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I have been catching up on old episodes of the UK panel show, QI, for the last few weeks.

This segment of one of the panellists, comedian Romesh Ranganathan, responding to host Stephen Fry, caught my attention because of the mention of “interactive” white boards.

I have a clear disdain for these white elephant boards because they serve little pedagogical purpose and only help technology companies fatten their wallets.

Ranganathan used to be a mathematics teacher and he is only an anecdotal sample of one. But his answer is symptomatic of how much technology is used to replicate what can already be done more efficiently or effectively.

If we are to move forward, we need to operate outside the box (and board in this case). How might we do this? Collect enough anecdotes like these so that they become valid and reliable data to provide that push.

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This timely tweet reminded me to ask some questions.

Other than “learning styles”, are career guidance programmes here going to keep wasting taxpayer money on Myers-Briggs tests for students and the same training for teachers?

Are people who claim to be edtech, change, or thought leaders still going to talk about “21st century competencies” and “disruption” this decade?

Might people keep confusing “computational thinking” or “authoring with HTML” with “coding”?

Will administrators and policymakers lie low in the protection and regulation of the privacy and data rights of students?

Are vendors going to keep using “personalised learning” and “analytics” as catch-all terms to confuse and convince administrators and policymakers?

Are sellers of “interactive” white boards still going to sell these white elephants?

Are proponents of clickers going to keep promoting their use as innovative pedagogy instead of actually facilitating active learning experiences?

I borrow from the tweet and say: Please don’t. I extend this call by pointing out that if these stakeholders do not change tact, they will do more harm than good to learners in the long run.

An “interactive” white board (IWB) is not necessarily edtech. It is vendor-speak for change without really changing and controlling from the front.

An IWB reinforces teacher talk, but with more whizz-bang. It enables the all-eyes-on-me approach. These are not wrong in themselves, but they are not progressive or effective (see Hattie, example).

Vendors might also provide training, or worse, get other teachers to convince their peers to sell the idea that IWBs can be student-centered. How? By inviting kids to tap it select an item and return to their seats.

This does not illustrate the power of edtech because it merely replaces and possibly enhances a chalk board. The power of edtech is empowering students to create and critique content. It does not look like the punitive and irrelevant punishment of repeated writing.

But the tweet and GIF does reveal an important truth: Kids find ways to creatively undermine what adults want them to do. The adults might label this as wrong and seek to power their will over that of the kids.

The ed in edtech often lies in educating with the technology, not just by the technology. Its power is in working with and learning from the kids in exploring possibilities, not retracing tired and old paths.

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In Steve Wheeler’s recent blog entry about interactive white boards (IWBs), he mentioned:

There are those who use the IWB avidly, incorporating it into their lessons, embedding it into their programmes of study and exploiting the potential of the onboard tools.

There are others who avoid the use of the IWB studiously, and even some who are opposed to its use, claiming that it is distracting, too expensive, complicated or unnecessary.

I am definitely in the latter group. I have called them white elephant boards many times. Wander into school meeting rooms, special rooms, and classrooms here and you will not see (m)any IWBs. Most are gathering dust in a corner, covered in a tarp, or used as small but glorified projector screens.

If technology is to be integrated powerfully, seamlessly, and authentically, it should be in the hands of learners much of the time, not just teachers. To deny students such use and to not challenge teachers to operate differently is to waste time, money, and opportunity.

IWBs do not challenge teachers to teach differently. If the dominant policy rhetoric is about engagement, empowerment, or 21st century skills, then why push the sage-on-the-stage to be a lord-with-a-board?

I do not buy into using IWBs as a bridging tool, i.e., easing teachers gently into using technology by letting them replicate existing practice. If they can also do what they do with a normal white board, why pay for new equipment and training to do the same thing?

Furthermore, any student of human nature can tell you that people want change but do not want TO change. Ask people to take a step forward and some might take half a step very slowly forward and then stop there.

Let me use two analogies to illustrate why promoting IWB use does teachers and teaching a disservice. (BTW, that helps IWB companies heaps, but that is not my business.)

A teacher using a normal board is like one who drives her 10-year-old, manual transmission car — she does not know how it works, but she knows it works, and she drives it on autopilot.

