IWB v. Data Projectors – An Expert Weighs In

A week or so back, iwb.net.au started the IWBNet List, which was an e-mail subscription list for all of its current newsletter subscribers. Well, to cut a long story short, the list started a bit of an e-mail frenzy and people started panicking about extra e-mail load because everytime someone responded to an e-mail, all subscribers got a copy and if got forwarded, everyone got another copy. Then people started unsubscribing in fear and that triggered multiple copies of that e-mail until, iwb.net pulled the plug on the list. It opened again today with optional subscription.
Anyway, a few interesting threads opened up with the usual request for where to find good resources etc. and the often stated question was posted about the value of IWB's vs. data projectors on their own. I haven't got permission to quote the original author or reveal their identity but the general paraphrase was that one educator was still wondering what the real impact an IWB would have in a classroom considering that the large screen image can be obtained without the actual board. Now I've posted before about this issue and never felt that I could successfully encapsulate the answer to this comparison. But then Peter Kent replied on the List and with his permission, I'd like to post his response here. Peter is the deputy principal at Richardson Primary School in Canberra where Australia's interactive whiteboard movement gained its first bit of momentum and Peter himself has conducted the most probing research into the impact IWB technology has had on the learning of the kids at his school. He has also spent time as a Education Officer for ActivBoards and presented to many schools and guided them on their way. So, you could say he knows what he is talking about.
Here was his e-mail:

Hello All,
Back in 2004 I wrote a short answer to this question which I have attached;
it is a long standing question.
When considering this question however it is best to look from the
prospective of a teacher who has up until now had little to no use for or
interest in the use of technology in the classroom.  These teachers are the
ones that seem to be able to pick up and run with IWBs where they cannot
with a computer and a projector.  (the attachment is my best guess why)
Highly competent teachers with ICTs have and will make effective use of
computers and projectors,  they will also make effective use of  IWBs as
well.  The main advantage of IWBs is that it is technology for the masses.
IWBs seem to be able to be more effectively integrated into 'normal'
classrooms where 'traditional technology' integration rarely progresses
beyond the token or confined to 'hotspots' within the school.
The reasons why teachers will make great use of IWBs rather than computers
and projectors are not always rational; this however is just a reflection of
human nature.  If the world was rational we would all be using open source
software, probably on Macs, while watching our BETA video tapes.  Those who
search for completely rational answers to this question may never find one.
Peter Kent

And here is his article attachment:

How IWBs are different to using the projector with a computer?

Peter Kent: Deputy Principal - Richardson Primary School

Seven responses to this question in no particular order:
1. IWBs allow access to ICTs for those students that up until now have alienated by ICTs, ie the early childhood children and the special education children. These children have not the fine motor skills, or they have found the 'complexity' of using ICTs overwhelming.
2. IWBs are a very effective and comfortable way for teachers to integrate ICTs into classroom practice. Teachers often use and can think of an IWB as a whiteboard with the power of a computer. They know how to incorporate whiteboards into classroom use and so they feel comfortable with IWBs, as time progresses they evolve their teaching to take into consideration the potential of the 'computer aspect'. A computer and projector can be thought of as a computer with a very large screen, but it is still fundamentally a computer, not fundamentally a whiteboard. While this might seem a difference in semantics it makes a big difference in practice.
3. IWBs are more interactive. Computers and projectors are more didactic. Computers and projectors are good with presentation (ie PowerPoint). Information can be presented in sequential formats. Admittedly, computers and projectors can take advantage of digital convergence (CD ROMs, DVDs, the Internet) to add a rich environment to the presentation. However once the presentation is prepared only the person at the computer can operate it, change it, or annotate it. Often doing any of these tasks is quite difficult if you are not technical. Pre-set PowerPoint presentations are not good at catering for divergent thinking from the class. In these cases either the divergent thoughts are glossed over, or the presentation is stopped so the new direction can be explored, usually in a traditional discussion, maybe enhanced by access to information on the Internet, or another piece of software. In this context however it is complicated and clumsy to annotate the new information, take notes of the discussion, etc..... It is not impossible to complete these tasks, yet the skills required would not be found in 100% (or even a majority) of teachers. With an IWB teachers can still prepare pre-set lessons, yet they can also comfortably allow digressive thoughts and idea to be catered for seamlessly in the lesson. This allows for a much richer 'interactive' teaching and learning environment.
4. Students and Teachers can manipulate and annotate information, objects, programs.... that are displayed on the board. A group can cluster around the board taking turns in a quick fire manner to interact with the content of the board. With a computer and a projector all the aspects of control are located at the computer (often away from the display of information) this creates serious barriers to collaborative interactions, assuming that the children have the skills to interact via a computer in the first place (see point 1).
5. Via the use of an interactive whiteboard a school should expect to see an increase in the educational value of pre-existing technologies that have been purchased. This in someway is related to point 2, in that the 'whiteboard' aspect provides the bridge and link between 'technology' and 'teachers' comfort zones'. As a computer and projector does not provide this link the school's pre-existing technology often remains under utilised.
6. IWBs can still be thought of as emergent technologies. Some manufacturers are creating new / original ICT peripherals to work in conjunction with IWBs (voting devices, interactive tablets, lectern devices, etc) all of which increase the functionality of the IWB. IWB Software advances are occurring at a rapid rate, with the majority of them aimed at the educational uses. A computer and projector approach not only takes away from classroom the advantages that IWBs have to offer currently, they also cut off access to many future advantages and potential that will inevitably become available.
7. There is hard evidence that IWBs can be used to create an environment that enables an entire school community to embrace the integrated use of technology within the teaching and learning process. There is hard evidence that the use of IWB can significantly improve learning outcomes for students. I am not aware of similar evidence or claims for a computer and projector approach.

Thanks Peter for allowing me to reproduce your article here - now there is a version in cyberspace for others to read and re-mix.

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