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!


  1. Thanks for posting about this. I've been thinking about my use of the IWB for a while, and wondering what might take me further forward with it.

    I use my IWB every day putting up lesson objectives etc. I've tried to use it as more than a big screen for my laptop, with film clips, and very basic animation.

    I've polled pupils on my use of IWB and got some quite helpful feedback. I was struck by how little they rated the aspects of it I thought they would most like.

    My one concern is that it does seem to (as the report mentions) suit the more didactic style of teaching. I've seen demonstrations (on Teachers TV for example) where pupils get to come up to the board and write on it themselves. My lot don’t get quite so enthusiastic about it.

    I'd be interested to hear how other teachers use IWB to engender a more collaborative style of learning.

  2. What did your pupils say Liz? What did they like and not like?

  3. Hi,

    I think you summed up exactly what I was trying to say much more eloquently than I did!


  4. They didn’t like the animations I had tried to add – little men, tick boxes etc. They didn’t like the added sounds of a typewriter or a crashing noise, when something happened, ‘irritating’. Didn’t like powerpoints with too many words – thought they gave them headaches.
    Some of the stuff was my fault –they weren’t crazy about having to copy down from the whiteboard – we discussed this and it came out that they would have felt the same about copying from an ordinary board.

    They liked images and things changing on the board but not quite as much as I had expected. Some of them even said they preferred ‘basic’ over ‘fancy’ –I got the impression that this was more to do with a general feeling that they didn’t like having their expectations raised that something was going to be more exciting than it turned out. Some pupils hated having to wait for people who were slower at reading stuff or who wanted to look at images longer (and vice versa).

    They liked the idea of getting to ‘work’ the board – giving a presentation or talk using it. And they loved getting to see films on a big screen…

  5. Thanks Liz. So all the things they didn't like were aspects of the way you used the board as a presentation tool? Interesting. It's reasuring for me to hear that they are not impressed by presentational whistles and bells, as I don't bother much with that kind of stuff.

    I think it's definitely important to get the board pen into the hands of the pupils as often as possible - they all seem to enjoy using the boards themselves.

    The issue of copying from the board is occupying my thoughts at the moment. Why am I asking my pupils to copy down notes from the board if I can just print them out or stick them on-line in a matter of clicks? What is the point? I'm not saying there's no point - i remember myself having to drop out of a final year complex analysis course because the lecturer gave us print-outs of the notes. Without the physical act of copying out what he was showing us, I completely lost the thread of what was going on! Maybe that was just because I had been so conditioned by years of traditional education. I wonder how our pupils would feel about it? Perhaps I should ask them!

  6. Thanks Dan. I have an idea for your training sessions - I'll put it in a comment on your post.

  7. Thanks in advance!

    One great thing I find they are useful for is playing games, both specific mathematical games in the context of a lesson. But also slightly less educationally relevant games as a reward for a hard week's work!

    Our current class favourite is stick remover:


  8. Great game! It could take over from line rider!

  9. I'd love to use some games -seems like anything like that, which is interactive is blocked by the filter as 'games' or 'fun'!

    The copying from the board issue: I use it as a way of making kids think about stuff -and for older pupils as notes for study. But I'm aware that it isn't the best pedagogical approach. I do try to add in highlighting, suggest they annotate as I have done -or mind map the information. Much better if they have ownership -but not always practical.

  10. Does your authority use websense for filtering Liz? If so, I reckon I can find some cool interactive stuff that sneaks through.

  11. Not sure...

    What do you suggest? I can always try!

  12. Ah.... me and my big mouth. I just realised that you are an English teacher, not a Maths teacher. Fear not, I'll come up with some links by tomorrow evening :)

  13. Sorry Liz - didn't get those links yet, but I'm still on the case!

  14. Jonesie,

    No sweat. I'll continue drawing dingbats onto the IWB.

    Sad really...

  15. I have just stumbled across this site and I must say that I am very interested to read your comments about the Interactive Whiteboard and its integration into the classroom. You bring up some important points that do highlight the need for greater enthusiasm by the teacher in some cases.

    However, I think a more interesting angle is that teachers have been hoodwinked by the commercial world to think that all of their teaching must be driven by the whiteboard and its software. The truth of the matter is that a whiteboard is a peripheral to the pc and the mac and allows the teacher not to be stuck behind their monitor. In terms of what they teach, well they should use as little or as much of the applications and online resources available to the school. I would always recomend a teacher to refrain from using the interactive software provided with the board as it often confuses and distracts.

    I better stop now, will post again I'm sure

  16. Teachers certainly need to keep their critical faculties switched on! By "interactive software provided with the board" do you mean the flipchart software? I use it all the time - it can be as unobtrusive or as all-singing-all-dancing as you choose to make it.

  17. [...] As Robert points out “technology itself will not change what happens in classrooms” and his wonderful dig about the “spray and pray approach towards ICT investment” challenges us to take a much more strategic approach towards such developments. Our goal is to create a momentum - or critical mass - where teachers, properly supported, develop confidence in the technology and integrate it into their developing practice. [...]


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