TeachingEnglish
      On interactive whiteboards (again!)

      Graham invited me to state my case regarding the value of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in language education. Let me try.As always when confronted by a technical innovation, we should be asking ourselves the question that Neil Postman famously posed: “What is the problem for which this technology [in this case IWBs] is the solution?”What is the problem? One answer that is commonly cited is lack of motivation. IWBs help solve this by providing a change of focus, delivering interesting content, and offering multiple functions (including an interactive potential) that can keep learners (especially younger ones) engaged and entertained. Fine. There is some evidence to support this view. For example, a report on the use of IWBs with special needs learners over a month-long period found that “the most significant attribute was the attention and motivation the students had when working with the board. During the course of the study, there was no diminishment in enthusiasm and the students continued to want to complete most tasks using the board. The collaborative interaction within the group improved over time. This sustained motivation and persistence with the use of the board are the two key factors in aiding with learning outcomes.” (Salinitri, et al. 2002).On the other hand, over more extended periods it seems that the novelty may wear off. In a one-year study of IWB impact on the teaching of three core curriculum subjects in London secondary schools, the researchers found that “although the newness of the technology was initially welcomed by pupils any boost in motivation seem[ed] shortlived” (Moss et al, 2007, p. 4). (Unlike the previously mentioned study, the opinions of the students themselves were solicited).It seems that, as is the case with most teaching aids, their capacity to motivate diminishes quite quickly, especially with a generation less easily “wow-ed” by technological innovation. Also, the pressure on teachers to use the (expensive) new toy as much as possible could lead to over-kill. On the other hand, not to have IWBs – or to have them and not to use them – might actually have negative effects on motivation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many language schools are installing IWBs because not to do so would subject the schools to ridicule of the “how-sad-is-that?” type.  (It would of course be interesting to see if the motivational potential of IWBs could be achieved using less expensive means, e.g. by using data projectors and networked peripherals).The other problem for which IWBs are a possible solution is “the delivery-of-lesson-content problem”. IWBs deliver content better, arguably, because (a) they are networked, (b) they combine multi-media functions that were once distributed across audio, video, and computer media, (c) they are visual, auditory, AND kinaesthetic and (d) they are relatively easy to use. They also promote a “heads-up” classroom dynamic, and (if used to their full potential) they allow learners to interact with the content themselves, e.g. by manipulating it, responding to it, and even creating it. One report on IWB use in primary classrooms (Smith, 2001) summarises these advantages in the following terms: “The interactive whiteboard is an effective medium for teacher input to the whole class, and for reviewing the lesson. The teacher is able to present from the front, and is better positioned to observe pupils' response.”Given all these benefits, one might expect a positive impact on learning outcomes. Otherwise, why invest in them? But again, the evidence from mainstream teaching is inconclusive. As The Guardian reported, with reference to a two-year study covering six LEAs carried out by Newcastle University and published by the government's ICT agency, Becta, “pupils in schools with whiteboards scored no better in key stage 2 Sats than pupils in schools without boards. Failure to make a difference was underlined by the fact that those teachers surveyed were deemed to be using the boards interactively and creatively. Moreover, around 85% of teachers believed the whiteboard would improve children's scores” (Nightingale, 2006).Likewise, in a study sponsored by the University of Harvard on the impact of a massive scheme to install IWBs (using software called Enciclomedia) in every primary classroom in Mexico, the researchers found that “there were no significant differences in the knowledge abilities development, application and evaluation of the contents among those students that had access to Enciclomedia and those that did not.” (For a discussion in Spanish, see Aviles and Vargas, 2006).But, irrespective of the learning outcomes (and we all know how hard these are to measure) there is a fundamental ideological divide that separates the pro camp from the anti camp. One of the assumptions underlying the “content delivery” argument is that teaching (including language teaching) is essentially the transmission of information. If this were the case, then IWBs are unrivalled (except perhaps by a data-projector hooked up to a networked computer). However, if you regard learning (and learning of languages) not as simply a form of information-processing, but as a process of socially-situated and socially-mediated activity, then the delivery capability of IWBs, while impressive, is of only marginal utility. According to this (socio-cultural) view the processes of language learning and language use “are dynamic processes in which regularities and system arise from the interaction of people, brains, selves, societies and cultures using languages in the world” (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman, 2006, p. 577). That is to say, language learning is not so much delivered as co-constructed.  As Brumfit (1979) wrote, “Language teaching is not packaged for learners, it is made by them. Language is whole people.”  Or, as Breen (1985) said, “The language I learn in the classroom is a communal product derived through a jointly constructed process.”  According to this view, what matters is the degree and quality of communicative engagement between people, either in the classroom or outside of it, and using whatever means (including social networking) that might facilitate it.Therefore, if IWBs are to be truly facilitative, it is their (socially) interactional potential that needs to be optimised. But, in the words of a Futurelab report on IWBs, "the introduction of a technology with numerous embedded interactive affordances does not necessarily lead to a more interactive pedagogy" (p.8).  A frequently voiced caveat on the use of IWBs is that they actually reinforce a transmissive, “sage-on-the-stage” pedagogy. This is not helped by the fact that (according to a contributor to the IATEFL Cardiff online discussion on IWBs) “the tools that could be said to make the IWB ‘interactive’ - slates and response systems - generally get left out of the package”. Even so, these tools allow the learners to interact only with the content, not with other learners or language users.I’m not saying that IWBs couldn’t be enlisted to promote a “learning opportunities” (as opposed to a “teaching points”) view of learning (see Allwright 2005 for this distinction). But, as Mark Prensky reminded us at IATEFL this year, “Before you can take advantage of the technology you have to change the pedagogy”. The uncritical enthusiasm for IWBs generated by some users, and the exaggerated claims made for them by their merchandisers, are ultimately counterproductive. As Moss et al. (op.cit) note: “The lack of critical perspective on the [IWB] technology may make it harder to promote the necessary professional discussion of its relative strengths and weaknesses” (pp 8-9).In the end, whether or not you are drawn to IWBs boils down to whether you construe language teaching as, on the one hand, entertainment and delivery, or, on the other, community and communication. And whether, faced with a new technology, your response is to adapt the pedagogy so as to incorporate the new technology, or you use the technology only insofar as it is consistent with your pedagogy. References:Allwright, D. (2005) From teaching points to learning opportunities and beyond. TESOL Quarterly, 39/1.Aviles, K, and Vargas, R 2006. Descubre Harvard que Enciclomedia funciona mejor en escuelas con luz http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/11/07/index.php?section=sociedad&article..., M. (1985). The social context for language learning – a neglected situation? Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 7.Brumfit, C. (1979) ‘Communicative’ language teaching: an educational perspective. In Brumfit C.J, and Johnson, K. (eds.) The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Ellis, N. and Larsen-Freeman, D. (2006) Language Emergence: Implications for Applied Linguistics—Introduction to the Special Issue. Applied Linguistics, 27/4.Futurelab: http://www.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/other/whiteboards_report [no longer accessible]Moss, et al. 2007: The interactive whiteboards, pedagogy, pupil and performance evaluation: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR816.pdfNightingale, J. 2006. Whiteboards under the microscope. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/jun/20/elearning.technologySali... et al. 2002. The aural enabler: creating a way of special needs kids to participate in the classroom lesson. http://www.smarterkids.org/research/paper12.aspSmith, H. 2001 SmartBoard evaluation: Final report.http://www.kented.org.uk/ngfl/ict/IWB/whiteboards/report.html#11 

