Saturday, 24 February 2007

Interactive whiteboards – how effective are they?

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) appear to be springing up like mushrooms in schools in the UK. Some schools have had them installed in every classroom and one headteacher has been heard to say that he expects his teaching staff to keep them switched on all the time and use them in every lesson.

We mention interactive whiteboards in the following locations at the ICT4LT site:

  • Section 7 of Module 1.3, Using text tools in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom
  • Section 4 of Module 1.4, Introduction to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)
But how effective are interactive whiteboards? This BBC website article (30 January 2007) entitled "Doubts over hi-tech white boards" raises several important issues.
It states, for example, that IWBs "fail to boost pupil achievement", that they can "slow the pace of whole-class learning", and that they can lead to "relatively mundane activities being over-valued".

OK, just what we thought - memories of the language lab being hailed as the panacea back in the 1960s and then failing miserably to deliver what it promised. Of course, we now know in retrospect that the 1960s technology was not at fault. It was the failure to train teachers how to use the technology effectively, combined with a singular lack of imagination.

My perception of IWBs is that they can be highly effective in the hands of a skilled practitioner - just as the language lab was (and still is) - but most teachers simply use IWBs for presentations that would work just as well on a humble OHP. Who was it who said that an IWB is "just an OHP on steroids"?

Since the advent of interactive whiteboards we've moved away from the more traditional use of the computer as a learning tool in a computer lab, where it offers many more one-to-one practice opportunities – and which many teachers believe are more effective: v. the case studies in Module 3.1 at the ICT4LT website:

In the above module Helen Myers (The Ashcombe School) writes:
Whiteboards: We prefer to spend the money on increasing the pupil-computer ratio - which makes the technology more genuinely interactive for pupils – rather than on facilities for whole-class/teacher interaction.

In the same module Richard Hamilton (Cox Green School) claims a 15% rise in A*–C GCSE results over a period of three years as a result of his pupils doing regular computer lab work in foreign languages.

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