IWBs – the eternal battle continues….

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…..


  1. Training is the real issue. I work in a school where every room has one yet they are used mainly as projectors so I don’t have opportunity to learn from my peers. I missed the initial training and because I don’t have my own room – I go class to class to teach music in primary schools – I don’t have the chance to learn through experimenting. I blog about my music teaching which school have unblocked but the majority of content ie slideshare, loop, YouTube videos are so as to render it useless for the kids to see their work.
    Your article though has stiffened my resolve to ask for some decent training

  2. Nice post. It’s nice to finally read a blogpost on this subject that is balanced, informed and reasonable. No long stream of emotive adjectives, no trumped up hyperbole, no excessive sarcasm and cynicism. You’re right, these thing are only as good as the teacher driving them, and if anything, the mass rollout of IWB technology has simply exposed a sizable chunk of the teaching profession that is strangely unwilling to change the way they teach to take advantage of these tools.

    Thanks for the post

  3. Good posting, it reviews the debate very well. I suppose the issue I was trying to put across in my blog (as well as defending IWBs from criticism which I think is unfair), is that no technology alone is a magic bullet for education. A skilled approach by teachers is needed with a range of tools and strategies. Some of these will be using the IWB. some will use other tools including iPads. I found out from the post that for some even an implied criticism of iPads is too much take, I had some tweets from people who seemed rather incensed that I did not endorse the view that the iPad was the killer device for education that they thought it was. You also make some excellent point about TeachMeets and CPD for teachers. TMs are great ways for teachers to share content, so this could be a vehicle to spread better usage of IWBs. In these times of fiscal hardship we do need to look for value for money from our technology so I hope the debate moves onto to things like Total Cost of Ownership of technology which is an important consideration.

  4. In Australia, at least in New South Wales, there hasn’t been a government hand out of IWBs to my knowledge. It has been left to schools and P&Cs (Parents & Citizens groups) to organise funding. Putting that difference aside, I enjoyed reading your post. In particular I agree with your statement debating already spent money. When we have new equipment, the debate should be more aimed at funding to equip teachers with the time and skills necessary to effectively use the equipment. Effective doesn’t mean using it all of the time. It means using it well when it’s needed.

  5. Don, thanks so much for the balanced and well-reasoned arguments which brought a fresh perspective on this well-trodden theme. The money has indeed been spent; that particular horse has not only bolted, but disappeared over the horizon.

    One more observation though if I may. Any expenditure on ICT (or indeed any other resource for school) should be fully costed, part of that cost being training/professional development for the users. So if the IWBs are not being fully used, there are three possibilities:
    1. training was not provided at all. Shame on whoever procured the boards in the first place.
    2. full and adequate training was provided, but taken no further. Shame on the users. Shame twice – money wasted on board AND training.
    3. insufficient or inadequate training provided. Shame on … well could be any or all parties actually, including supplier.

    You also suggested several sensible remedial actions. My only worry is that those who didn’t take advantage of the opportunities the first time around may be unlikely to take advantage of emerging possibilities. Shame again?

  6. I had some initial training with the IWB and was keen to use it. When I was refused the ‘key’ to install the software on my home computer I decided not to use the IWB software. I write on it but never prepare anything in advance. The area round the board is often so cluttered that I cannot stand to the side so that the students can see the board. In some rooms there is furniture in front of the board so I cannot reach it anyway. A complete waste of money in a new building.

  7. Great post. When used correctly, an IWB can be a great tool in the classroom. Teachers need training in their use, and schools need to be aware that there are other issues when buying them – blinds, space to use the board, giving staff home access to the software etc.

    As you say – other tech such as iPads are also desirable in the classroom, and some teachers are already making great use of them. But if a teacher can’t use their IWB well, what chance will there be of the very expensive ipad/laptop suite being used effectively either.

    At the end of the day it comes down to proper training and then the school supporting staff to learn and develop their teaching strategies to make the best use of the board – not just parachuting tech into a classroom and expecting staff to magically be able to use it. Then tearing out the tech when they can’t.

  8. Thanks for the comments folks, you’ve all been very kind. I’m sort of wondering where the Nay-sayers have got to?

    Some very good points being made here in the comments. Jackie and Danny hit the nail on the head when they say training is a key issue, and as for Carol not being ‘allowed’ the key, I just can’t understand that. I can’t begin to think what the objection there would be. Don’t know if you’re on Twitter Carol, but if you are get in touch (@don_iain) and I might be able to help you get your key – if your enthusiasm hasn’t been dulled that is!

    Matt – I totally agree with your assertion about the ICT magic bullet – and it does seem like the iPad is the new one! I hadn’t heard of Total Cost of Ownership before, will need to look into it.

    I think Ross makes a great point when he points out that ‘effective’ isn’t the same as ‘all the time’, and Danny’s 3-option observation is an astute one. His concerns about those who did not take advantage of previous opportunities also not taking advantage of new opportunities seems well-founded.

  9. Too bad the UK did such an IWB bender … we are only partially doing that here in Canada.

    If IWB’s have not already been naturally embraced and used powerfully by teachers (no matter what level of training is provided) then they likely never will be. The best kinds of technology are adopted effectively *without* significant amounts of formal training.

    Rather than waste even more $ on IWB training take a look at the factors which actually DO influence learning for lesser cost (google “Visible Learning” from John Hattie for some good starting points).

    Our own districts are struggling to provide solid wireless, teacher devices and basic projection. IWB should be a much lower priority.

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