USA less than 2% of classroom would have 1 to 1 student computing. This means that those with lots of student computing have probably thought about it a bit more (they are innovators and being innovative almost forces you to think about what you are doing).

    The relatively small percentage of 1 to 1 computing also makes it harder to find the instances where poor teaching is amplified to dreadful. Though I have seen a plenty of instances where a teacher has been handwriting notes on a normal whiteboard while the students typed them up in a word-processor.

    Then if we are not basing our debate and thinking around IWBs and ICT on what constitutes good teaching (rather than poor teaching) we are all heading in the wrong direction.

    This of course begs the question what does high quality teaching look like. Firstly there is no one single right way to teach, and unfortunately every university that studies this question seems to want to make up their own rubric or metric to measure this. However there are some constant themes around this question:

    1. All good teaching involves creating a high level of Intellectual Quality within the student population. (Deep and High Order Thinking, Rich discussion and debate, presenting knowledge as problematic and open to question, etc).
    2. All good teaching ensures that learning is seen by students as being relevant and significant to their lives. (connecting learning to the real world, referencing the knowledge that the student brings to the classroom, etc)
    3. All good teaching creates a supportive learning environment (minimized behavior problems, students have a say over their learning, high expectations are set, high social support in the classroom)

    So our debate should be… How can ICT or IWBs contribute to the intellectual quality, relevance and learning environment we create for students? Discuss this question and you are well on the way to being an excellent teacher further enhanced by ICTs and or IWBs.

    Rather than write my response to this question I will refer you to a report I wrote earlier this year that is posted on @betchaboy’s IWB revolution Ning.

    Just one final note. I will acknowledge that a lot of your argument is around value for money. To this I would say you need to walk in the shoes of others for awhile. Many teachers and students don’t feel comfortable interacting via a keyboard and a mouse, they rather the more direct (poorly expressed) interaction that is possible via an IWB or itouch / ipad. There is no real rational basis for most of this, and we just have to accept that.

    Here endith my rant.

    Peter @Kent3ed

  13. Part 3

    I do agree however that the message put out by most IWB sellers is not helpful, they are their own worst enemy.

  14. I just received a grant to get some technology for my classroom. Wouldn't a tablet/Flat screen TV be superior to a tablet/projector? I figure you'll never have to replace an expensive bulb on the TV. Am I missing something?? Help me out. Thx!!

  15. @Anonymous, you'll want to check that the Flatscreen can connect to the Tablet before you buy it. If it can, yes! That is a very SMART idea. Keep us posted.

  16. Thank you very much for your post. We needed to have some voices on this topic.
    Do IWBs reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning? After some years of research and observation at school I'm inclined to say yes. This is the central issue: how can we help learning without being (still) the absolute centre of all? Here in Italy I suspect that this move to stress the importance of IWBs leads to support companies producing and distributing IWBs, even with the training action by the Ministry of Education. Then, if we go to see the real daily practice, IWBs remain largely under-used in the classrooms.
    Is Manurewa School right with its answers about living without laptop? Of course, yes: it's impossible to keep on teaching and going without a laptop and I add: impossible not to have an internet connection.
    As a ICT coordinator and teacher trainer I finally adopted a simple line of action: buying more laptops for each classroom and relying on Wi-fi connection, with the help of tools of Web 2.0 (mostly free) is more efficient and makes students really autonomous and self-directing.

  17. One of the school districts in my area put IWBs in EVERY CLASSROOM in ALL OF ITS SIX SCHOOLS. Don't worry, federal educational funds payed for the majority of it...

  18. I call them interactive white elephants. They may have use in primary school, but we have three in my secondary school and they are never used. Plus one on fnoschese.