Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are IWBs Past Their Prime?

guest post by Jacob Gutnicki

In recent months (perhaps years) many have questioned the cost effectiveness of the IWB and its siblings. More specifically, educators have voiced concerns that the IWBs are redundant as its interactive features mimic the tablet, which can be purchased for far less money. Additionally, numerous critics have lamented that the professional development services offered by IWBs are all too often substandard. In fact, a perusal of recent articles would suggest that school administrators should trash the IWBs and replace it with either tablets or Smart Phones.
Sounds crazy??? Think again. About 10 years ago, laptops became king. As such, many administrators threw out desktop computers that were still in their prime years. About 20 years ago incoming administrators broke apart computer labs, as the computing trend was to push the computers out of the lab and into the classroom. In recent years, schools have also been ditching old equipment believing that only the latest computer hardware should be used with students. This often happens, as it is convenient to purchase new equipment and follow the adage out with the old, in with the new. However, these same schools then wonder why their network-based programs no longer work or in some cases wish to reassemble the lab when computer labs are in style again. They also cry poverty claiming that their computer to student ratio is atrocious.
At the same time, there are many schools that believe that the IWB can do no wrong. In fact, they are aggressively working to outfit each room with an IWB. I have also noticed that IWB training seminars are always well attended.
So… who is right? After all, in this economy we should not spend our limited funds in a callous manner. In truth, this is not an easy question to answer. Many schools purchase IWBs because it is a brand name they are familiar with and believe it will be easier to get “buy in” from their teachers. Additionally, schools are reluctant to use cheaper alternatives, as they believe it will not be compatible with the software they are using. On the other hand, IWB critics believe this technology is prohibitively expensive and is quickly becoming obsolete. IWB critics also assert that tablets and Smart Phone technology is not only cheaper; it also includes far more interactive features thereby putting the IWB to shame.
In the end, schools have to weigh the facts carefully and decide how to best use technology to best serve the needs of their children. This includes examining the school culture, features of competing technologies, physical space available in the school, the school’s comfort level with varying technology models, and the total cost of ownership.
That being said, we must also be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. While its important to analyze differing technologies and purchase wisely, it is also essential that we carefully analyze how we are going to use our existing technology and re-purpose it when applicable. Additionally, administrators should inventory their existing hardware, assign all functioning hardware a purpose, and pursue a quality training program that helps build instructional capacity as needed and maximizes how legacy and current technology is used.


  1. Jabob, I see this different than you see it. Even in their prime, IWBs facilitate a sage on the stage, front and center model of teaching that bores the crap out of most kids and adults (except maybe the one or two at the front of the room).

    Some feel that if it is a child who is the sage on the stage that will help. It won't. You still have a classroom of kids staring at someone's back who is often struggling through a problem. It's boring, sit-and-watch teaching.

    We need to move the learning off the stage and bring it to the learners...wherever they may be. IWBs do not facilitate that type of learning which is why most innovative educators I know, ditched the board, and focus on learning...even when the board was in its prime.

  2. I think interactive white boards are great - but I also think they are more content-specific. For example, the small amount of lecture and demonstration I do in my English class may not warrant an IWB as much as a math or science class where demonstrations are more frequent. My class is discussion heavy, so I can see the benefit of laptops or iPads so students can access online discussion boards.

    I also think that IWBs can be distracting to students because they're "so cool" to play with. Granted, students may be tricked into learning when they're allowed to "play" on the white board. When I've observed in classes that use IWBs the students seem more impressed with what the board does rather than focused on the information being presented.

  3. IWB were a bridge technology, as you described they could move entire groups of people from old overhead transparencies to digital content.

    The days of a whole school solution is past its prime.

    Administrators, schools, but where is teacher expertice and choice in this scenario? Teachers will tell you what their students *need* at which grade levels to learn, and what might just be nice for them to use while teaching.

    Giving the same solution to every grade level is past its prime. If you ask leaders why this would be a solution they might agree that some classrooms would not use the IWB as effectively as others. Spending that kind of money across the board knowing the solution doesn't fit every classroom is way past its prime! I propose that IWBs may infact be appropriate in the lower elementary classroom, but the value runs more to teacher convience and further from student learning as grade increases. I see this as a valuable tool for collaborative, teacher led instruction providing background knowledge and experiences. I'm picturing Circle Time.

