Interactive Whiteboards: Worth the Expense?

by Dean Mattson

The Washington Post printed an interesting article on interactive whiteboards about a week ago. Although it presented both sides, it was clearly skeptical of whiteboard manufacturer claims that these devices made a significant positive impact on students’ learning.

I can’t disagree with this conclusion. Although they are impressive devices and a lot of effort, skill and expense have gone into their development, they are also hugely expensive. If a school has an unlimited technology budget, then I might recommend them. If not, there’s a lot more important things to spend money on.

We have five Promethean boards at our school and we’ve had them for about three years. They’ve been rarely used and it seems every time someone wants to use it there’s some kind of problem getting it to work. The software that comes with it is impressive and full of features, but it’s also complex and hardly intuitive. It requires a lot of professional development and I’ve found it has to be on-going. If teachers aren’t constantly using it, they quickly forget how to use it.

My school made a major investment this last year buying projectors, document cameras and speakers this last year, which covers about 95% of what teachers use an interactive whiteboard for and can do a whole lot more. I think these were pretty good purchases because, if you’re using technology in the classroom, there are times you need to show it off. You need to display student work or show them a model of what something should look like. But you don’ need an expensive whiteboard for that. You do lose some of that ‘interactive’ capability but those are usually matching and sorting activities – interactivity on a low level.

I think one thing the article was spot-on about is that whiteboards are just a new way to do the same old thing. It’s one person doing something and everybody else watching. But the best technology integration is so much more than that – it gets everyone involved to build their own meaning by creating something.