Interactive Whiteboards

I haven't been spending much time writing on this blog lately because I've been writing end of year reports (what a way to suck the time out of your weekend/s) and I've been tending to the garden of my oft-neglected specialist blog, Activboarding (Four posts since November 27).  I've long given up on the notion that it belongs to any sort of group; it's mine and although it doesn't do the same sort of tortured soul searching that goes on here occasionally, it does have some useful stuff. Especially if you are interested in Interactive Whiteboards. If you're not, then kindly ignore this post.


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.

iwbgwJust a thought I had the other day when pondering the immediate future of our Interactive Whiteboard program - maybe the reason the IWB tool gathers a lot of scepticism and criticism is that unlike other new technologies like mobile phones, PDA's, mp3 players, laptops, digital cameras and DVD players, it isn't really used at all by the general public. I know that when we had our initial presentation from Peter Kent, he mentioned that the ACT Brumbies had used an ACTIVboard for game strategies and a staff member who has sons in the Aussie military has told me that SmartBoards have used to some effect in the Australian Air Force. But apart from that, the only place you'll find an IWB is a school.

I honestly think that fact brings with it a set of expectations for learning improvement and measurable outcomes from its use that doesn't apply to the same degree as the other mentioned technologies. The IWB is also designed to be a group based tool that can be used by pairs or individuals while mobile phones, PDA's, mp3 players, laptops, digital cameras and the humble PC are designed for individual use first that education has co-opted for group use and pairs. As I said at the start of this post, just a thought ...

As part of the preparation for our Parent Information evening, I sat down with one of our new Interactive Whiteboard users to check through what she intended to show as her contribution. Maria is a middle primary teacher and has now had an ACTIVboard in her classroom for nearly six weeks and it was interesting to talk with her candidly about her experiences with this tool that the jury is still very much undecided on. Already, she said that she wouldn't want to give it up and go without this tool. So our meeting was to identify some useful examples to highlight the IWB's potential in the classroom.

During our conversation, Maria talked with passion about her "turning point" in her IWB use which is pretty amazing considering the relatively short amount of time she has had the ACTIVboard in the classroom. It really does hammer the point home that excellent teachers have no problem blending technology into their teaching practice, because they are great teachers not because they are using whiz bang technology. Anyway, back to Maria's story. Her class have been tackling a Problem Based Learning unit on the general theme of water conservation - I've been working with them using Photoshop Elements to create logos and Photo Story to craft community service announcements to educate others about water conservation. Maria had been threading a lot of this through the curriculum, carrying ideas and learning from the Resource Centre back into her classroom and then it all came together in one afternoon.

Maria had started a lesson in a very traditional way with the use of a poem about the water cycle which she had photocopied and handed around. In her pre-IWB days, this would have been a lead-in to a discussion that would be "connected to" later in the week when the students had their computing room time, when they were in the library using resources on the water conservation theme. However, as she had access to the ACTIVboard she was able to go from the poem to an interactive website that showed the water cycle in action, then compared the visual difference between two online diagrams that had been found by a student in a previous PBL lesson. Straightaway the visual learners in the classroom were catered for, which the photocopied diagram and poem struggled to do. Things just started falling into place as the afternoon progressed, connecting the learning quickly and efficiently with Maria's role being of much more facilitator than traditional teacher. She was no longer the expert but the IWB allowed her to access information in multimedia form to present for discussion and dissection by her students. As Maria said to me, she would have done all this but over a much longer timespan and much less convenience. So, it was really great to see that the ACTIVboard could really assist in "just-in-time" learning and help connect concepts when the opportunity presented. This means more efficient learning opportunities for the students allowing them more time to go deeper into their water conservation topic while a more traditional approach might have only skimmed the surface.

Now if all of our teachers push their IWB use in this direction, then it can become a very useful tool in the 21st classroom. But as was pointed out at the Parent Information evening, technology in the classroom is only as good as the teacher guiding its use. Now I have to think long and hard about how to support our teachers in my role so they feel as empowered as Maria and her students.