    Tablet or smartphone technologies will not be developmentally appropriate in the lower grade levels. It will not take advantage of the collaborative nature of some groups and group learning that will always happen at lower elementary levels.

  4. @Ashley, as a teacher I get why you think being up in front of a class using a shiny, fun gadget would be great, but do you think students are sitting there thinking it's great that one person is standing in front of the room using the great device while the rest of them look on, usually to the presenter's back or side (not eyes)?

    I don't think IWBs are great. I think they are a detriment to learning and contribute to the sage on the stage classroom that bores kids every day.

    Also, as I wrote in my post, "The IWBs Are Not the Stars, They're Just the Overpaid Extras with a Great Agent," I think you give credit to the board, for what is actually in the laptop. There is no content in the board. There is no internet in the board. There is very little in the very expensive, glitchy device. For more on that read-

    My fear is that leaders who don't know better and schools of education who don't know better are forcing teachers to use these crappy devices rather than allow them to create effective learning environments for their students. I was disgusted recently, and in the past, upon learning this was the case for friends and colleagues who ignorant supervisors / advisers think a Smartboard (whether in or over its prime) is the key to 21st century teaching and learning. It's not! It's just a shiny, gadget that promotes sit and stare learning.

  5. I only have the LCD projector to show what's on my computer, not a whiteboard, and I don't miss having a whiteboard. I show what I need to show (and there are some great resources I want to share, but only for a few minutes), then get back to focusing on the students.

    It's the learning, not the technology.

  6. @Fran Lo, makes a whole lot of sense and leaves over a few thousand that can better be spent on resources for kids.

  7. @Penny, I agree about teacher (and student) voice needing consideration. All too often admins/schools blindly purchase these devices then try to force their use. I created a site called where schools/grants allow teachers and their students to propose technology they want to help their students learn best. I propose that IWBs may infact be appropriate in the lower elementary classroom, but the value runs more to teacher convience and further from student learning as grade increases. I see this as a valuable tool for collaborative, teacher led instruction providing background knowledge and experiences. I'm picturing Circle Time.

    I disagree about your assessment for the grade levels appropritae for Tablets/ smartphones. I've seen very young children do amazing things with such technology. It's not the shell, but what is inside and just about anything can be placed on these devices.

  8. Thank you for sharing your feedback. The purpose of posting this article was; to bring light that there are powerful arguments for being for or against IWBs and to share the benefits of re-purposing technology. Having said that, I have seen schools who make great use of IWBs and schools who do not. Schools who use IWBs effectively typically have teachers who work before and after school developing content for their students as one cannot take an IWB home. Personally, I tend to be more pro iPad as it requires no training and has more interactive features then any of its IWB predecessors. Personal preferences aside, I believe that all of the technologies discussed above have great value as long as their is a teacher guiding its effective use.

  9. @Jacob Gutnicki, thank you for writing the article. It definitely served the purpose of promoting conversation on both sides.

    For me, an IWB can be effective if repurposed as a non-sage-on-stage device. Basically, used as a big computer. I'd never purchase something for this purpose, but that is one way it can be used. The fact that an IWB can not be used outside of the classroom i.e. the world in school can not be transferred to life, for me automatically makes it unappealing.

    The one area I'd disagree with you is that technology requires a teacher guiding its effective use. With passion and desire to learn, most kids can figure out how to use tech. No teacher required.

  10. Lisa, I agree with your first point regarding that it cannot be used practically outside the classroom. Perhaps if the IWBs adopt a universal standard, this could change. Regarding your second point, I agree; sort of. I do not doubt that children can figure out how to use tech. In fact, I have 2 autistic children at home that prove this point time and time again.

    Having said that, technology under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher ensures that we capitalize the child's passion for technology for the purpose of learning opportunities. Naturally, these things can and do occur by itself. However, the teacher who understands the child's passion ( music, art, technology, and so on) can and will take this further.

  11. I couldn't agree more. I've linked to this post <a href=">on my blog</a>, and added an addendum in concurrence.