Heather Wolpert-Gawron

How the Interactive Whiteboard is Really Ed Tech’s Laserdisk

By on October 23, 2011

I’m taking a class at Walden University right now, and a recent prompt asked us to identify a future technology. I took a moment to reflect on this country’s current enthusiastic roll-out of Interactive Whiteboards, and why I feel strongly that these are not the best investment for our future in educational technology.

Instead, we need to embrace more fully mobile technology. The big clunky forward facing, whole class method of lesson delivery via Interactive Whiteboard, I believe, is the Laserdisc of educational technology. The overpriced fad of Interactive Whiteboards (whether Smart or Promethean) is imperfect in their current incarnation. Sure, we all imagine classrooms with “Iron Man2”:-esque 3-D touch sensitive lessons, but inherently these pieces of equipment do not illustrate the spirit of technology in information delivery: all-access, collaborative, open, interactive, etc…

Currently, they are only as engaging as the lessons created, and those lessons are tedious to create and time-suckers in their efficiency. The prep time to create charts that utilize any effects over-and-above what you would already do with a laptop and LCD projector feels clearly developed by those with a disconnect to the precious time we have in education and the many hats we already wear. Additionally, while these boards were initially meant to help less-tech savvy teachers to embrace technology use, their hefty training time and prep time serves as its own gatekeeper for more than just tech tentative teachers.

I believe an online colleague of mine, Bill Ferriter, said it best when he wrote,

“I’m willing to argue that even with time and training, interactive whiteboards are an under-informed and irresponsible purchase. They do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning…make presentations, give notes, deliver lectures…I ask you: Do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-deliver instruction easier?”

Instead, I believe mobile technology, that truly frightening technology the schools would rather spend money on avoiding than really examining, is really the silver bullet (if there is such a thing.) Smartphones, for instance, have the potential to be the great equalizer.

Mobile technology caters to individualization and differentiation, which is the present and future of student-centered learning. Mobile technology is cheaper and also represents the concept of “democratization of information,” the openness of high levels of information to the masses. The Interactive Whiteboard is still locked and loaded into the antiquated philosophy of “sage on the stage” rather than “guide on the side.”

Yes, the remote clicker technology gives the very important immediate feedback, but gaining access to remotes is not dependent on the purchase of the boards themselves. The fact is that 99% of all students carry their own remotes right there in their backpacks.

In fact, my students interviewed a young scientist from JPL earlier this year. She had just returned from rural Africa where she helped establish Internet access to remote areas throughout the continent. When asked by one of my students what the future of Internet Access was, she said that it, frankly, didn’t include computers. After all, many people in these remote areas don’t have Macs or PCs, but they do have iPhones right there in their pockets. In other words, the future of Web 2.0 tools is already being defined by global availability.

As for the future of educational technology, we must guide our purchases to reflect the world around us. We must support the learner on the go. We must support individual use, not teacher-only use. We must support inexpensive options that give us access to the most information, easily accessed and easily presented. Smartphones, (and, I believe, eventually iPads or other tablet options) permit us to assume more and more that learners have access to the same information and opportunities.

The real question is How can we spend the money saved on Interactive Whiteboard purchases in ways that really propel education into the 21st Century?  What tools or training do you think are more to the point of education’s future?

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