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Why Interactive Whiteboards Were a Terrible Idea

Updated on January 16, 2019

Why Interactive Whiteboards Were a Terrible Idea

Quick! Name 3 technologies commonly used in education. You probably came up with: computer (for teacher and student use), iPads, and interactive whiteboards. Some of you may have said TV/DVD player as well or something else.

While computers and iPads (which are really just computers too) have impacted education, the interactive whiteboard (IWB) has not. The story of the IWB is a cautionary tale about the adoption of technology in education.

The Rise of the IWB

Around the time I was in college (late 90s, early 00s), IWBs began showing up in university classrooms. Usually, they appeared in physics, chemistry, or other science/math classrooms. The assumption was that a more technically minded field would use technology more than a liberal arts field (a wrong assumption). At that time, IWBs did not proliferate. They were still in just a limited number of college classrooms and were used sparingly. In five years, that changed dramatically.

Ten years ago, K-12 institutions began adopting IWBs in their classrooms, largely as a result of seeing the devices in colleges and being sold them by education companies. Millions of dollars were spent by school districts across the country installing IWBs in every classroom. In fact, districts are still buying and installing these devices and teachers still request them. But, the IWB was a terrible idea and has become a money pit for districts who still insist on buying and installing them.

Learning Benefits (or lack thereof)

So, why were IWBs adopted so widely? The companies selling the devices promised that IWBs would improve student engagement, improve student learning, and lead to increased test scores (always promised with every educational advancement). But, here is what IWBs actually provided:

1. Reinforcement of a teacher-centered classroom

Because they force students to receive information mainly through the teacher, IWBs reinforce in students the idea that the teacher is the source of all information. The students are the passive receptors.

2. Reduced interactivity

Districts were told that students will love coming to the IWB to complete math problems in front of the class. However, students enjoyed this no more than they did coming to the chalkboard to solve math problems. The addition of Flash games to the whiteboards were even less interactive and fun than common games that teachers would play such as Trashket Ball.

3. A drain on technology resources that led to reduced funding for viable technologies

IWBs were/are the biggest drain on classroom technology budgets. They are more expensive than computers, can do less, and cost more to maintain. A IWB requires the board itself, a projector, and a computer. The boards at the cheapest are $1000, the projectors $500, and the computer varies but let's assume $800. So, the total cost is $2300. Don't forget that projector bulbs die frequently and cost hundreds of dollars to replace and that the whiteboard software requires an ongoing license fee. For the cost of one IWB, a classroom could be outfitted with a small Chromebook cart!

4. A closed ecosystem

Almost every IWB manufacturer has their own software to create lessons that run on the board. Almost none of the software is cross-platform compatible. Additionally, the software usually prohibits any export into a universal format such as pdf. There is an open-source IWB software called Open Sankore, but it is buggy at best.

Common Defenses for IWBs

Here are some common defenses I hear for IWBs along with responses.

1. "I can record what I am doing and my students can review it later"

Why are you recording what you are doing in front of the class? This reinforces the teacher-centered classroom. You should be leading students to discover how to do it on their own and then letting them practice.

2. "It is interactive. My students love it!"

On what are you basing this assertion? Have you surveyed your students to see if they love it. Or, are you basing it on the one student who volunteers for everything?

3. "Everyone in the class can see the video/student work/etc."

Are there not other ways of providing this to students that don't cost $2300? Does a TV/projector not show video? Can you not photocopy student work? Can't students create their work on a cloud platform and then share with each other?

A Final Word

My main issue with IWBs is the amount of resources they have consumed without any demonstrated benefit. There are a wealth of technologies that exist that can impact a student's learning and for much less cost.

Chromebooks (which encourage collaboration to create finished projects) are cheaper. Simple tablets are cheaper and allow students to access content, create content, collaborate, and share it.

If school districts had invested the dollars spent on IWBs on meaningful technologies, students would have been much better served. Districts need to thoroughly evaluate the adoption of technologies in terms of student learning. It is amazing that, in many school systems, that one factor is far behind almost every other.

I guess if I could sum it up in a sentence: Make learning about the students, not the teacher!

© 2019 Calter Moore


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