Some Interactive White Board (IWB) Thoughts

I received an e-mail over the weekend asking about e-beam technologies in place of a “traditional” IWB like the SMART Board, Promethean, and PolyVision.

Let me state this clearly: I’m for any technology that a teacher will use.  As the Marzano and Haystead (2009) study discovered, nearly 25% of teachers with an IWB teach better without the device.  That is a significant statistic.  You can always say that a teacher needs more training, more prep time, more resources, and so on.  But the truth is that some people will do better without the technology…even in the current age.

I said this a number of times at the MMEA sessions I gave this year: the use of technology does not mean that a teacher is a good teacher, and the lack of use of technology does not mean that a teacher is a bad teacher. On a related note, there are subjects where technology literally does not mix with the environment.  I think of the ceramics room in our school, where the IWB is covered with a gritty layer of dust–as is every surface in the room.  The inclusion of technology in that particular room probably wasn’t a good idea.  Those kinds of situations exist in every school.

What you will find is that more technology will continue to seep into classrooms (I’m personally convinced that means tablet computers) and teachers will have to struggle to keep up with it, or the teachers will have to deal with administrative pressure which is spurred on by research (e.g. the aforementioned Marzano and Hayward study).

Granted, music education is a situation where music can still be taught as if it were 1950–and you can get some excellent bands, choirs, and orchestras when music is taught in such a way.

Going back to the IWB thoughts, you have to know what you want out of technology as well as what your school/district/boosters will provide for you.  Yes, a traditional SMART Board or Promethean is an expensive purchase.  However, you get a huge amount of resources (whether you use them or not) when you purchase those boards and their software.  Other products, such as e-beam, Mobi, Mimio, and so on offer IWB functionality without the complete set of resources.  That said, there are a lot of free resources out there–including applications (PC) such as Microsoft One Note.

My advice: if you hear about a technology that sounds interesting, contact a reseller.  Ask for a demo unit.  See what you think.  And then try some other alternatives.  I also think it is smart for a district or school to follow through with a common technology, as every device needs support.  It is silly to expect an IT person–or a media specialist– to know how to operate, train, and service five different IWB platforms in a single school.  Diversification is a great thing, but it is simply unrealistic in technology.  Additionally, check the lifespan of various devices.  The original SMART Board is still operational with today’s software (although the latest version of SMART Notebook unlocks multi-touch features and split screen operation on their newest board, which older boards cannot use).  Ask for references of schools that have the device and are willing to discuss it.  And then double check that your school or district’s IT department will support your IT endeavors.  And my new mantra is this: continuous improvement requires continuous training.  Too many efforts are kickstarted with detailed (perhaps overdetailed) training sessions and then abandoned.

One thing is for certain: IWB functionality doesn’t need to be as expensive as it is.  You can build a relatively accurate IWB with a Nintendo Wii remote and a homemade LED pen.  There are guides on the Internet which show you how to do this (And YouTube videos).  It all depends on what you need to do with an IWB as a teacher.  If a traditional IWB setup–with classroom controls–is over $8000, perhaps you could make a functional setup for less than $2000.

Then again, as tablet computers (like the iPad) overtake the world in the coming years, I think we’ll abandon the way we’ve used IWBs–in favor of mobility and “face time” (no Apple pun intended) much like the teachers that strongly recommended the SMART Airliner at the MMEA Convention.

On a side note, as another item you should check out, a discussion in our school has centered around Grade Cam, which seems pretty powerful–and frees a school from expensive Scantron machines and worksheets.  I don’t know the cost, and am waiting for my district to enable me to use it.


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