Are Interactive Whiteboards a Smart Idea when they Make Even the Most Innovative of Educators Look Dumb? – 10 Reasons to Ditch the Board by Lisa Nielsen

I had the good fortune to attend EdCampNYC this past weekend which was attended by passionate and innovative educators. All presenters were placed in rooms equipped with Smartboards. As I’ve witnessed at every other conference I’ve attended with interactive whiteboards (IWBs), they either weren’t utilized (such as at Alan November's yearly Building Learning Communities conference) or they made the sessions more difficult and glitchy.

Because the conference was held at a school, it had the usual IWB configuration. The Smartboard was front and center and not near the CPU/keyboard essential to effectively operate all necessary controls. What some presenters resorted to was a rather awkward set up with one person at the front of the room and another controlling the keyboard/mouse from elsewhere. Of course, teachers don’t have luxury of a second person or assistant, but this was what seemed to be most effective. In each session the board made these tech-savvy presenters (present company included) rather flustered and uncomfortable as a result of the glitchiness of them and/or awkwardness of having either two people at the helm or needing to run back and forth between the front of the room and the keyboard. Additionally, let’s face it. Smartboards just aren’t that intuitive. Folks often get frustrated as they intend to point to something on the board but instead the point results in unexpectedly being taken elsewhere or something they didn’t want to have appear on the screen pops up so the facilitators found themselves running back over to the keyboard and mouse.

I know all those people who feel the need to believe in the magic of the board are going to jump up and down saying how great they are at using IWBs and they will explain how they have transformed teaching with them, but the reality is they are doing that either 1) Because they begged their principal to get an IWB so they better stand up for the benefits it is supposed to provide or their school wasted thousands of dollars that could have gone toward personal computing for students. Acknowledging Smartboards are dumb is as difficult for them as telling a child there’s really no Santa Claus and the real stars are their parents. For all of those in this category, like the myth of Santa, you are attributing the magic of the board to the wrong player. While the board has tales of legend and lore behind it in reality IWBs are Not the Stars. They’re the Overpaid Extras with A Great Agent.

Five problems with interactive whiteboards

1. The keyboard doesn’t get the respect it deserves
An IWB devalues the keyboard which for many is an important component in driving a computer. Innovative educators such as myself rely on the keyboard in our presentations and interactions and using the pop up one on the IWB screen is not a viable option.

2. The pen gets more respect than it deserves
More and more innovative educators their often digitally savvy students are ditching the pen in favor of producing text with a keyboard. Drafting more often done by typing instead of hand printing or writing. For many of the digitally savvy the keyboard is mighterier than the pen.

3. Our eyes don't get the respect they deserve
As opposed to a set up with a laptop and projector that would enable the person facilitating to face the people in the room, the Smartboard, like the traditional blackboard results in teachers and students who are at the board often having their backs to the audience, or perhaps their side, to the audience. Additionally, because of this the person at the front of the room is often blocking what is on either on the board and/or the presenter often gets in the way of the projector.

4. The Promethean Shuffle and Smartboard Slide don't deserve respect on the classroom floor
While the shuffle and slide may look good on the dance floor, they usually have no place in the classroom, but educators are often led to follow this dance when interactive whiteboards are used to lead instruction. If you’ve seen someone use an interactive whiteboard, you know what I’m talking about as they slide from side to side to access the information they want on the board and shuffle out of the way of the projector. While interactive whiteboards are great at making a teacher feel like they’re taking stage, the front of the class is just not a place they should be doing that type of song and dance.

5. The time teacher's have for professional development does not get the respect it deserves
Time and time again when I point out that I see money wasted on IWBS I hear, oh…teachers aren’t using Smartboards well because they don’t have the proper training. You know what? I don’t know of any technology that people get more training for then Smartboards and they’re still not being used effectively. This is a result of two reasons.

  1. Useful technology doesn’t need all this training. Adults and students just figure out how to use cell phones, cameras, iPads, Wii’s, computers, televisions, projectors, etc. Sure, they may need help to get started, but then they’re off and running, at least with the basics…
  2. They are a catalyst for ineffective teaching. When you drop the board and let educators use just the laptop and projector the following happens:

i. Instruction can become people, rather than place-based,

ii. Instructors can have eye-to-eye contact with the students

iii. The focus is off the front of the room and on the learning.

iv. The class becomes more interactive when learning is happening around the room rather than with the one (or sometimes 2 – 4) people at the board.

When cash-strapped schools stop wasting money on training people on a mistaken expenditure they can put those funds to something more meaningful

5 Reasons Ditching Interactive Whiteboards is a Smart Idea
While being able to tap a board that will react has an upfront “WOW” factor, innovative educators instinctively know that it’s NOT smart to teach in the manner dictated by an IWB. Instead, they know that dropping the IWB enables them to do all the following which become difficult with Smartboards.

  1. Focus on the students, not the sage on the stage.
  2. Learning should come from anywhere, not just at the board in front of the room.
  3. When addressing a classroom it is better to look at students faces then have them look at your behind or side.
  4. Have access to the keyboard and mouse and be able to see where you are typing and clicking.
  5. Have access to any peripherals you are using such as when podcasting, Skyping, etc.

If you love your interactive whiteboard, enjoy, but if you are an innovative educator who hasn’t bought into the hype, don’t feel compelled to spend a lot of time learning to use something that many innovative educators believe just isn’t worth it in general and in particular because most people using IWBs look like those in this slide show I created.

Getting Smart About Interactive Whiteboards (Smartboards, Promethean Boards)

Cross posted at The Innovative Educator.

Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator blog and Transforming Education for the 21st Century learning network. International Edublogger, International EduTwitter, and Google Certified Teacher, Lisa is an outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on "Thinking Outside the Ban" and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success. You can follow her on Twitter @InnovativeEdu.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.