What do you see when you see an Interactive Whiteboard?
Admittedly, not everyone who is critical has even seen one in action but that doesn't prevent anyone from having an opinion. And as IWB fervour builds throughout the South Australian education community (particularly in primary schools) many are wanting to see for themselves to see if there is any substance to the hype. What, indeed, are the possibilities? Some schools want to dabble cautiously (perhaps one in the library), some have decided to invest their dollars elsewhere and some are going the full hog (every classroom with an IWB by 2007).
Over the past month, I've done three presentations on ACTIVboards to three slightly different audiences. The first was to a local school wanting to get a first hand look at what an IWB actually was, the second was a favour to the ACTIVboard sales rep showcasing their product (which we have) to a school trying to pick their preferred brand and thirdly, a repeat of our International Middle Schooling Conference presentation to our local cluster group of middle school teachers. What was really interesting was that each presentation evoked different responses and different questions - and it really makes me stop and think about the fact that as teachers we all have unique world views. I received a timely email from Quentin D'Souza shortly after who posed an excellent question about questions in relation to what questions I would ask now in regards to the effective use of IWB's. There have also been a couple of excellent posts querying this focus on IWB technology - one from Warrick Wynne and a lengthy effort from Derek Wenmoth. I shared Derek's with my staff via the weekly bulletin and had a few teachers commenting how his insights hit home.
So, maybe the IWB has become a type of pedagogical magnifying glass with the questions being asked and the aspects that attract approval potentially revealing quite a lot about how classrooms operate. For example, teachers who groan at what they see as a huge learning curve and a large absorption of time are educators who see that teacher created content as important. Some might also see that the IWB is confirmation that a "sage on the stage" approach is the way to go. Some who ask about ready made content and shared resource repositories are looking to "not reinvent the wheel" - and the cynical side of me might suspect a worksheet mentality. Teachers who ask about how to create stuff on the fly and pull in images, diagrams and pieces from the web and other software programs are eyeing off the possibilities to connect different pieces of learning. Maybe they are the ones who will want the students up there using the board.
I would be worried that any school that is deciding to put an IWB in every classroom all at once could be setting themselves up for difficulties in addressing teachers' needs in terms of training and movement through Marc Prensky's four stages of technology implementation. I would not like to be that coordinator as he or she tries to move 18 or so teachers towards full and effective use of this tool. There could be quite a few still stuck permanently at Old Thing In Old Ways without timely guidance and support - something that is hard to give when one is at full stretch. As Derek pointed out, then you do have classrooms trapped in an instructivist environment. I expanded on this idea in my comment on his post:
I would also probably guess that an IWB doesn't turn a teacher into an instructivist educator - they were probably taught that way prior to the IWB. The trap is now they think that their methodology has ICT credibility just because it's up on an interactive whiteboard. It's really important to push the creative, innovative approaches to teaching and the technology should be the enabler, the connector of the learning.
One thing I will say in defence of the IWB being misused as an instructivist tool - if you want teachers to change their practice, you have to start from where they are. It's no good pressuring them with expectations that are several progression steps from where they are - that's where effective leadership steps in, the kind that realises that in today's world, technology and learning go hand in hand. Maybe the teacher who doesn't know his or her blogs from wikis, complains of e-mail overload if the in-box contains more than five messages, and wouldn't know a Moodle from a podcast might just be able to move forward (and the students exposed to more opprotunities) in a more comfortable way using an IWB. I'm not advocating that we leave any classroom in an instructivist only environment - but it isn't really a problem if we start from there.