It’s Time to Rethink Electronic Whiteboards

It seems everywhere you turn people are talking about interactive whiteboards as though they are some sort of revolutionary device that will reshape education. It isn’t the first time. Radio, TV, VHS, pretty much any technological advance you can think of was at one time heralded as the future of education. Today, no one would seriously suggest that using radio or DVDs (the technology not the use of video) has some sort of profound impact on learning (some might even argue that watching DVDs actually detracts from learning). Despite the flash in the pan history of technological gadgets, the interactive whiteboard is now the newest “revolution”. However…


Here is a video promotion of SmartBoards by the company itself. This is their own video so you would think they would go out of their way to showcase their product. As they are promoting these as educational tools, be sure to note the pedagogical model presented and degree of student interaction.

While the video mainly focused on the technology (which, granted, is quite impressive), the teaching we see is largely teacher-centered. There is no student interaction (with each other) at all. The few times a student actually uses the technology it is done while the rest of the class looks on and basically does nothing. Even the level of thinking among students who do use the board is quite low – dragging an object or circling something. Wow, challenging.  Given the overall lack of interaction here I think we should start calling these “electronic whiteboards” in order to avoid confusing student interaction with simply using an electronic tool. I certainly wouldn’t call an electric drill an “interactive power tool”. It simply does what I tell it to and does not interact with me.

An alternative to expensive electronic whiteboards in the truly interactive $2 whiteboard. In the article below, be sure to note the level of student interaction in the second video.

These $2 interactive whiteboards actually do promote and encourage a great deal of student engagement, collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking. Actually, the boards do not really promote anything. They simply provide a convenient space for students to explore their thinking. I’ve been using these for a couple of years now and the results have been impressive. Students love using them. They actively collaborate. Leaders emerge. They use their phones to archive their thinking for later reference. The boards become outlines for use during presentations (we set them in the back of the room so the students end up looking at the audience rather than notes in their hands).

A Modest Proposal

If you walked into a classroom today that still had a chalkboard on the wall you would likely be taken back a bit and might actually be tempted to mock such out-of-date furnishings. Electronic whiteboards are the modern alternative, and I suspect we will continue to see them added to old schools as they are upgraded and used by default in new schools.

However, cash-strapped schools should probably consider how best to spend limited funds. Improving student learning should be a primary focus and there is simply no evidence that moving from chalkboards, to whiteboards, to electronic whiteboards has any impact on learning. As Clark (1983, 1994) has repeatedly argued, it isn’t the media that influences learning but the instructional strategies. Shifting from a teacher-centered model, which electronic whiteboards tend to promote, to a student-centered pedagogy does correlate with student engagement and learning. Money that might have gone toward expensive electronic whiteboards could be used to buy laptops or tablets that have a wide variety of uses and will be used by students. And with the money saved, classrooms could also have a stack of $2 whiteboards on hand.