Tell the same teacher that she has to drive an electric car, say a Tesla model, and she will need to learn how to drive it. Despite its myriad of bells and whistles, it is still a car, and Miss Daisy will drive herself.

A car operates in two dimensions at most. If it includes the third dimension, at least temporarily, it is flying.

A plane operates in three dimensions while in flight. Flying is more difficult than driving. The rules are stricter, the standards tougher, and the prestige higher.

An educator who can integrate technology, and not just use it, is like a skilled pilot. The three dimensions she operates in combine the know-whys of pedagogy, content, and technology. These are driven by three know-hows: How powerful, how seamless, and how authentic.

Like flying, integrating technology with such know-how and know-why requires candidates with good vision — they need to focus on learning how to learn, not justing knowing how to teach.

Flying is more difficult than driving. Integrating technology is much more difficult than simply using technology, particularly flat ones like IWBs. We need to be recruiting and preparing pilots, not drivers (or worse, pushers of the cart-and-horse model).


I am dead set against so-called “interactive” white boards (IWBs).

The “interactivity” is defined by vendors whose notion of school is pre-Internet, before social media, and sans self-publishing. Any effort on their part to make things visually interactive or clickable is superficial at best.

IWBs possess an insidious pedagogy that reinforces outdated teaching behaviours, e.g., watch me as I show and tell. This does not empower students to learn by creating, critiquing, or peer teaching.

I have called IWBs white elephant boards [example] because they come at great cost and often end up being used as projection surfaces. In the worst (and sadly common) scenarios, they are relegated to gather dust bunnies in a corner.

I have seen “smart” rooms dumbed down by the addition of these expensive white elephants. When the higher-ups wise up due to feedback from the ground, practice smartens up by focusing on professional development of pedagogy instead.

The only ones to gain from IWBs are unscrupulous edtech vendors. They are still easy to spot at trade shows and conferences.

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But I digress with my rant.

There is one interactive whiteboard I enjoy and would gladly promote. It is the Japanese one in the video above.

The Japanese IWB was part of a Rube Goldberg machine. You can bet that IWB enabled a lot of creating, critiquing, and peer teaching to run as smoothly as it did.


Most technology companies that manufacture computers and phones typically focus on hardware and have little or no say on software development.

There are exceptions like Apple that create and control both, i.e., Macs and macOS, iPhones and iOS.

Google used to only be in the online software business. Then it partnered hardware companies to create Chromebooks, and Nexus (and now Pixel) phones.

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So I was not surprised to read about Google’s new TV-sized interactive whiteboard (IWB) called the Jamboard. This device is designed for blended and creative boardroom meetings. It takes advantage of G Suite and Google tools to connect, share, and store artefacts.

I was disappointed actually. Or rather, I am going to be disappointed because this might be another round of IWB snake oil vendors selling to schools and education institutions.

I hope that schools and other education institutions have learnt the painful lesson that IWB means Irrelevant White-Elephant Board because it is largely a teacher’s tool.

If tools like IWBs allow teachers to just teach the way they were taught, the teachers do not get pushed out of their comfort zones.

If the technology is not in the hands, minds, and hearts of the learners, it will do little to change teaching. When this happens, the technology ceases to be mere tools and become instruments instead. When this happens, the rhetoric of paradigm shifts, 21st century learning, and empowered students becomes real.

You need to be familiar with the pop-culture reference of Bart Simpson being punished by writing lines on a blackboard.

You also need to know how “interactive” white board vendors descended on classrooms to replace blackboards. Some still do now, but with glass boards instead.

When you see a tweet like the one above you might smirk or laugh.

After appreciating the joke, and if you are more critical, you realise that the rhetoric is not met by example.

The call is for teachers to move with the times. Bart was punished punitively, but he found a way to get around the work because he was more adept than the teacher or administrator. Perhaps the call should be for teachers to move with their students.

Changing the medium does not guarantee a change in the message or the method. The new and expensive boards do not move teachers away from chalk-and-talk. They leave the technology largely in the hands of teachers instead of with the learners. The creators, communicators, and correctors of content are the teachers. Neither the message nor the method has changed.

