Interactive, you’re doing it wrong

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Ok, it’s confession time. Call me a luddite if you must, but I’ve recently often found myself biting my tongue while people around me talk about how great interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are for education.  Don’t get me wrong, I get the whiz bang/curb appeal completely.  The question that keeps coming up for me is, what sort of pedagogy do they support?   The fact of the matter is that, due to their cost and size, a classroom is only ever likely to have one IWB in it, which means they will tend to support a teacher-centric model of education, discouraging group work and collaboration.  When I consider the provocation “What sort of teacher do you want to be?” pretty much the furthest thing from my mind is an image of myself in front of a classroom with an IWB yacking away and playing CNN host on election night in a whirl of pointless visual wizardry while students watch on in a daze.   I can’t help but suspect that education departments everywhere are confusing student excitement over cool gadgetry with meaningful engagement.

Why write about them then? Because IWBs are everywhere and it seems likely that when I start teaching next year my classroom will either have one or will be getting one soon.  At the school where I’m doing my prac, most classrooms have one.  Those that don’t will have one installed by the beginning of next school year.  A teacher at a public college in the ACT recently told me that all science classrooms at his school will have one next year.  In 2007, 51% of Australian high schools had at least one IWB and 10% of Australian year 8 science teachers used them “often” or “nearly always”, while the number for mathematics teachers was 11% (Ainley,Eveleigh, Freeman &  O’Malley, 2010).  That’s four years ago.  The IWB industry had revenues of nearly US $1 billion in 2008 (Futuresource, 2009) and at that time it was projected that one out of every six classrooms in the world would have an IWB by 2012 (Futuresource, 2009).  While there doesn’t appear to be any more recent definite industry wide data available, Smart Technologies alone expects to have nearly US $800 million in revenue over the 2011 fiscal year (Smart, 2011).    If I’m going to have one in my classroom, I need to find out what they’re capable of and gather ideas about the kind of pedagogy they can support.

So, here I am.  Trying not to kick, trying not to scream, ready to attempt to talk objectively about IWBs.


Ainley, J; Eveleigh, F; Freeman, C; and O’Malley, K (2010) “ICT in the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in Year 8 in Australia: report from the IEA Second International Technology in Education Study (SITES) survey,” ACER Research Monographs.

Futuresource Consulting (2009), “Interactive Whiteboard market shows no real signs of recession,” Retrieved from…/2009-03_IWB_Update_release.pdf

Smart Technologies (2011), “SMART Reports Third Quarter 2011 Financial Results,” Retrieved from


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