The interactive whiteboard is a rather awkward beast. Marketed as an interactive tool but in practice often used as a souped-up blackboard. It is an ‘interactive’ whiteboard but not for most students sitting in the classroom. It’s a computer but not under your control. Its primary use is by teachers, often nervous about their skills, watched by more confident learners.
The technology uses a bewildering array of infrared, resistive touch-sensitive, electromagnetic, ultrasound, even Wiimote hardware, designed to improve teaching by taking computer content and interactivity into the classroom. Huge sums of money were spent on national programmes to introduce this expensive kit into schools, but on the basis of no clear evidence for their efficacy. Companies such as Promethean, Chaired by Lord Putnam (something, as a government adviser, he keeps quiet about ), made hundreds of millions by selling whiteboards - with high maintenance costs.
Teachers can take and save notes and annotations, lessons can be recorded for future use by students who may have missed lessons through illness or absence. High quality curriculum content, designed for such boards, has been made available for teachers. Whole class assessment and feedback from students has been made possible through clickers that poll students or gather answers to questions, improving formative assessment. A whole ecosystem has been built around whiteboards in classrooms.
Do they work?
Studies that focus on student achievement are rarer than general qualitative studies on use and perceptions by teachers and learners. There is also a paucity of studies that are truly rigorous and comparative. One could conclude that this was a hugely expensive experiment, based on no prior evidence, with no clear subsequent consensus around its benefits in terms of attainment.
Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University claims that "There is hardly any research that will show clearly that any interactive whiteboards will improve academic achievement.”
The London Challenge research, by the Institute of Education, showed little significant impact on student performance in Mathematics and English and only a slight improvement Science at KS3. Even worse were the negative effects for Mathematics and Science in KS4. “Although the newness of the technology was initially welcomed by pupils any boost in motivation seems short-lived. Statistical analysis showed no impact on pupil performance in the first year in which departments were fully equipped.”
However, others, such as BECTA, show positive effects on student achievement. Their sponsored research covered the impact of a large interactive whiteboard investment in 20 local authorities, 97 schools and 7272 learners. Improvements in attainment were measured in ‘months progress’ against standard measures of attainment and found to be largely positive over a two year period.
Marzano & Haystead (2009) in a study of 170 classrooms, also found positive results in the majority of students. However, Professor Steve Ross of Johns Hopkins University is highly critical of this oft quoted study, claims the research is flawed and that “you can't conclude anything" . Interestingly, the negative results in the same study are often ignored, where teachers polled students but did nothing with the findings or became besotted with the whizzy presentation of video and graphics.
Use by teachers
While some studies suggest positive results when used intensively, the actual use of interactive whiteboards by teachers is a huge factor in their effectiveness. Some studies, tracking actual whiteboard usage in schools, show surprisingly low use by teachers and even within these figures, they are often used to simply do what simpler, cheaper technology could have achieved. Some claim, that for many teachers it is no more than a powerful blackboard. It is entirely within the tradition of the teacher standing at the front and presenting content with many teachers using them for tasks that could just as easily have been delivered through plain projectors. Many use them rarely or not at all.
The Glover & Miller research showed a remarkable level of conservatism is their use as teachers clung onto existing practice and teaching methods. As a mere adjunct technology its potential remained largely unrealised. They found that only 10% of teachers used the technology in a transformative sense.
They can be an uneasy broker between savvy students and nervous teachers, who can feel exposed when their lack of skill becomes highly visible to the entire class. Here, the technology can undermine the authority of the teacher, even invite ridicule. So, without adequate training, it can be a destructive force for both teachers and learners.
Whiteboards can also slow the pace of teaching and learning of the teacher becomes too focused on the technology or relatively trivial forms of interaction. Even worse is the ‘taking turns’ interactivity that slows the entire learning process down. The early research suggested that it takes around two years of use before teachers became comfortable enough to use the technology with real confidence, leading to benefits for learners.
White has become the new black in classrooms for some time, as whiteboards replaced blackboards Whiteboards have clear benefits in teaching, albeit diminished by the lack of technology skills among teachers, but it is not clear that these carry over into learning. Despite the huge cost the jury is still out on the return on this investment.
McCrummen, S. (June 11, 2010) Some educators question if whiteboards, other high-tech tools raise achievement. Washington Post
Moss, G., Jewitt, C., Levačić, R., Armstrong, V., Cardini, A., & Castle, F., Allen, B., Jenkins, A., & Hancock, M. with High, S. (2007). The Interactive Whiteboards, Pedagogy and Pupil Performance Evaluation: An Evaluation of the Schools Whiteboard Expansion (SWE) Project: London Challenge
Glover, D., & Miller, D., Averis, D., & Door, V. (2005) The interactive whiteboard: a literature survey. Technology, Pedagogy and Education (14) 2: 155–170
DCSF & Becta (2007). Evaluation of the DCSF Primary Schools Whiteboard Expansion Project.
Betcher, C., & Lee, M. (2009). The interactive whiteboard revolution: Teaching with IWBs. Victoria, Australia: ACER Press.
Marzano, R. J., & Haystead, M. (2009). Final report on the evaluation of the Promethean technology. Englewood, CO: Marzano Research Laboratory.