IWB – Barrier Or Bridge?

Along with a group of teachers from my school, I am heading off to the National IWB Conference in Sydney in late August. Despite having used one in my classroom since 2005 and being one of the prime movers in getting them installed in our school, my opinion on their effectiveness waxes and wanes constantly. I am presenting at the conference as well - twice in solo presentations on the use of social bookmarking and on effective presentation design, citing expertise from Meyer, Shareski, Elias, Mercer and Woodward along the way. I am also appearing in a support role with my co-planning buddy on "IWB and Inquiry Learning."
In between these commitments I hope to catch a variety of sessions in an effort to gauge what is being touted as best practice, how our school measures up in a national picture and whether there is any real transformation going on. I hope I can keep my cynicism on check as my one day jaunt to the 2008 IWB Conference was .... ahem ... a bit underwhelming.
I use my own IWB daily when in the classroom but I struggle with this whole concept of interactivity. I helped my wife construct her first own flipchart the other day as part of the training package her school got with their IWB purchases from late last year. She had to construct a table on basic shapes (she is teaching five year olds) and hide her selection of objects from the library in a layered box so the kids could "pull" them out of the "magic box" and then place them in the appropriate column on the flipchart. So what does pulling the objects out of the box achieve? Does this really enhance the learning process or is it just a visual gimmick?

So these sort of questions keep bugging me to the point where I am not sure whether the IWB is a lifeline or a barrier to effective classroom learning. Maybe to stretch the mangled metaphor a bit more, maybe IWBs just add digital cement around age old established practice. So, in the spirit of querying my own (constantly changing) perceptions, here is a comic for you to consider.

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8 thoughts on “IWB – Barrier Or Bridge?

  1. Tony Searl

    Nice to have as another visual aid (hook or gimmick?) but I too struggle with “best practice” or C21st learning, whatever that may really mean with an IWB.

    I use it daily, the kids seem to respond well to our visual sources and maybe now with L4L (NSWDET laptops) we can use it for student sharing, presenting, showing, discussion.

    Not sure if that makes it a “I” wb though or just still an expensive screen.QT is QT whatever the tools employed.

    I will be all ears at Waverly to see what my learned colleagues teach me. See you there GW.

  2. Angela Lee

    Hi! haven’t commmented on your blog before but have been reading it for a while.

    I’ve been thinking about this question a lot in the last week, I’ve just changed my classroom around so that I have a 1:5 ratio of computers and it seems we have actually used the IWB a lot less as the children prefer to use the computers in front o them and we haev more sucessful discussions and participation when we do that.

    However they still really enjoy having control of the board we have a Mimio so nice and easy to move around and use in a wide variety of situations.

    I really enjoy having it to record class discussions and brainstorms fo use later. But I feel that it has become more of an expensive toy rather than something we couldn’t do without.

  3. greg carroll

    have just purchased 42″ LCD screens for each pair of classrooms + bluetooth mouse and keyboard for each teacher. LCD’s are not affected by ambient light like projectors and bluetooth mouse etc gives a lot of the functionality of IWB without all the cost. We loos the point and click on the screen bit but much of the lure of the IWB is the software not the capability of the hardware. Our solution seems to me to be a lot more ‘bang for our buck’.
    Will be interesting to see how it goes. The kids love it and so do the teachers who have used them so far …. all on the strength of a week but will post on my blog when we have had enough time to fine a few ‘issues’ to comment on.
    wee ramble with where things are at for us …. and vaguely related to your post 🙂

  4. ken

    It’s interactive. They are moving. They are held to another level of accountability and participation than in Pre-IWB times.

    Add a slate! Watch the teacher move around the classroom! Witness the delivery of instruction/content from a point other than directly in front of and tethered to the IWB.

    Me, I’m an IWB proponent. Why, you ask? (you didn’t)

    Yes, it’s expensive; in fact, too expensive for what it really does. It doesn’t do a lot. It’s a lot like a computer. It doesn’t do anything unless there is a human operating it with proficiency and purpose. So, why am I a fan of these IWBs? (note: our military has been looking for these pesky IWBs for years!)

    They make teachers edgy. They bring out their resistance, their obstinance, and they leave everyone thinking (hopefully), ‘should I do things differently?’

    Makes me giggle, on so many levels.

  5. Graham Wegner

    @Tony. Looking fwd to catching up with you in Sydney and having a chat about the state of education in general.

    @Angela. I appreciate your frank observations and agree that actual computers have a greater engagement and relevance factor for students than an IWB.

    @ken. Giggle? You made me laugh out loud … rather uncomfortably.

  6. Tom

    I ask the same questions you do.

    I see IWBs as a convenient thing for the teacher. I am not particularly impressed with the student (singular stressed) getting up out of the seat while all of the other students watch. The “magic” stuff (appearing objects, various self-grading options) could be done lots of other ways.

    Slates seem a little more useful but then it’s not about a IWB it’s about a slate.

    To address some of the comments, I don’t see IWBs holding anyone to any degree of accountability. If you use the “gift” of IWBs to drive instructional change that’s one thing- kind of a halo effect- but the change in instruction has to be driven from somewhere. Technology doesn’t change practice.

    If the computer solution is possible, it’s far more powerful for a variety of reasons. In a lot of ways I see IWBs reinforcing the teacher centered teaching that has been prevalent.

    I’ll cut it short at this point but I think you’re on the right track and this kind of questioning (no matter the outcome) ought to happen whenever we use technology or any other technique/tool.

  7. Graham Wegner

    Thanks, Tom. The whole concept of a conference centred around one form of technology is an interesting concept in itself. I am extremely interested in the conversations that I will get to have – but I think I do like the NZ approach of focussing their conferences around learning rather than tools in the classroom.

  8. Buzz Garwood

    I blogged about this exact topic a few weeks ago. All in all, the IWB can be just another visual aid for the teacher, but it can be so much more in the hands of a truly innovative teacher. All tools are mere tools unless placed in the hands of an educational artisan.

    Buzz Garwood


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