Hi to all participants from this morning's presentation. I promised that if you looked at the website address on my business card, you'd end up here and I'd have some links to ideas and resources mentioned during the presentation.

Did You Know? powerpoint link at this post at the Fischbowl.

Lockleys North Primary School IWB blog, Activboarding.
Also, click on my Interactive Whiteboards category tag on the right hand side of this site.
IWB sites bookmarked - or or

Also, the wiki site from our Middle Schooling Conference presentation on IWB's has some worthwhile IWB resources and contain links to the Marc Prensky articles quoted.

Feel free to comment or email at my contact address in the right sidebar.

After two weeks, I've finally organised the audio from the International Middle Schooling Conference presentation on "IWB's in the Middle School Classroom". I recorded it on the school's new iRiver T10 and the results weren't too bad with the built in microphone. After tidying it up in Audacity, I had a go at uploading it onto the web to link it in here. Originally, I tried uploading it here because I had read somewhere I could upload up to 25MB of files here but I didn't read the fine print of the 3MB limit of individual files! So, I tried my new account but that has a limit of 10MB per file on their free account (you can upgrade that for a monthly fee.) So, it was off to create an account at ourmedia which required a download of SpinExpress for uploading large media files. I managed to do that but ourmedia then went down for the weekend and I only got access to the file's URL. So, if anyone is still interested (kinda pushing it here, I know) here are the complete set of resources from our well received presentation.

IWB's In The Middle School Classroom
Listen - (mp3 - 14MB) View - (flp, pps or pdf) Links & Notes - (wiki)
No more to be said about this particular event but be warned - I have a IWB presentation this weekend at an EChO (Early Childhood Organisation) conference and we're doing something for parents at my school next Wednesday evening. So this won't be an IWB free zone for long.

Today was another busy day at the Conference, which started with another engaging keynote this morning from Robyn Moore. As it was pointed out, most people in Australia would know her voice before they recognised her face - voices like the Spray'n'Wipe ads, How Green Is My Cactus? and Blinky Bill. She was a real dynamo, really sparking up the crowd with her insights on communication and the role of teachers in enriching students' lives. Suffice to say, most people left very energised - such a gifted speaker.

bookmark.gifI skipped the next session in order to get down to the Riverbank Rooms where our MYLU presentation was going to be held. I checked at the main desk to make sure that the ACTIVboard had arrived and was told that it would be set up as soon as the previous session had ended. It was getting tight for time as we had an 11.15 am start and we actually didn't get into the room until after 11. The setup guys were great and we got it all hooked up with a few minutes to go. Our bookmarks with the wiki address on it were distributed around the room and we got underway after an introduction from Judy Anderson, Learning Band Coordinator from SouthWest District who's worked closely with us this year. We got going and I think the whole presentation went pretty well. All the planning and sweating over the timing paid off and we'll see how many people contact us afterwards asking more about our program or add comments on the wiki. For a full look at the presentation, go to the wiki but I still have to upload the presentation as a ppt and pdf file and edit the audio that I recorded as well.

I also went to a interesting presentation on Rubrics by Kerry Sidthaway and finished off by going to another session from Donna Pendergast where she outlined the main findings from the MCEETYA funded research project into Middle Schooling - plenty of food for thought for the future of our own Middle School program.

Last year our school installed six Promethean ACTIVboards across the school (including my own shared classroom) and I started this blog thinking that I could connect to other educators about that very topic. Well, I got plenty of connection to educators but not really on the topic of IWB's. In fact, much of the interaction has challenged my perspective not just on the use of this much heralded tool but its future in the rapidly evolving education landscape. I've actually concluded that I'm one of the very few people that's actually blogging about IWB technology. Most of that goes over on the Activboarding blog (which is a collection of links, resources and documentation) but when I want to reflect on my own ideas and how our IWB program has influenced me personally, then I'll post it here at TGZ.

