What the DFES report on interactive whiteboards really says

There have been several headlines over the last few days along the lines of "£50 million wasted on iwbs", based on this study from the DFES.

So what does it really say? Unsurprisingly, it does not say that iwbs are a waste of money:
Overall, the statistical analysis failed to find evidence of any impact of the increase in IWB acquisition in London schools on attainment in the three core subjects in the academic year 2004/5. However, given the variation in use documented in the case studies, this is in line with what we would predict at this stage in the policy cycle.

The study is worth reading in its entirety, but if you want my spin on it, I picked up on a couple of key points:

A theme running through the report is that this technology itself will not change what happens in classrooms.
....the introduction of an IWB does not in and of itself transform existing pedagogies. The capacity of IWBs to support, extend or transform existing pedagogies depends upon the teacher's intent and the ways in which they exploit the resources they have access to.

Positive change in classrooms will occur only if teachers consciously seek change. This seems pretty obvious really. It echoes the discrediting of the "spray and pray" approach to investing in IT in education. The unfortunate conclusion drawn by many from this obvious fact is that whiteboards are useless. Of course that's nonsense. If you stuck a bunch of teenagers behind the wheels of cars and found that they didn't instantly become safe drivers would it be reasonable to conclude that cars are useless?

An interesting question then arises - how should an authority make the most of this technology? In other words, how can we encourage teachers to seek to change what happens in their classrooms? The report has this to say:
Given the diversity of classroom use for the technology and the difficulties of foreseeing its full potential at this stage (see section 5), our own research raises questions about the aptness of predicating formal training on a dissemination model where the pedagogic possibilities of the technology are presumed to be both well defined and finite.
We would advocate more emphasis on the role of jointly facilitating mutual exploration of what the technology can do in context, with the aim of building teachers’ understanding of when and how IWBs can be most appropriately exploited for a specific pedagogical aim. We would envisage that such an exploration would be less tied to the dissemination of a specific set of IWB techniques such as drag and drop, but more open to exploring teachers’ own pedagogical purposes, and the role the IWB might play in achieving them. We see individual teacher’s commitment to exploring the potential of the technology as an important resource for colleagues that could act as a catalyst for change if it were well supported.

And so we come back to the same old stuff! Using an interactive whiteboard effectively requires the same kind of effort, exploration and reflection that teaching effectively does. And your colleague in the next room who's found something that works may be more useful to you than all the in-service under the sun.

Over this year I have sought to act as the enthusiastic colleague next door rather than the deliverer of in-service. I hope that my colleagues have benefited from my enthusiasm, but would not presume to speak on their behalf.

I'll return to this study in future posts no doubt - 161 pages take a while to digest!

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