There has been a steady uptake of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in classrooms over the past few years, especially in primary schools. This has been followed by a growing body of research into their use and effectiveness as teaching and learning tools. These are generally positive, highlighting the power of IWBs as demonstration tools, especially when teachers use them interactively. Some studies have concentrated on evaluating pupil perceptions of the technology (Hall & Higgins, 2005; Wall, Higgins & Smith, 2005). These suggest that pupils are positive about the the equipment and its capacity to provide an exciting multimedia learning experience and also that pupils would like to have more access to the boards themselves. It comes as no surprise that they expressed frustration about equipment malfunctions.
Other research has tried to analyse the difference using IWBs makes to lessons. Smith, Hardman and Higgins (2005) compared lessons with and without IWBs during 2003 and 2004. They concluded that while IWBs are “useful presentational tools… the technology by itself will not bring about fundamental change in the traditional patterns of whole class teaching” (455). They also questioned the efficacy of “extensive top-down staff development” in-service training. This issue is also raised by Armstrong et al. (2005) who suggest that without effective training “it is unlikely that teachers will either be aware of or be able to exploit the potential affordances of IWBs” (467).
Gillen, Starrman, Littleton, Mercer and Twiner (2007) investigated pedagogic practice around IWBs in primary classrooms in the UK. They highlighted the distinction made by Smith et al. between ‘technical interactivity’ and ‘pedagogic interactivity’ when IWBs are used, concluding that “as a mediating artifact…” IWBs “have a significant effect on teaching” supporting good practice by facilitating “speedy, smooth presentation” (253). However, they point out that it is difficult to evaluate the impact of IWBs on learning, given that using the boards can reinforce traditional styles of teaching from the front. Nevertheless, the boards also made it possible for a good teacher to enable children to interact more effectively “in the manipulation of information (ibid)”. They concluded that the most effective use of IWBs involves “striking a balance between providing a clear structure for a well resourced lesson and maintaining the capacity for a more spontaneous or provisional adaption of the lesson as it proceeds” (254).
Armstrong, Barnes, Sutherland, Curran, Mills and Thompson (2005) raise the important issue that it is teachers, not the boards, who are the “critical agents in mediating the software, the integration of the software into the subject aims of the lesson and appropriate use of the IWB to promote interactions and interactivity” (457), an issue echoed by Haldane, (2007) who points out that boards are simply a medium “through which interactivity may, to a greater or lesser extent, be afforded” (258).
Haldane (2007:257) speaks of the IWB as a “unique teaching and learning medium” and suggests that “a distinctive pedagogy is emerging” as teachers get to grips with it. Drawing on Kozma’s work on the stability / transience of the learning medium, she highlights the unique blend of stable and transient aspects of IWBs, which allow the learner to change the pace at which material is studied. Stable mediums, like books, provide the learner with a great control over the pace of learning. Transient mediums, like television, although providing “rich symbol systems that may be attractive and interesting to the learner” (259) do not. Haldane sees IWBs as a compromise, given that while delivery of multimedia can be pacy, it can be controlled by capturing screens which can be returned to for further study. Haldane claims that in many lessons seen during her observations “the distinct functionality of the IWB was used to good effect to capture key points from within an otherwise transient dialogue. Modifying the displayed content by annotation, skipping back to previous screens or visiting a relevant internet site known to the teacher were among the examples of the IWB being used to enhance the important moments of interpersonal interaction” (260). She concludes that “the high production values of IWB content and the speed and slickness of presentation compared with those of other media with which the pupils engage in their leisure time and the observed practice plus pupil and teacher interviews suggest high levels of attention. However the stability of the IWB as a medium appeared to have benefits over and above the pace and quality of the audio-visual symbol systems it displays” (261).
The current research would seem to be suggesting that we are only beginning to understand the potential of IWBs. It highlights the fact that it it people, not technologies, which make a difference and that it is our responsibility to get to know the intricacies of the technological affordances offered by technologies so as to use them to their full potential. As teachers, we need to be inquisitive, creative and adventurous in experimenting with technologies, the aim always being to provide a motivating, relevant and exciting learning environment for pupils. Becoming an expert user involves working regularly with the hardware and the software so as to develop a thorough understanding of the different features it offers. The more experienced you become, the more effectively you will be able to integrate the use of the IWB into your work with your pupils.
Notwithstanding the potential of IWBs to provide a more motivating and relevant interface for learning, it is important that we do not see the use of the IWB as a replacement for children working hands-on with computers and other ICT. However we see IWB’s, they remain essentially teaching as opposed to learning tools. Our most effective learning comes when we use ICT to be creative, to solve problems, investigate, research, write, communicate and share information and ideas.
Recent developments provide a look into the future of educational display devices. These include the new Panasonic Interactive Plasma Display boards which offer a number of advantages, including portability and the ability to take commands from wireless devices, such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones. This frees teachers and students from being tethered to a computer. Wheeled mounts make these devices portable and enable the screen to be tilted to enable disabled people to use them, or group activities with the screen in a horizontal position. Up to four people can work on the screens simultaneously, using special input pens.
‘Surface’ computing was unveiled in 2007, with the Microsoft Surface device. An upgraded version, Surface SP1 was launched in 2009. These were designed mainly for business and scientific use, but never quite made it into the mainstream despite the useful features they provided. However, Microsoft Surface 2 has recently been unveiled. Interestingly, new interactive smart desks look very much the same. These devices could be seen in classrooms in the near future.
Armstrong, A., Barnes, S., Suthertland, R., Curran, S., Mills, S. & Thompson, I. (2005) Collaborative research methodology for investigating teaching and learning: The use of interactive whiteboard technology. Educational Review. 57(4), 457-469.
Gillen, J., Staarman, J., Littleton, K. & Mercer, N. (2007) A ‘learning revolution’? Investigating pedagogic practice around interactive whiteboards in British primary classrooms. Learning, Media and Technology. 32(3), 243-256.
Haldane, M. (2007) Interactivity and the digital whiteboard: Weaving the fabric of learning. Learning, Media and Technology. 32(3) Pages 283-301.
Hall, I. & Higgins, S. (2005) Primary school students’ perceptions of interactive whiteboards. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 21, 102-117.
Smith, F., Hardman, F. & Higgins, S. (2006) The impact of interactive whiteboards on teacher-pupil interaction in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. British Educational Research Journal. 32(3), 443-457.
Wall, K. Higgins, S. & Smith, H. (2005) The visual helps me understand the complicated things. Pupil views of teaching and learning with interactive whiteboards. BJET, 36(5), 851-867.
Slay, H., Sieborger, I. & Hodginson-Williams, C. (2008) Interactive whiteboards: Real beauty or just “lipstick”? Computers ansd Education, 51(3), 1321-1341.
Somekh, B. et al. (2007) Evaluation of the Primary Schools Whiteboard Expansion Project.
Somekh, B. et al. (2007) Evaluation of the Primary Schools Whiteboard Expansion Project (summary).