Since August last year I've developed into a very competent technical user of the school's ACTIVboards. I've had to because although I had the same amount of experience as the others starting out (zero), it's in "my job description" to be good at troubleshooting and working how to use new technology. Being only part time in the classroom has meant I haven't developed my pedagogical skills with the IWB as much as my full time classroom based colleagues. So while I can demo the ACTIVboard to anyone and showcase the technical capabilities, I am still in the developing stage of using it really effectively with my own class. It's actually started to develop some worrying signs in the way the classroom is now set up is quite board oriented. Instead of groups of tables for collaborative tasks, the kids actually wanted a form of rows so that everyone has a decent view. Still, the classroom isn't about my preferred learning style but my students'. I still suspect that the true value of an IWB will be when the students have greater access to mobile technologies, maybe in the form of 1:1 handhelds or a class set of wireless laptops. Model stuff, then do.

So. with the first group of IWB teachers, there was an unwritten understanding that they were working things out for themselves and that the available support wasn't very much in front (if at all) of them. The teachers who've just started this past week have a slightly different outlook. In general, they probably aren't as confident or gung-ho as the original pioneers displaying a more cautious approach. They like to be sure of what they are intending to do with the IWB and aren't playing and experimenting as much compared to what I observed 11 months ago. They also have a reserve of experience to fall back on - buddies to go and see if they get stuck and need help. We're using better quality laptops this time around so there have been less technical hitches. I suppose one of the biggest shifts now is that our school has shifted from experimenting with this new (for Australia) technology to now being a school with a big commitment to the successful implementation of Interactive Whiteboards. We can now cater for all of the students in one way or another using IWB - if the kids aren't already in one of the 11 classrooms equipped with an ACTIVboard, then they will have access in the Science Room or the Resource Centre. So we have to make this idea work - there's a lot of dollars invested in this direction. Our partnership with Flinders Uni will be important to make sure that the pedagogy employed in our classrooms uses this portal to digital resources to best effect.

I've also been spending way too much a lot of time working on the presentation for the Middle Schooling conference in the evenings so I'm starting to feel like I spend more time thinking about IWB's than actually using them to work with kids. As with all technology, I reckon sometimes the teachers need to get out of the way and watch the kids using it, then direct them in ways that are beneficial. We'll see how the initiative unfolds in the next few months.

Some of my thinking about the best way to deploy technology in the primary school classroom seems to be heading in either of two near future directions. One - build it big enough that everyone can see the same thing or small enough that everyone can have one of their own. One costly thing that has a long life (by Moore's law standards, anyway) but needs upgradeable software and reliable peripherals and is mainly geared towards being a teaching tool or lower cost (but not low enough yet) handheld or exercise book sized devices that are designed for personalization but rapidly evolving in their shape, capacity and capability. Yes, you guessed it. It's time for one of those Interactive Whiteboard vs. 1 to 1 PDA/laptop posts of ponderance.

It's not my position in my education system to say what is the correct way to equip our local primary schools, but I am entitled to an opinion. A lot of thoughts about the right way to effectively use the technology dollar and ensure that we are just not putting things in for the sake of it. However, I get worried when well meaning colleagues (some higher up in leadership than me) make statements along the lines of, "Interactive Whiteboards are the way of the future." Ironically, my job entails the implementation of an IWB program here but I am far from a blind advocate. I have been reading a lot of Alex Hayes' thoughts lately at both of his blogs and they have offered my brain a lot of fuel for thought. I am worried because anyone who sees an Interactive Whiteboard as an educational technology solution has really missed the point about technology and its role within our society, nay, our world. Everything is evolving so fast and nothing is going to stop to allow our busy education system to "catch up" - this year's IWB could be next year's Nova 5000. It's a corny phrase but it's true, the only thing certain about the future is that it is uncertain. Alex says in his post, Mlearning : Importance.

I believe that learning that includes or incorporates the mobile technologies that students own, have access to and preference is at the heart of the challenge that education organisations face, now and in the future.

The questions and positions that we as educators adopt with respect to mlearning are respected when we acknowledge that the simple, small and seemingly insignificant 'games' that students of all ages play using these technologies. At the heart of our current ICT's in schools is the letter - capital "C" - communication.

