Interactive White Boards: Engagement Is Not Interaction

What are the other two kids doing?

Summer break has ended; you are feeling refreshed and renewed, ready to tackle the New Year and all of its new challenges. You enter your room after your morning meeting to discover an interactive whiteboard (IWB) hung neatly in the front of the room where your white board used to be. The district is involved in a grant to integrate technology into the classroom.

Immediately your mind begins to whir: “think of all I can do with this.”

Move forward in time to January and the IWB hangs there, appearing slightly tarnished. Oh sure, you begin your lessons with it, posting critical thinking questions for the students to ponder, and indeed they gaze at it longingly each day. You show them interesting things like sweet websites, or educational games. You have kids come up to the IWB to make sentence corrections or review for a quiz, you circle important parts of maps, or cells under a microscope, students move pictures around like the parts of the puzzle.

But somewhere something is eating at you, and you realize that your class hasn’t really changed all that much.

Last night #edchat returned to Twitter with a warrior’s cry as hundreds of educators from all corners of the globe debated whether or not IWBs were interactive. The debate spanned the gamut, from the perpetual class war that exists in public schooling to the very nature of interactivity. Many of my colleagues argued passionately against me, and my stance that IWBs were not interactive.

Here is where I stand.

  • IWBs are a great tool, but they are a traditional tool. Make no mistake; there is nothing revolutionary about what an IWB does for your instruction. IWB simply enforce the antiquated notions in education that have always existed, of one or few acting while the rest react.
  • IWBs are a good tool to get student engagement (which we all know is fleeting), but they are not interactive! Even the best technology will only allow two points of contact upon the board at a time. What are the rest of the students doing while one or two interact with the IWB. This is where my #edchat colleagues argued that the other students were brainstorming or doing other activities while one or two were using the IWB, and I reply loudly – then what do you need the IWB for?
  • In these times where public schools are crunched for money I would argue that an IWB is the last thing that districts should buy. Although they are something that is easy to take a picture of and put in the paper, they are not revolutionary. If anything they are holding us back.
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11 thoughts on “Interactive White Boards: Engagement Is Not Interaction

  1. AMRowley says:

    I totally agree.  IWBs while easier to bring multimedia to the group (so can a projector with a tablet PC) it does not bring make your classroom interactive. As mentioned by others, it is safe for teachers who really do not want to change how they teach, but offers “proof” that they are using technology in the classroom.  Check out Bill Ferriter’s post also at 

  2. A very interesting and relevant post given that we moved to a brand new school building yesterday, took delivery of an IWB for every teaching room today, and are due to run a whole-school IWB training session tomorrow!
    I guess the issue here is really about the title of the IWB. I am not particularly excited about the supposed “interactive” element that you describe, but much more by the fact I will be able to properly deliver all of my lessons using my computer. Web sites, presentations, easy highlighting / zooming, graphics, animations, YouTube , interacting with pupils who are using web 2.0 apps etc. are all things I am finally going to be able to properly embed into my lessons.

    • Chris says:

      You will really like it I think and they are useful to a point, certainly it is much easier than hooking up a projector every time. There are a great deal of resources available out there too.

  3. Lizzy says:

    Rogers I have to say I completely agree. Every single classroom in my school has a smart board because we got a technology grant from being a failing school. The fact is that technology is not what is holding my students back: the lack of quality instruction is.
    Until the state realizes this and until the school can begin budgeting better, the problems will not change. Honestly, if it wasn’t for TFA, my kids would not be learning anything in any of their classes. It’s sad that as a first year teacher I am considered one of the better teachers in the district, when it doesn’t have to be that way. I really think that rather than technology schools should be spending much more on hiring and training its teaching staff: a good teacher will make a lesson far more interactive than any smart board ever will.

  4. […] insights about this topic from other educators here: Interactive Whiteboards: Engagement is not Interaction from Christopher Rogers @MrRog3rs. His stance is that IWB are a great, traditional tool, but not […]

  5. ktenkely says:

    It all comes back to the teacher doesn’t it?  What are they doing to engage their class (with or without the IWB). What are they doing that is innovative?  How do they help inspire students to learning?  The teachers who have mastered that can do it with or without an IWB.  In fact, no matter what tools you give them access to, they will have an engaging, rich learning environment.  Those who lacked that before the IWB will lack it after the IWB.

  6. suz says:

    IWB is a tool. It is up to the teachers to make it interactive.
    A pencil is a tool, and it does not make your students sharp writers!

  7. Matt says:

    Surely it’s not the technology itself but what you do with it. I’m sure there are loads of ideas for using an interactive whiteboard in the classroom – have students partake in word games, have them play one another or solve puzzles. Loads of possibilities, I only with they were around when I was at school!

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