IWBs: enhancing classroom engagement?

Early research on IWBs focused on descriptive aspects of classroom use, their potential as a display tool for integrating multimedia and on their ability for demonstrating multiple representations of ideas (Higgins, Beauchamp & Miller, 2007).  IWBs were seen as capable of catering to a wider range of learning styles and as a tool to quicken lesson pacing (Higgins, Beauchamp & Miller, 2007).

Despite the enormous amounts of money being invested in this technology, there hasn’t been  a lot of experimental research done on how they might further learning outcomes or on how to use them effectively (Cheung & Slavin, 2011).  I’ll attempt to focus on either experimental or quasi-experimental studies.  I don’t see as much value in the multitude of qualitative case studies (some of which have been funded by IWB manufacturers) with stories of how much the kids in Ms. X’s class really felt engaged by the use of an IWB.

Torff & Tirotta (2009) performed a study on upper primary mathematics students, trying to ascertain whether IWBs impact self-reported levels of motivation in students.  They took a relatively large group (773) of these students in a single New York school district that had had access to IWBs for a number of years and divided them into two groups based on how their teachers responded to a survey regarding how often they used IWBs in their classroom.  The students were given a survey on their motivation for and enjoyment of mathematics.  Researchers found a very small, yet statistically significant contribution – approximately ¼ of a standard deviation – to student motivation from the use of IWBs.  They noted that this effect was much smaller than previous researchers had found in smaller studies.

The use of self-reported motivation level as dependent variable is pretty suspect, if unavoidable.  A more interesting study would have been to try to ascertain whether or not there were any measurable enhanced learning outcomes using IWbs.

More importantly, I wonder about their groupings for the study.  No attempt was made to see if there were any other differences between the teachers using IWBs and those who were not.  All of the teachers had had unrestricted access to IWBs (every classroom in the district had been outfitted with an IWB three years before this study took place).  I can’t help but think that any teacher who had been given access to this kind of technology and still hadn’t used it in the classroom for three years might have a higher than average likelihood of being burnt out and switched off.  An image comes to mind here of a mathematics professor I once had who hadn’t changed his overheads for the classes he taught in over a decade (they were referred to amongst the student population as “the dead sea scrolls”).  His lack of effectiveness as an engaging teacher wasn’t due to his not using nifty technology, but rather to the fact that he had stopped trying years ago.

References

Cheung, A and Slavin, R (2011) “The effectiveness of Education Technology for enhancing reading achievement: a meta-analysis” Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Retrieved from http://www.bestevidence.org/word/tech_read_Feb_24_2011.pdf

Higgins, S; Beauchamp, G and Miller, D (2007) “Reviewing the literature on interactive Whiteboards,” Learning, Media and Technology, 32: 3, 213-225

Torff, B and Tirotta, T (2010) “Interactive whiteboards produce small gains in elementary students’ self-reported motivation in mathematics,” Computers and Education, 54: 379-383

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