IWB cost/benefit – what other alternatives do we have?

For argument’s sake, let’s say for the moment that I believe that IWBs actually do have a small statistically significant effect on student motivation and engagement (I can feel my nose growing as I type).  Is it worth the cost?  Or even better, what other (cheaper!) alternatives are there to encourage engagement?  I’ll be a bit selfish and focus on physics and mathematics here, because that’s where my knowledge base and interest is.

IWBs vary a lot in price.  Many of the ones I’ve seen in classrooms recently fall in the price range of US $4000-$6000 (I hate to think what they cost in Australia!), not including the cost of a computer to power it.  The ones at my prac school appear to be at the upper end of that range.  They’re a slightly better deal when bought en masse, but still, they’re not exactly cheap.  Even their biggest fans acknowledge cost as a set-back (Lipton & Lipton, 2000).   What other technologies could I purchase for that sort of cash?  For a physics class, I could buy a class set (by which I mean around eight) of cheap, functional computers and have money left over for some digital lab equipment to use with them (e.g. wiimotes and a digital video camera).  Better yet, for half the cost of a replacement bulb for the projector, I could buy a class set of small mobile (albeit analogue, LOL) whiteboards that would put an IWB to shame in terms of the interaction they would facilitate in the classroom.  Think of the ass-kicking pedagogy that such a simple tool supports.  Students work in small groups, sharing ideas, peer instruction, the lot, all for $20 (or if you live in the US, $2).

You might (fairly) ask whether there is any research to support my implied thesis that these tools could lead to better learning outcomes.  The answer is a resounding hell yes.  In physics, there is a mountain of research supporting that an appropriate use of these kinds of tools, for instance, in a modeling context, can lead to hugely enhanced learning outcomes.  Quarter of a standard deviation effects, be damned, try two plus.  See, for example, Wells, Hestenes & Swackhamer (1995) or Hake (1998).


Hake R. (1998) “Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses,” American Journal of Physics, 66(1): 64-74

Lipton, M and Lipton, L (2010) “Enhancing the radiology learning experience with electronic whiteboard technology,” American Journal of Roentgenology, 194: 1547-1551

Wells, M; Hestenes, D and Swackhamer, G (1995) “A modelling method for high school physics instruction,” American Journal of Physics, 63(7): 606-619


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