Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The IWB vs the computer in the classroom

I'm at the beginning of what promises to be a highly interesting week-long seminar, 'ICT in ELT', organised by the British Council. Those of us who are only virtually attending are participating in the seminar Moodle, posting to forums, chatting together, and watching the streamed videos of the conference presentations, etc.

One of the threads that has appeared in the Moodle forums has been the role of the Interactive White Board.

I suppose I could be considered a fan now, and so I had to respond to one of the particpant's comments that perhaps having a 'computer in the corner' of the classroom was better than an IWB. I thought I should post it here too:

"Let's not forget, however, that the IWB needs the computer in the corner in order to work, so there's no competition in my mind. You turn the data projector (DP) off, and you have that computer in the corner that the learners can use . Turn it on, and you have a very powerful way of displaying and presenting to a group of students. 

At the risk of starting a new thread, I've noticed the start of a wave of IWB-bashing, which I find curious, especially as I think the arguments are missing the point.

Given the option, would you rather have a board or no board in your classroom? And what would you prefer? A blackboard? A whiteboard? A DP display system? Or an IWB?

Having used all of the above, I can say unreservedly that the IWB is better than any other classroom display system, and I would dearly love to have access to one in all of my classrooms, to use with all of my learners. It will come. I'm sure of it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, but for the benefit of those who haven't come across one, the IWB is much better than the blackboard/whiteboard option for dozens of different reasons. Just a few: displaying scanned images, instant access to the Internet and CD-ROMs, a school's intranet, the ability to display large format video, etc.

OK, so what about a DP equipped classroom vs an IWB-equipped one? For the same reasons that Andy mentions above, the IWB room wins. A DP only classroom can only really be used as a presentation tool. Fine for a conference, and some other educational settings, but too teacher-centred for a language classroom.

I think the problem is that some educators have only observed the IWB being used as a presentation tool, and not been present in a truly dynamic classroom setting, with students taking control of the pen, in similar ways to how language teachers have been using a normal board for years. And then you can do fabulous activities (such as word ordering activites) that are simply impossible to do without one. 

I do agree that there are hidden costs attached to switching to the IWB. One of those is technical support. If you have a school full of IWBs, and all your teachers relying upon them for their teaching, then you need to be able to react quickly if a DP bulb goes, or a cable comes loose, etc. 

But pedagogically? There's no argument..."

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