The overall message the GIF sends is this: Do the same thing differently. Being more efficient is necessarily being more effective. This is certainly not being innovative.

Ultimately, this is putting money in the pockets of vendors. There is nothing wrong if the vendor provides a worthwhile and meaningful service or product. But it is a cardinal sin if you are not getting any change in pedagogy for your dollars.

I tweeted this while away at a conference earlier this week.

I did this because I had noticed the number of “interactive” and “smart” board vendors at the conference centre. I had also coincidentally read an article suggesting 5 Ways to Stop Using Your Interactive Whiteboard as a Whiteboard.

I can suggest better. Stop using an “interactive” white elephant board. You can do this is just three steps.

  1. Do not buy an IWB.
  2. Use the money to get shared slates or Chromebooks and a mobile Internet connection.
  3. Invest in learning how to design and manage lessons that require students to create and teach.

Without such boards you will not have items to show off to visitors of your school. Your teachers will also have to unlearn old ways of teaching, relearn what it is like to learn, and learn newer ways to teach.

So ask yourself who you serve: The visitors, the vendors, or your students?

If there is anything I dislike more than “interactive” white boards, it is computer labs. If there is an IWB in a computer lab, then a child-like neuron in my brain dies!

Both are relics in the edtech age because they do not attempt to create new learning opportunities and environments. Instead, they limit the possibilities due to old school rules, e.g., do X things in Y amount of time and submit it to Z, noise is bad, do only what the teacher says.

Here is what I think is wrong with computer laboratories:

  1. Teachers need to compete to book the venues because the labs are a shared resource. Some teachers have more access than others.
  2. The labs create and reinforce the mindset of lesson novelty for its own sake. You go to a special room for a special lesson under special circumstances.
  3. The novelty creates classroom management problems because the kids (young and old) get over excited. Just bringing them to the labs is disruptive.
  4. Once in the labs, the kids discover that the sessions may not be that exciting after all. They are what one blogger calls “sporadic and unspectacular engagement with technology”.
  5. The labs are sometimes misused. The occupants do not use the computers or are there to enjoy the air-conditioning.
  6. It is very expensive to maintain and upgrade the computer labs. You get stuck in the cycle of having to maintain them because they were so expensive to create and perceived as a waste to let go.
  7. Despite this expense, the labs in some schools become white elephants when their usage drops.

There already are alternatives to fixed computer labs like mobile carts and BYOD schemes. While these measures may reduce material or infrastructure cost, they do not remove them entirely.

They also do not necessarily promote more progressive technology-mediated strategies, e.g., flipping the classroom, game-based learning, self-directed learning.

I think that the best thing about BYOD is that it forces teachers to think about ways to leverage on what students already own. If teachers do this well, they can work on passing the ownership of learning to the students. To do this, teacher must first own and use the devices themselves and then learn new instructional strategies.

If the teachers have wifi enabled classrooms, they do not need special rooms like computer labs. They just need to start with new mindsets and strategies. When these methods become more common, the technology and the pedagogy become natural, powerful, and transparent.

I am part of a research group that is investigating mobile learning in NIE. One of the components is the impact of the environment in such a venture. One such environment in NIE is our prototype collaborative classroom, an example of which is shown above.

There are five such classrooms at the moment and the plan is to convert the classrooms at the ground level to this less traditional format.

We asked the tutors assigned to these classrooms what they thought about the facilities there (see below). The scale is 1 for “not useful at all” (orange) and 5 for “very useful” (green). The easy way to interpret the chart is “green is good”.

[Click to see larger version]

The items rated most highly were wireless Internet access (4.51 out of 5), group-seating arrangement (4.49) and power supply (4.41). The least valued items were the visualizer (3.98) and the IWB (3.29).

I am glad that the tutors favoured the features that help make the classroom potentially more connected and collaborative. The IWB and visualizer do not do much to challenge pedagogy.

I would add that you don’t need an elaborate room to do this. All you need in terms of infrastructure are a good wireless network and mobile devices. Most existing classroom furniture will do, but having a flexible layout does send a subtle message to all who use the room.


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