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      Gavin Dudeney's picture
      Gavin Dudeney
      Submitted on 8 June, 2009 - 10:47

      Scott,A lot of what you say makes perfect sense to me, and thanks for sharing your views. However, as I noted elsewhere in discussions with you about IWBs, I can find you plenty of research that does suggest postive impact on motivation and learning. As such, I'd suggest that it's not so much whether the IWB is any good in and of itself, but whether the teacher using it is a creative teacher and is using motivating materials with a clear idea of why they might be useful and why not. It undoubtedly also rests on whether they were given adequate (or any) training in using them, or simply turned up at work one day to find one in their classroomBlaming the IWB goes back to the old adage of 'a poor workman', mostly. Tim Rylands (www.timrylands.com), as one example, uses IWBs and games in his literacy classes in Somerset in the UK and his work has had an amazing impact on literacy rates in the school. Children fight to get into his classes and don't want to leave. His work is whole-class work on an IWB - but the success of it doesn't depend on the IWB itself, but rather on what's done with it and the materials used. His experience quite clearly shows increased motivation and measurable results. I suspect that this is one of many - and, like most other teaching, it boils down to a good teacher with motivating materials, and not a piece of equipment, be it an IWB or a chair.IWBs are rarely claimed by educators to have huge impacts on motivation and learning (or no more frequently than those who claim the exact opposite). These claims have been used by manufacturers as marketing talk. Can't really blame them for that, now...So, whilst I appreciate the effort you put into researching this post, I think there's room for maneouvre in this argument, and I look forward to those who use them in class on a daily basis having their say here.Gavin 

