I had an interesting experience with an interactive whiteboard this week. I know that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but do bear with me. I was teaching in a room with a large IWB at the front of the room and a large regular whiteboard on wheels. I started with a text we were working from on the IWB but as the lesson progressed, and I left the text behind to focus on the learners’ language, the mobile whiteboard crept slowly but surely to the dominant position more or less entirely in front of the IWB, and Windows quietly logged me out due to inactivity. It looked, in fact, like this:
So, reasons for this? The first set of reasons is practicality. The IWB is, shall we say, a mature Smartboard, and perhaps a little less smooth to use than it once was. It’s also a lovely room well lit by that traditional enemy of digital projectors, natural sunlight, meaning that the display was hard to read without shutting all the blinds.this was even less attractive because it was a glorious sunny April day. The layout of the room is generally such that the board is significantly distant from even the students at the front of the room, with a large, heavy “teacher” desk in front of it, making it a small but significant distance for me to move back and forth from the display and for students to see the board clearly.
The second is more about temperament. I still, as I’ve noted before, default to whiteboard as writing surface, be it interactive or non-interactive. I like the extended features of the IWB, for example being able to display and work with a text or handout, highlighting, completing and so on, but essentially it’s just a regular whiteboard with knobs on. I also don’t particularly get on with the software, Promethean’s exceptional exercise in counter-intuitive program called “ActivInspire” (Inspire! Actively! Yeah!).
The third issue was the nature of the lesson. We were focussing on present perfect for experiences, based on a couple of sentences from a text we had read the day before. It was very much about emergent language, as I had the learners suggesting the contexts and the experiences they would like to discuss. In this kind of lesson, the IWB system has to be damn good, because you can’t rely on masses of pre-prepared stuff, and the language grows and develops in the classroom and is recorded on the board. A pen and a writing surface is still the best method of recording this kind of “of the moment” thought process: how much success, for example, have you ever had with digital mind mapping systems?
I’m not saying IWBs are bad, particularly, just that on that day, in that context, it wasn’t the best tool for the job. That’s a crucial point, really: a sentence which contains two of the most important prepositional phrases in teaching:
On that day
In that context
For technology and indeed any type of classroom practice, the best anyone can ever say is that it worked for that lesson and that lesson alone: in this setting, for a number of reasons, the regular whiteboard was simply the better of the two options.