Last week, I read this interesting blog post from Kevin McLaughlin Entitled “Switching off the interactive whiteboard for good”. It revisited the argument that IWBs have been a huge waste of taxpayers money, and should be replaced with alternative technologies. The post generated a large number of comments, and even caused Kevin to go over his bandwidth allocation, reminding me of an earlier IWB-related post to this blog, which remains to this day my most commented upon blog post ever! Matthew Pearson then posted a robust defence of IWBs, which again provoked debate in the comments and on Twitter – including the (rather amusing) retitling of Matt’s post as “Interactive Whiteboards Are Awesome, It’s Just People That Suck”.
Whilst I find myself agreeing with some of the concerns other educators may have about the (over?) hasty roll out of IWBs in UK schools, and have no issue with their listing of alternative tools that they could have spent the money used to purchase IWBs on, I feel that this is a different debate to the one that they say they are having. If people want to have a theoretical, philosophical or even ideological debate about whether there should have been such hefty investment to put IWB hardware into UK schools, then I am quite happy to sit back and listen to that debate – I might even bring popcorn. My own views on that issue are not fully developed and probably rather ill-informed, and I think I could probably learn quite a lot from sitting back and listening to people who do know what they are talking about debating it.
That is not the debate that people are having, although it seems to be the debate that they think they are meant to be having. The money for the IWB hardware has been spent, and the hardware is hanging on a wall, being wheeled round on a stand or carried round in a bag. At this point, whether such large investments should have been made or not becomes irrelevant, or at the very least stops being part of this debate and becomes part of the other debate described above. From a pragmatic point of view at least, where the investment came from for the boards or if it should have done so or not doesn’t matter one iota. The boards are here, so should we be learning to use them more effectively or turning them off for good as Kevin suggests?
Having read both his post and Matthew’s as well as the accompanying comments on both blogs, I find it hard to reach the same conclusions that are being drawn by many of the people involved regarding the use of IWBs in classrooms – namely that they have no future in classrooms, have had no impact on attainment and should be turned off for good to be replaced by a ‘better’ way of doing things, using different technology. Apart from anything else, the logic behind this argument is flawed – the money that has been spent on IWBs is gone, we cannot go back in time and ‘unspend’ it and choose something else instead. And even if we could, should we? Kevin mentions in his post that
Occasionally you will meet those in teaching who use their boards as an interactive learning tool, creating content that engages their class. But this is not the norm
Surely then what we are saying here is that a tool has been provided with which teachers are able to create engaging content for their classes, and that they are simply not doing so? Why, therefore, should taxpayers be willing to provide these same teachers with a different tool? A blanket rollout of IWBs has not worked, why would a blanket rollout of iPads or slates or netbooks fare any differently? From a purely financial point of view, it makes no sense. Why waste – and let’s make no mistake here, that is what we are talking about – a perfectly good resource? Surely you owe it to your pupils to find ways to make good use of all the available resources, including IWBs? Looking at the comments made by pupils in Kevin’s post (the ones used as a reason for ditching the IWBs), it strikes me that they are not criticisms of the IWBs themselves as much as criticisms of how teachers are using the boards, so surely just finding better ways to use the IWBs is the answer?
And there are better ways to use IWBs. Bill Ferriter argued in a comment on my previous post that it is not necessary to buy an IWB to achieve some of them, and that is true as far as it goes. But here’s the point – if the board and the accompanying software has already been bought and provided for you, why would you want to use something else to achieve the same aims? And perhaps more importantly, if the hardware and software had been provided for you, why aren’t you using them? If you have a pedagogical reason, then I’m going to be okay with that, but if it’s because you don’t know how to use them? Shouldn’t you be finding out? And to suggest you want to replace the IWB with a new piece of technology instead? If a maths scheme or a set of books had been bought and the teachers were not using them to best effect, would the answer be to buy a new maths scheme or different books? Of course not – the answer would be to provide training for the teachers so that they can utilise the tools and equipment they have to best effect.
And so it is with IWBs. Teachers need to be given the opportunity to see and show what IWBs are capable of, and perhaps more importantly need to be given time to generate ideas and content that are relevant and useful in their classrooms. Having been working in a school which uses SMART Boards, I know for a fact that SMART are very good in this regard, having trainers who can come to your school and help deliver training for your staff and answer questions that are directly related to the resources they are wanting to make. As far as I am aware, there is no cost to the school involved for this above the purchase of equipment. There is also no cost involved in downloading Notebook to your computer at home to create resources there, providing you have your SMART product key. SMART also run content creation seminars, where teachers who know a trick or eight using Notebook will create content that can be tailored to (in our case) the Scottish curriculum and made available on their website to download for free.
In these times of shrinking budgets and cost-cutting, it seems to me that these services would make a lot of sense to schools that were trying to find savings. The equipment is already there – we’ve all seen it hanging on walls, often not being used properly (or at all?). The expertise is there – you only have to look around classrooms, trade shows or the internet to see that. Perhaps it is the inclination that is missing – the drive to share and the willingness to allow yourself be shared with?
But there are signs that things are changing. The increasing popularity of TeachMeets and similar CPD events where educators are learning from other educators is encouraging, as is the continued activity in CPDMeets. Perhaps if there were opportunities to learn from colleagues who were already using IWBs effectively (TeachMeet IWB anyone?), and perhaps the chance to work collaboratively on resources that enabled the IWB to be used as was intended – interactively with engaging content – then the desire to rip out all the IWBs and throw the on the scrapheap would be somewhat lessened? After all, just because they shouldn’t be used for everything doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used for anything…..