Sunday, 9 January 2011

Interactive White Boards - why the writing should be on the wall

I have never been a fan of Interactive Whiteboards [IWBs] in secondary schools. I think that they are a gimmick. Sure, they are fun to use, but they are an expensive toy. They are rarely used interactively in secondary schools - they are not so much Interactive Whiteboards as Digital Whiteboards. There is a growing body evidence that they do not contribute to pupil learning or motivation and may have been a waste of money. The question is how long will we continue to invest in them - or is the writing on the wall for IWBs?

In the Maintained Sector the introduction of IWBs was driven by BECTA [may they rest in peace] and supported with significant Government funding from 2003-04. The consequence was that by 2007 98% of secondary and 100% of primary schools had IWBs . By 2008 the average numbers of interactive whiteboards rose in both primary schools (18 compared with just over six in 2005, and eight in the 2007 survey) and secondary schools (38, compared with 18 in 2005 and 22 in 2007) [Source - Becta Harnessing Technology schools surveys 2007 and 2008].

Competition and marketing were the main drivers for their introduction within the Independent Sector. IWBs were a key marketing battleground both between schools and within them. Schools bought them because if the local state school had them they they had to follow suit - they were a visible symbol to prospective parents that they gave the impression that this is a twenty-first century school that is forward-looking and technologically-savvy. Within schools, the "keeping up with the Joneses" principle also applied: departments didn't want to appear out of date or be left behind - if History had one, then Geography needed one too, lest more pupils opt for their subject instead.

What was missing from this whole initiative was an educational vision: how would IWBs aid teaching and learning? Rather, the whole phenomenon was supply-driven - and the manufacturers made their mint. Not for the first or last time, suppliers were driving the agenda - not educators

So, marketing benefits aside, what has been the impact of IWBs on the pupils' learning?

Well there is evidence that IWBs have had a positive impact in primary classrooms. Research by Becta evaluating the effectiveness of the The DCSF Primary Schools Whiteboard Expansion project indicated that IWBs had contributed to increased levels of attainment in Maths, Science and English at both KS1 and KS2.

However, the picture in secondary schools is somewhat different:
An evaluation of the introduction of IBWs in Secondary Schools by the School of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London, assessed the impact of interactive whiteboard use on:
  1. Teaching and learning;
  2. Teacher/pupil motivation, and pupil attendance and behaviour;
  3. Standards in core subjects at KS3 and GCSE.
They concluded
"Although the newness of the technology was initially welcomed by
pupils any boost in motivation seems short-lived. Statistical analysis showed no
impact on pupil performance in the first year in which departments were fully equipped. This is as we would expect at this stage in the policy-cycle."
And the jury has been out for the past three years, but there is a growing realisation that there is going to be very little return on IWBs at KS3, KS4 and KS5.

However there is no doubt that an educational agenda would demand data-projectors - indeed the prime advantage of the promotion of IWBs is that it has meant that nearly every classroom now has a data projector. These, combined with connectivity and some good software, have enabled teachers to harness the power of the Internet and to teach in a more exciting and responsive way than every before.

What concerns me is the opportunity cost. The fact is that IWBs are rarely used interactively - i.e. pupils driving the machine - indeed, if it is interactivity that we want then we can achieve the same level with a bluetooth keyboard and a gyro-mouse for a fraction of the cost. It's just not so sexy and it doesn't wow prospective parents in the same way. I can't help but think that had schools invested in voting software and handsets, rather than in IWBs that secondary education would be further on than it presently is.

References and further reading:


  1. At last some common sense - my feeling entirely, and not to mention the impoverished quality of the software at least in my subject that does less than a decent text book and costs a king's ransom. Rumour has it they are good for Geography lessons, but aside from their digital benefit they are, indeed, a gimmick.

  2. Completely agree and have been spouting same for years. Tablets may be an interesting move though.

  3. Greg, thanks for this. I agree that we are at the point where we need to move to some sort of handheld/ portable device for all pupils. The greatest barrier to this is that giving pupils connectivity on their own machine in the classroom will challenge teachers even more than ever. It will transfer even more power from the teacher to the pupil. For many it may be a step too far. However, I have a hunch that is probably the only way that we are going to effect the shift from classrooms being about teaching to being about learning.

  4. I think their effectiveness is entirely derived from whether or not the teacher has an active interest in using them to begin with, and the subject concerned. Take Mr Jeffers for instance, he knows how to use them to his advantage - using the interface to draw perfectly straight axes or returning to a full page of notes written half an hour ago at the click (or touch) of a button, should a pupil require.
    In more essay type subjects on the other hand, I imagine writing larger portions of text is a nightmare - the time lag, inaccuracy and not being able to quite see what you're writing down due to it being projected on the back of your head. Forcing the English department to adopt this approach completely would be bordering on a human rights violation.
    As Mr Coupe has said above, they are extortionately priced and I feel their installation should probably be a departmental decision (I can see the economics department kicking up a storm if it were forced upon them - and rightly so.)