Interactive whiteboards – Are they really all we need?

As schools move progressively into a digital learning environment, interactive whiteboards (IWB) are being widely adopted in primary and secondary classrooms. They have transformed the way teachers put forth information, and have managed to capture the minds of eager students willing to learn from digital adaptations. However, has this nifty little resources really improved the national learning outcome of students?

Research by Marzano & Haystead (2009), had found both positive and negative indicates in regards to the integration of IWB’s. This means that we (as teachers) can expect a student at the 50th percentile in a classroom without the technology to increase to the 66th percentile in a classroom using whiteboards. One of the more interesting findings from the study was that in 23 percent of the cases, teachers had better results without the interactive whiteboards. To determine why this occurred, they examined videotapes of teachers using the boards in the classroom. These disclosed some potential pitfalls in using the technology.

Below are some of the researches key findings:

* Using the voting devices but doing little with the findings. In many classrooms, teachers simply noted how many students obtained the correct answer instead of probing into why one answer was more appropriate than another.
* Not organizing or pacing the content well. In these cases, the teachers incorporated video segments from the Internet or images intended to represent important information in their digital flipcharts. However, they ran through the flipcharts so quickly that students, although impressed with the graphics, did not have time to analyze and interact with one another about the content.
* Using too many visuals. Digital flipchart pages were awash with visual stimuli; it was hard to identify the important textual content.
* Paying too much attention to reinforcing features. For example, when teachers who had worse results with the technology used the virtual applause feature to signal a correct answer, the emphasis seemed to be on eliciting the applause rather than on clarifying the content.

This study not only focused on the negatives, but also made links to more positive relevancies found within the effective use of IWB’s.

It is suggested that:

* Teachers think through how they intend to organize information. They should group information into small, meaningful segments before they start developing the digital flipcharts. Once they’ve organized the content, then they can design the flipcharts to complement the organization. To ensure that they don’t run through the flipcharts too quickly, teachers can insert flipcharts that remind them to stop the presentation so students can process and analyze the new information.
* Digital flipcharts should contain visuals, but those visuals should clearly focus on the important information. Also, no single flipchart should contain too many visuals or too much written information.
* After asking a question and getting student responses using voting devices, the teacher should typically discuss the correct answer along with the incorrect answers, making sure to elicit opinions from as many students as possible.
* When using reinforcing features like virtual applause, teachers should make sure that students focus on why an answer is correct or incorrect. Although these features can produce high engagement and certainly enliven the atmosphere in a classroom, they can also be distracting if used without a clear focus on essential content.

Overall, the study found that IWB’s have a purpose and a place within the classroom, but with most useful technologies, need to be integrated effectively within traditional teachings. This study has shown me that simply using this or any other technological tool can automatically enhance student achievement would be a mistake, as it conflicts within the underlying purpose of good classroom practices. I believe it is a powerful learning tool, that should assist (not overshadow) rich textual content and relevant research.


Betcher, C., & Lee, M. (2009). The interactive whiteboard revolution: Teaching with IWBs. Victoria, Australia: ACER Press.

Marzano, R. J., & Haystead, M. (2009). Final report on the evaluation of the Promethean technology. Englewood, CO: Marzano Research Laboratory.

3 thoughts on “Interactive whiteboards – Are they really all we need?

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