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Do IWBs change instruction?

By July 27, 2009June 14th, 201613 Comments

There seems to be a lot of controversy lately over the impact that Interactive Whiteboards have on instruction. Some say that they increase student engagement and achievement and help to create a 21st-century classroom. Others argue that they are simply a modern tool for an outdated method of learning and that they only promote teacher-directed lecture & instruction.

I left the classroom in 2004, several years before IWBs were common tools in school buildings, so I never experienced actually integrating one into my instruction. I wanted to find out for myself: Do Interactive Whiteboards change instruction? When Bud the Teacher Tweeted about his district’s upcoming Flipchartapalooza,  I knew this would be an ideal opportunity to see how teachers integrate both the hardware and the software into their instruction. Bud and his fellow teachers in St. Vrain were gracious enough to let me come and observe and ask questions. (And I thank all of you!)

What I saw were teachers learning simple, but vital, programming and scripting language as they created interactive activities for students. I saw teachers realizing that the ultimate goal was having students use these tools. One teacher even stated, “My goal this year is to have students at the board more. [My first year using it], I was the one at the board.” I saw professionals collaborating, teaching, and learning together. If technology and learning are going to morph the way I think they are (fingers crossed), teachers are going to have a plethora of tools that they can use to script & program to create individual games & learning modules for students. Having a basic understanding of this level of tech know-how now will be paramount if this comes to fruition.

What I hope to see in the future are students using interactive white tables (of which I’ve seen prototypes), manipulating and building interactive learning modules to increase their own understanding and to demonstrate learning. Where we are now with IWBs is simply a stepping stone to a more differentiated, authentic, interactive classroom.

In other words, it isn’t really about having a big interactive board up in front of the classroom to do your usual thing. It is about creating activities for students to increase their knowledge and understanding.

And, yes, having something that looks like it was invented sometime after the 1970s can’t hurt the engagement factor, either. 😉

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Your question has been raised a lot in my district as well. I received a Promethean ActivBoard this school year and now I can’t imagine teaching without it. I find myself trying to justify the technology to others in the district (generally those who are without IWBs themselves). These folks seem to see them as either an expensive substitute for a wireless mouse or just another way to keep teachers locked into teacher-led whole-class instruction.
    I agree with you that the best way to get insight into this question is to see an IWB used by an effective teacher with real students.
    I must admit that before I had an IWB I too was concerned that IWBS might lead to too much teacher-led whole-class instruction. We have only had our boards since October of 2008. In the beginning, they were an extension of the teacher’s toolkit (i.e., another way to do what they would have done with a chalkboard, overhead projector, etc.) Yet in less than one year, the IWB have been increasingly used by students to increase their role during whole-class instruction; but more importantly, this has gradually led to the teachers adding new technology integration approaches to their repertoire. Our teachers are now comfortable with a variety of technology integration strategies (at the board, with the board as a center, with activities in the computer lab, and with laptops on wheels). IWBs provided the bridge to technology integration adoption and more student-centered instructional strategies.
    This change did not happen overnight or without effort. It requires patience, respect for teachers unique abilities, plenty of professional development, responsive technical support, and administrative vision. Could we have made these advances without IWBs? Who knows, but I’m glad we didn’t have to!
    Kathy Benson

  • Kathy,
    I so much appreciate your taking the time to give us yet another teacher’s perspective on how this tool has impacted your teaching. I agree with you: you have to see how the tool is used in the classroom to really get an understanding. Before my visit, I was skeptical of how an IWB could really impact instruction and learning other than to simply make the classroom seem more modern.
    Thanks for your reply,

  • Jeff says:

    I have a Promethean board in my classroom this year. I was very excited about it, however I really dislike the software (ActivInspire) that it using. It is not as user friendly as Powerpoint. I tend to use go back to Powerpoint when making lessons because it takes me half an hour less time to make it and a lot less struggles. I do have to add that occasionally I will put up with the software and the extra effort because there are somethings that cannot be done on Powerpoint.

  • Karen Evans says:

    In my school district, almost all of the teachers have smartboards. I am one of the last ones that will get one because I do intervention. I was skeptical at first because I felt that this was an expensive way to improve student learning. In addition, I wondered if they would serve to engage students only temporarily until the “newness” wore off. But after several trainings, I saw that this was a wonderful tool for teachers and students alike because the student can use the boards just as the teacher. As for it reinforcing the traditional teacher directed approach, the smartboards don’t influence instruction in this way; the teacher does. It is the teacher’s responsibility to involve and engage students whether we have smartboards or not.

  • Stef Sims says:

    On my middle school campus, all of our math teachers and higher level science teachers have IWBs in their classrooms. The most effective use of this tool I see is when teachers integrate it as one of the learning stations with hands-on activities. It is a challenge to get everyone on board with this because it takes planning time, but it will be one of my goal for this year!

  • jh says:

    We are looking at tablets instead of the boards to integrate the interactive portion into the curriculum. They seem to be more reasonably priced and more portable.

  • Janice Hutchinson says:

    Elizabeth Your post grabbed my attention because it relates specifically to a discussion we have been engaged in since the beginning of this week.  In my course of study we have been looking at the difference between using technology to do things differently as against using it to do different things.  The interactive whiteboard is one of those tools that if not properly utilized will only serve as a source for doing things differently, simply replacing the chalkboard.  I believe this tool can be used with other resources to create an engaging learning experience, however it requires much planning.   At this stage of technological advancement, the use of technology has to be more than simply presenting information to students and asking for simple responses.  Students are very advanced in the uses of technologies and the learning experience must create the opportunity for them to become creators rather than simply users of knowledge.  The interactive whiteboard would need significant modifications to address this need.

  • Hi Janice,
    Thanks for such a thoughtful response! You’re absolutely right. Without letting students get to know and use the technologies and to use them to do things we’ve never been able to do before, tech simply becomes (in the words of Alan November) a $2000 pencil.

  • Janice Hutchinson says:

    Hi Elizabeth
    The “$2000 pencil” approach is not what education wishes to perpetuate and therefore educators have to work collaboratively to ensure that technology serves its purpose. In every sector where technology is utilized we observe significant changes in both product and process. I believe this is what the education sector is moving towards but it needs the input of all stakeholders to make this a reality.

  • Debra Crable says:

    I absolutely feel that IWB ‘s are a wonderful addition to instruction. I was the one at it the first year, but now the students wait in line to have the hands-on interaction. They are not afraid to take technology for a test run – being much older I still hesitate at clicking the wrong thing. They inspire me to “Just Do It!”

  • Peter Christensen-5th grade teacher says:

    I am both inspired, but also saddened by reading about the potential applications of the IWB, and acronym I just learned. I do not have access to this tool, and if I did, I’d be torn between taking the time to learn to use it effectively, or planning traditional lessons. Does consistent and effective IWB use, combined with thoughtful application increase achievement on the state tests which still seem pretty important?

  • Tim says:

    Our school was one of the first to have an IWB. In the beginning, it was the cool new tech tool that everyone wanted. Now that we have plenty of IWB’s, the students expect to use them in the classroom. For the teacher that does not use the IWB, it takes time to prepare lessons, but with practice, it becomes quicker.

  • Justin Garrett says:

    Just wondering if anyone knows of an online video that shows how IWB’s can be used in the language classroom? I’ve heard a lot about IWB’s and its impact but never seen them in use.

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