My own research question / stance could be framed as - How can we improve the uptake of mobile communication technologies in a teaching and learning context acknowledging and incorporating the mobile technologies that students own and/or have access to ?

Or more simply and more pertinent to my present situation accompanying the former question - What challenges do educators face as they seek ways to employ mlearning as part of their everyday teaching and learning duties ?

I am entirely convinced we are at the crossroads in the Australian educational context with these issues and challenges.

These words made me think about my own [tentative] use of mobile technologies and the benefits it has brought to the way I now learn. Even in the primary school sector, is it the way forward? I outlined this in my comment to Alex:

However, the idea of anywhere, anytime learning that a mobile device gives its user really hit home to me the other day at a meeting with my learning team. I had been to the doctor earlier in the day and while I was sitting there, waiting my turn, I re-read an offline Prensky article webfile that would be useful at the meeting later on. Having that option has been become a regular way of operation for me now and I don't think anything of it but a few of my colleagues were amazed. So as wireless networks in the education sector become more common place, I wonder how I could utilise a class set of PDA's and whether the current focus on technologies like Interactive Whiteboards in the primary school sector (ironically, part of my role here at my school) is part of an old classroom container paradigm that may no longer be relevant.

And even as I think that I'm getting on Alex's wavelength and imagining the future of a middle school Aussie class with their wireless handhelds connecting and accessing web application as needed as part of the way they do their learning, Alex's exploratory response to my comment reminds me that IWB's have a lot of untapped potential and once again, the technology chosen is only as good as the methodology that drives it.

Your points on on the interactive whiteboard "container" may well be big news at the moment and again someones bright idea of transporting learning and connecting this in a distributive manner. I'm not entirely familiar with Interactive Whiteboards however it seems the ability to drag, drop, interact with and remotely operate that which was once static has again changed the ways in which we "showcase" what we do in a PD sense.

There is also the issue of getting the teachers (technophobic ones included) on board and reality says that an IWB stands a good chance of being sustainable. Ideally, in a world where education has buckets of dough, I'd fire up my IWB and model the task or problem to be solved and the kids would log in wirelessly on their handhelds and get to work. But the reality in education here in SA is you roll the dice and cross your fingers and hope that your purchasing power has been well directed and you don't end up with Interactive White Elephants or Wireless Devices in the hands of unmotivated students that have as little work in them as some of their exercise books used to have.

I know it seems like a lot of posts here seem to meander around future plans and there seems to be excessive verbiage about what are fairly everyday presentations for a lot of people in the edublogosphere. Some of the bloggers I read seem to present every other month at some conference or another and they certainly don't post about every minor step when planning what they are going to present. However for a few reasons, this space is still going to feature updates and progress reports on the two presentations I have a hand in this year. The reasons are:

  1. Australia is not aflow with conferences and they are a big deal to go to, even bigger deal to present at. I'll go to two, three tops this year. Will Richardson will probably go to three this month!
  2. Some of my colleagues involved read this blog as a way of being informed.
  3. I need all the feedback I can get. I'm not a naturally confident public speaker and it has taken this blogging caper to have the dawning realisation that my experiences and ideas are valuable to others.
  4. It's my blog and I can use any way I want!

So tonight the MYLU team met to continue planning for our Middle Schooling Conference presentation. I got them on board with the wiki, talked through what we wanted our audience to walk away with and then outlined a possible presentation framework. Here's what we came up with - responsibilities to be allocated down the track......

  1. Introductions.
  2. History of the MYLU.
  3. School history of IWB journey.
  4. Linking of the "digital immigrant, digital native" metaphor to our understanding of today's Australian middle school student.
  5. Use of Marc Prensky's implementation of technology into the classroom model - dabbling, old things in old ways, old things in new ways, new things in new ways.
  6. Providing of Flipchart examples showing the MYLU teachers' IWB use moving through these phases.
  7. Examples of student use of IWB's - moving from teaching tool to learning tool.
  8. Use of other new technologies in MYLU - the PBL program using wikis.
  9. Q & A at the conclusion.