Recently, our school has invested heavily in IWBs. In principle, I am all for getting new technology into schools as it challenges me to stop and think, and maybe look at the classroom and the whole learning experience from a new perspective. In my school, teachers don't have their own classroom but share different rooms at different times. Anyone could sign up as a volunteer to start using the IWB rooms, and I jumped at the chance together with some of my colleagues.
What I like about it
I have now used the IWB for 6 weeks. It's nice, for many practical reasons. For example, a lot of the clutter on the teacher's desk is gone - among other things, the fiddly separate speakers connected to the teacher laptop. These are essential language teacher's equipment, and now the speakers are neatly on the wall as part of the IWB.
It does save my time when I don't have to prepare OHPs or PowerPoint presentations anymore to present the correct answers of textbook exercises, but can use the course book publisher's website and the curtain application to gradually reveal the lines. I can use the coloured markers to highlight certain points, or construct something in collaboration with the group - even ask the students to come to the board or use the slate to add something on the board. Mind you, it takes some getting used to the delay with which the markers work, and certain software don't allow the use of the markers at all, but all these are just little hitches that you just need to familiarize yourself with. It’s the same with getting used to any new tools.
In our school, wiring has been a nightmare. Once, I and colleagues spent a long time trying to trouble-shoot why the laptop couldn't find the connection to the IWB. We clicked every possible button, reinstalled programmes - all to no avail. Finally, we realized that one of the many extension wires along the floorboards had been disconnected - possibly by custodians, while cleaning. Just one of the many hair-splitting instances when lesson plans have had to be scrapped. One colleague complained that he had resorted to preparing OPH transparencies as plan B, just in case the IWB didn't cooperate! Teething problems, partly, I'm sure. But this uncertainty and need to learn a lot of new technical details is enough to put some colleagues off using the board at all, especially as in our school, we don't have the luxury of a full-time ICT person to help out if needed. An extra challenge is that there are different IWBs in different classroom, each with their own peculiarities to learn and get used to. I would possibly do more if I could use the same board for all my lessons.
What is pedagogically new?
As for the pedagogical advantages of the IWB, I must say I am still looking for the real 'interactive' element so much hyped about yet. And I am still waiting for the WOW effect. We have had a few training sessions with experienced IWB users or vendor reps revealing their secrets. So far, all they have been able to show is very simple exercises and games, mostly for the primary school level. I have no doubt about how the use of the IWB motivates very young students and brings lessons to life. But I'm afraid that isolated magic tricks, or funny little things you can do with all the gizmos of the board won't cut it at the high school level any more. So far, I haven’t been able to see or fathom for myself really well-planned, pedagogically reasoned high school lessons, where the IWB considerably facilitates student learning. I need a spark to start even imagining what it can do for me and my students. Straight away, I fell into the trap of just trying to force the new tool into old-style lesson plans. I often find myself just using IWB an electronic version of the old OHP, and then get totally disillusioned about the mere cosmetic changes it makes in the lessons. It's clearer, more colourful, and easier to use (when it works!), but that's all. It still boils down to reassessing what LEARNING is supposed to be today, and how to activate students to take charge of and get passionate about their own learning. The IWB is no automatic solution to this. I need to know what to do first!
Networking and some progress
To find inspiration, I started looking for online peer support groups. And as often happens, within no time I had joined the Interactive whiteboard revolution Ning, created by Australian educator Chris Betcher, whose Betchablog I was already familiar with. There are already close to 1,300 members on the Ning, mostly from Australia and the US. I spotted a discussion about IWB use in high school, initiated by Julie Lecoq from France. Julie is is doing research on the gains of IWB use in schools. I didn't really find any more concrete ideas in the discussion thread but a lot of confirmation to my initial thoughts about no magic formulas for IWB use but a need for new, innovative, creative thinking to benefit from these expensive tools.
I did have one lesson where I saw a glimpse of something new, thanks to the IWB in the class. We had been doing an online photo project on Flickr, and in the last lessons of the course, I asked students, in pairs, to give their feedback on e.g. what they had learned, found interesting, what pictures and what writing had made an impression on them. They got really involved in doing this, and I was happy to see a lot of negotiation and collaboration taking place in the computer room while they were preparing. When we got back to our classroom to share their presentations, I was surprised to see the students using the IWB very creatively, and with no teacher guidance or pre-training needed! Interacting with each other and the board really made a difference to their presentations.
Baby steps, need for patience and perseverance and a gradual learning curve in store for me.