On Interactive Whiteboards

Another common piece of hardware one encounters in schools is interactive whiteboards. Ostensibly, these look like whiteboards that have replaced chalkboard in most schools. When connected to computers, these whiteboards function as an input device. Teachers or students using them can launch applications, navigate files, and even use digital markers to write on files. (One of the most distressing things to learn is that the dry erase markers used on regular whiteboards leave permanent marks on interactive whiteboards.)  

There are several difficulties with interactive whiteboards in classroom. First, many find they are not reliable. Some models were very finicky, requiring regular recalibration, have few components that users can service, and likely to fail. A colleague is fond of saying, “if any piece of hardware is going to fail in your school, it is going to be an interactive whiteboard,” and he is right. 

Second, while mobile models have been sold, most interactive whiteboards are mounted on the wall, like other whiteboards, which limits where they can be used. This leads to the third difficulty of the type of teaching these tools encourage. When using an interactive whiteboard in a lesson, students are likely to be sitting and consuming the information on the screen. It may be higher quality information (prepared and editable text, high quality images, animations, and video) compared to that information that is possible on whiteboards, but the fact that students are consuming limits the active nature of lessons.  

Fourth, the boards are often designed for use with applications that are used only with the boards. While the tools can be used with some other applications, the cognitive load of having to learn new software or the additional step of converting files created on one computer for use of the computer connected to the interactive whiteboard often dissuades teachers form using them. 

Fifth, interactive whiteboards are often the “default” educational technology recommended by individual who have little knowledge of alternative models of education. Interactive whiteboards become easy goals for school and technology leaders who seek to appear to be working to improve the educational technology in their schools. Theis arises from the fact that an interactive whiteboard is obvious in classrooms and stakeholders can clearly see progress as they walk around schools and see large new devices hanging in classrooms. Also, they tend to be expensive, so schools are unlikely to be able to install them, so they become a convenient “long-term” project and they can point to increasing numbers of devices as progress towards improving digital learning.