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Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Defense of Interactive Whiteboards

In many of the blogs that sprung from the aftermath of following an #edchat discussion on Interactive White Boards these nifty tools have taken quite the beating. Bill Ferriter, the latest blogging brawler, recently took on IWB. In his article in Teacher Magazine Ferriter claimed that IWBs are an "under-informed and irresponsible purchase."I could not disagree more.

Reaching All Learners

I admit this isn't coming from a ludite (pardon the cliche) perspective. I was the first in my school to score an IWB. In fact I wrote a grant and helped our school secure three Smartboards (the Kleenex of IWBs). Yet I still believe, as I do now that IWBs help reach the needs of all learners.

First of all an IWB extended learning beyond my classroom. Each day I would print all of my notes to PDF documents. Then I dolled out a coveted job of weekly webpage editor to a student. He or she would scan handouts and other materials I created and uploaded all of my documents to my classroom webpage. Parents were more than grateful to have these resources. This few steps, made possible because of my IWB, also provided me some protection. When students would complain they lost some activities, or a parent would ask how I was meeting a students 504 plan I could point to my repository of learning.

Discovery and Collaborative Learning

Ferriter also claims that IWB are not an effective tool to reach all learners beacause the reinforce a teacher centric model. I believe that is not an issue with the tool, but with the teacher. Contrary to Ferrier's claims, IWB's can be a powerful tool that promote individual discovery and collaborative learning.

I have seen hundreds of presentations on powerful uses of IWB at local, national, and international conferences. To assume they are nothing more than an expensive projectors ignores this evidence. To illustrate I will share a few examples from my classoom.
Writing Instruction
Early on I found my IWB to be an indispensable tool for collaborative writing instruction. No matter the genre we were modeling the IWB became a significant tool in the class. I would start by working with the class to model specific paragraphs. We would write a good, better, and best example. The students would call out sentences or edits and I would add them in. Then in small groups we would repeat the same process. If we were in the computer lab students would email me their parapgraph, if not they would use pen and paper. Either way I would display the results on the smartboard and my students would have to identify common elements in the , good, better, and best versions.

Creative Drama
I also used my Smartboard for creative drama. The preloaded screenshots included with the Smartboard made wonderful backdrops. This saved invaluable instruction time that was often eaten up as students spent more time on props than content. Some of my most creative students even used the images and backdrops in combination to use electronic puppet shows.

The screenshots provided with the software are invaluable. Science or Social Studies teachers have a field day with the maps. Staying with creative drama, why not have students film forecasts using maps. You could meet your standards, as students demonstrate knowledge of isobars and pressure systems, while recreating a more authentic learning experience than a simple chapter.

Online Reading Comprehension

An Interactive Whiteboard also became central to our Internet Reciprocal Teaching model for teaching online reading comprehension. As we move from Gunther Kress calls the shift from page to screen I believe how we use literacy tools is shifting. An IWB helps to model these new skills, strategies, and dispositions to learners. In our classrooms we would often project student computers on the screen using a management software. We didn't use the programs to spy on students but to higlight experts. When we witnessed a student using a good strategy or they wanted to demonstrate they could go up to the IWB click on their computer and model the strategy to the class.

Granted this was in a 1:1 setting but Interactive Whiteboards can be just as useful in the one computer classroom. Ferriter claims that the lessons he created could have been easily replicated in one of his computer centers, but not every teacher has this option. Many classrooms come equipped with just one machine. An IWB allows teachers to model online reading comprehension strategies with just one machine. You can click on links, and have access to unlimited free content.

Bill Ferriter, has a legitimate concern about the expense of IWB. Yet they are coming down in costs as more competitors develop and market cheaper products. Ferriter claims them to be under evaluated in their use. This may not be the real issue. A quick scan of Google Scholar reveals that some research based evidence is starting to emerge.

Second why are we once again evaluating the tool and not the teacher? Much of the #edchat talk revolved around the need for time and training. Maybe that is not the issue. Maybe teachers do not adapt to new media because they do not have to. It might be a time to include technology integration into teacher evaluations. I understand for many such a Byzantinium approach is too harsh. Understandable...use teacher evaluation as a reward. In my former district we budgeted for three whiteboards a year. Teachers had to submit an application for a competitive grant to be awarded the board.

Finally as the recent Kaiser study pointed out students' life is media driven.If the literacy events in their lives are not static why should their classrooms be? Maybe the question about interactive whiteboards should be not "Can we afford them?" but "Can we afford not to?".


Alice Mercer said...

I've recently gotten the loan of a SMART board in my lab to work with. In your examples, I'm not seeing anything that could not be done with a digital projector and computer hooked up to the Internet. The functionality that I've seen that is different is that it seems you can combine text and drawing in an electronic format that can be saved more easily. The pen/drawing is better than with my wacom tablet. The ability to touch and move objects is fascinating for kids, but I'm not sure how long that will hold their attention, and if there is enough bang for the $. There are cheaper versions (like Interwrites) that have pads, and flexibility.

Greg McVerry said...

Hey Alice,

Thanks for the wonderful response. You are true that much of what I discuss can be done with a projector and a laptop, but then you are usually locked down.

Your ideas on tactile learning are great. I was also a math teacher and found the manipulative on the smartboard very helpful.

I do agree with the cheaper versions. People do need to remember there are other IWBs out there besides smartboards.