Interactive Whiteboards Nothing But Hype or a Classroom Revolution?

Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom.
Interactive whiteboards offer teachers a whole host of ways in which to use digital media in the classroom. | © Goethe-Institut/Sonja Tobias

Interactive whiteboards are rapidly becoming the norm in schools and seminar rooms, yet the technology is often the subject of some controversy among teachers. Nonetheless, there are many advantages to using these digital whiteboards, as they offer new possibilities for working with digital media.

Interactive whiteboards (IWB) are the most talked-about type of classroom technology at the moment. At education fairs like the didacta manufacturers were out in full force promoting their products, IWBs also being an important subject among publishers. In actual fact, however, IWBs are far from new and have already been on the market for more than twenty years. However, it is only in the past four or five years that there has been a real surge in the number of educational institutions in Germany that have been equipping themselves with whiteboards. Despite the fact that other countries – like Great Britain, for example – have already progressed considerably further.
In short, IWBs are “in”, and these days constitute more than simply a combination of technology-packed whiteboard and projector. Solutions boasting touchscreens are now available, as are special projectors with integrated IWB functions, the latter being a good and inexpensive option.

Interactive whiteboards: universal lesson tools

IWBs polarize teachers and educationalists more than almost any other form of classroom technology. On the one hand there are the IWB enthusiasts who have no doubt that the digital boards constitute a classroom revolution, while on the other hand there is a larger group of those who take a sceptical or even dismissive view of the IWB.
The IWB is a versatile tool that combines in one device a number of established classroom technologies such as whiteboard, pin board, overhead or slide projector, DVD player etc. Featuring a single user interface, it offers a range of different visualization possibilities. This combination opens up a whole series of new application scenarios in the teaching/learning context that were previously difficult if not impossible to achieve. Part and parcel of this is the opportunity for teachers and students to combine, change or rearrange digital content, allowing users to develop their professional media skills.
The IWB is no substitute for the “old” chalkboard, but rather a sensible and contemporary complement that can significantly facilitate and broaden the use of digital media in the classroom. Depending on the media skills of the teacher using it, this means that the IWB allows

  • written notes on the board to be created digitally and saved;
  • images or films to be presented and commented on;
  • music or language to be listened to and edited;
  • websites to be viewed and analysed;
  • tests and exercises to be worked through;
  • maps to be worked with;
  • games to be played,

to name but a few of the many possibilities on offer.
This already makes things significantly easier for teachers in the classroom given that a number of different devices would otherwise be needed to perform these tasks.

Interactive whiteboards facilitate the use of digital media in the classroom

From a teaching perspective, the additional benefit of using an interactive whiteboard only becomes apparent when several different applications are combined at once, such as when the IWB’s own screenshot program is used to take a snapshot of a film scene and then slot it into an image on the board. In another scenario a teacher might be working with a city map and could use the IWB to incorporate working results into the map and then get the students to take part in a game to practise what they have been learning. The IWB is also ideally suited to gathering together and arranging ideas and student contributions. In addition, using an IWB not only allows existing media content to be quickly combined, but also means that external content can be used and – even more importantly – incorporated into the teacher’s own teaching materials. Work results and images from the board can be saved so that they can be edited again at a later date. It is also easy to pass these on to the students and return to them later in another work session. IWB in the language lesson IWB in the language lesson | © Goethe-Institut/Sonja Tobias
Normally, applications such as these can be carried out using the software supplied by the IWB manufacturer, which forms the basis for everyday classroom activities. The IWB’s software combines elements from presentation and authors’ programs, offering functions that allow the IWB to be used as a board, exercises to be prepared and various media to be integrated. Furthermore, some manufacturers also offer tools that allow IWB functions to be integrated into Word und PowerPoint. Unfortunately, no universal standard has as yet been established with respect to the file formats, so material created for the IWB of one manufacturer cannot be used on another provider’s board. In this context it is worth taking a look at independent IWB software such as Easiteach or Open Sankoré. Alongside these programs that have been designed especially for IWB use, there are also many other programs and web tools that are ideally suited to use with an IWB – such as the Learning Apps authors’ tool and the maps application Scribblemaps, to name just two.

Interactive whiteboards suitable for beginners and experts alike

Despite all these fascinating possibilities, and despite the claims of many manufacturers to the contrary, it is important to realize that it can take quite some time to get used to working with an IWB and reach the stage where full advantage can be taken of the potential that the IWB undeniably offers. It is not only a question of handling the hardware itself, but above all of learning how to use the basic functions of the IWB software with confidence. A teacher needs in the first place to have sufficient media skills to use digital media in the classroom and exploit their educational potential, as well as a knowledge at least of the software’s basic functionality so that different media can be combined.
This is where one of the great strengths of these devices comes into play: an IWB allows a teacher to work at different levels of ability according to their own media skills and their own style of teaching. At entry level, this may mean simply using the IWB as a kind of “deluxe projector” and then using it as a digital board on which to present (prepared) information or stage brainstorming sessions. Various IWB manufacturers also offer plenty of entry-level lesson material on their websites which is normally free of charge and can be downloaded, used and redesigned. This latter point in particular is important because a lot of the material is too complex and extensive in design and is therefore not suitable for flexible use. This is where material in modular form can be recommended because it can be used to achieve specific objectives in different contexts. This requires greater effort to adapt the material to one’s own needs, which presupposes that the teacher has the requisite know-how. In this way, professional media skills can be systematically expanded and further developed.
 

Further Links

Independent IWB software and tools

 

Material platforms

 

Literature

Stefan Aufenanger / Petra Bauer (Hrsg.): Interaktive Whiteboards. In: Computer und Unterricht. Lernen und Lehren mit digitalen Medien. Nr. 7, 2010.

Daniel Martin: Activities for Interactive Whiteboards. Helbling Languages, 2009.

Clemens Bohrer / Christian Hoppe (Hrsg.): Interaktive Whiteboards in Hochschule und Schule. kopaed, 2013.

Christian Kohls: Mein Smartboard, Das Praxishandbuch für den erfolgreichen Einsatz im Unterricht. 2. Auflage, KIDS interactive, 2011.