      Scott Thornbury's picture
      Scott Thornbury
      Submitted on 8 June, 2009 - 14:09

      [quote=Gavin Dudeney] So, whilst I appreciate the effort you put into researching this post, I think there's room for maneouvre in this argument, and I look forward to those who use them in class on a daily basis having their say here. [/quote]Thanks for your comments, Gavin. It's good to be able to discuss these issues with a little bit more room to expand than is allowed on Twitter (where we last discussed them!)Yes, I look forward to accounts from experienced IWB users, especially accounts of those ways of using IWBs that are aimed at building community, rather than simply delivering pages of coursebooks. 

      Gavin Dudeney's picture
      Gavin Dudeney
      Submitted on 8 June, 2009 - 14:26

      Scott,When you say "In the end, whether or not you are drawn to IWBs boils down to whether you construe language teaching as, on the one hand, entertainment and delivery, or, on the other, community and communication." are we to construe that you consider those using IWBs to merely be 'entertaining' and 'delivering' and those not using them to be building 'community' and 'communicating'?And if that is the case, is that not just a tad black and white - and therefore a tad suspect?Gavin

      Scott Thornbury's picture
      Scott Thornbury
      Submitted on 8 June, 2009 - 22:19

       Gavin asked "are we to construe that you consider those using IWBs to merely be 'entertaining' and 'delivering' and those not using them to be building 'community' and 'communicating'?" No, not at all, but the few demonstrations of IWBs that I've been subjected to (both directly or as viewed on promotional or educational websites) suggest that IWBs are primarily used as a way of delivering content (including practice of same through game-type activities). There are also a lot of teachers out there who are NOT using IWBs but who are also in the delivery business, using coursebooks to deliver grammar mcnuggets, for example. Or just plain lecturing. So IWBs do not have a monopoly on transmissive-style teaching (although they make it more sexy!) As I said before, I would be interested to see if IWBs can serve a sociocultural function (any better than a computer + projector), e.g. as a means of creating and sustaining communities of active language users.  

      Rob Lewis's picture
      Rob Lewis (not verified)
      Submitted on 8 June, 2009 - 23:11

      Interesting stuff! I thought I'd join in, given that I was teaching with IWBs up until last summer. In fact I started teaching with them about 8 years ago, though before that I was lucky enough to use a projector and computer in some of my classes. In all that time I've never really understood what it is that IWBs can bring to the classroom that a projector + computer can't (apart from a less clumsy name). You have the heads-up effect, the instant access to video or reference on the Internet, and with a wireless keyboard/mouse you can have all the interaction with the machine that you want. Having the projector + computer combination available to support your pedagogy can only be a good thing, can't it, assuming your pedagogy is sound to begin with?I suppose the same simplistic argument could be applied to IWBs, but in my experience the problem is a lot of teachers do fit the pedagogy to the technology rather than vice-versa, that point when the technology is just too tempting and starts to take over...

      Scott Thornbury's picture
      Scott Thornbury
      Submitted on 9 June, 2009 - 07:17

      Rob wrote "... in my experience the problem is a lot of teachers do fit the pedagogy to the technology rather than vice-versa, that point when the technology is just too tempting and starts to take over..."I tend to agree. I remember a wonderful piece of technology, which enabled you to display visual aids on the classrroom (non-interactive) whiteboard. It was called Blu-Tak. I have to admit I was rather dependent on it. But I never planned my lessons thinking "Today I'm going to do a Blu-Tak lesson". I'm not saying that all users of YouTube or Twitter or the IWB game "Shoot the phoneme" plan any differently either - but I do think there is a danger that the technology can become the tail that wags the dog.

      grahamstanley's picture
      grahamstanley
      TE Team
      Submitted on 9 June, 2009 - 14:17

      Thanks for this well-written and balanced look at IWBs, Scott.Like Gavin, I largely agree with what you have written. There are only a few sentences here which rankle, but even then I can understand why you hold this point-of-view:"In the end, whether or not you are drawn to IWBs boils down to whether you construe language teaching as, on the one hand, entertainment and delivery, or, on the other, community and communication."I think the IWB is akin to a wolf in sheep's clothing - it looks like a standard whiteboard and that gives the impression that the best way to use it is the same way you'd approach a dry whiteboard (it isn't). Because of this, the tendency is for organisations not to spend much on training teachers on the best way to use the tool pedagogically (I am not talking about technical training here - most organisations will offer that). I think this often leads to comments such as Rob's -  a data projector and computer is a whole class presentation tool. You stand at the computer and move the mouse or keyboard. Add the IWB and software and you have a whole range of tools and techniques that allow you to use it in different, more learner-centred ways. As for the tablets. The ones that came with our IWBs didn't work very well, so nobody used them.Finally, I think the lack of pedagogical training offered to teachers has led to the IWB being used the way you describe it, Scott. Perhaps this is the real danger of this tool - it's too easy to think of 'scanning the coursebook' or buying a publisher-produced one (the same but with digitised audio too!). Sadly, because of this, I am sure that you are right and in most teaching situations where there is an IWB, it's only being used by many teachers to show YouTube videos. This is not the fault of the tool, though, although it's the easy option in the same way that if you have access to video you can stick on a film and sit and watch it with the class. You can't blame the machine here either.Of course, there's also the cost. But if you plan the classroom technology well, the PC, DP and IWB can replace the need for a DVD and audio system too, so it doesn't actually work out that expensive.What now? Are we going to see IWBs being taken up by most schools and language academies (those who can afford them of course)? I have to say that most teachers I know that have used them (and have received adequate training to use them) would rather teach with an IWB than without one. Or perhaps this is just what I want to believe...I think what is important for me is to encourage this kind of debate and to draw attention to the pros and cons of the things (I haven't even mentioned the increased technical support that is necessary with IWBs if they are to be a success - another hidden cost) and, as I work in a teaching centre where we have classrooms equipped with them,  'should we use them?' isn't really the issue, but 'when and how should we use them?' - I should also point out that I'm all for switching them off (or not even turning them on!) in a lesson if that's what is best. After all, it's the people in the room that count, and doing your best as a teacher to help your learners.  

      Scott Thornbury's picture
      Scott Thornbury
      Submitted on 10 June, 2009 - 22:28

      [quote=bcgstanley]Thanks for this well-written and balanced look at IWBs, Scott.Like Gavin, I largely agree with what you have written. [/quote]If only!  Elsewhere Gavin has described my argument as "spurious":"As for IWBs, I've never been a fan of them - for reasons other than spurious'I once read a website that said they were a bit rubbish, and though I'venever actually used one myself I suspect they're very conducive to atransmission model of teaching'. " In the end, this is an argument that (I suspect) is not going to be won either by teachers or by idealogues, but by merchandisers. The Mexican experience (with Enciclomedia) seems to be a case in point. 

      Gavin Dudeney's picture
      Gavin Dudeney
      Submitted on 11 June, 2009 - 17:17

      Scott,To be fair, that sentence of mine (taken out of context) doesn't appear to name you at all. The fact that you assume it refers to you is more interesting :-) I guess the big question is, 'have you ever used one yourself?' (for more than ten minutes, I mean?)Best,Gavin

      Tom's picture
      Tom
      Submitted on 12 June, 2009 - 11:31

      Wow! A balanced article about IWBs! That must surely be a first ,-) !One question: assuming that you agree that "what matters is the degree and quality of communicative engagement between people" (and I do), isn't there another way, rather than what you say in last sentence of the article: "faced with a new technology, your response is to adapt the pedagogy so as to incorporate the new technology, or you use the technology only insofar as it is consistent with your pedagogy"?What I mean is, you already have a pedagogy (the first quote); couldn't you -- rather than adapting that -- find ways in which you actually could use the new tech. so that it would be consistent... (or is that the same thing?)?Could you -- rather than saying "WOW: a digital textbook, I WANT one for my classes!" -- design (minimum materials) tasks that led to "dynamic processes", partly precisely because they didn't rely on (for example) digital response systems; the task design would then provide the person-to-person affordances that would provide for language learning despite and thanks to the technology?