A few weeks ago, I went to a training session, wherein I was introduced to the Promethean-brand interactive whiteboard.
I’ve been curious about these things for a while – I spent most of October and November visiting a school which had one of these in every classroom – and my colleagues and I have often spent time wondering: is this a worthwhile piece of technology? I considered this training a chance to find out.
Here’s my assessment:
As far as pure utility, I believe that one of these devices – a Promethean board or a SMARTboard – is technically better than the next best thing, which would be the combination of a standard whiteboard and a projector. Unfortunately, the interactive board’s advantages are pretty incremental. For one thing, when you’ve got an interactive board, you don’t have to raise or lower any projector screens when you want to write or draw something for your class to see – you can just do it, and what’s more, you can do it on top of pictures or text that you’re looking at – offering a handy tool to annotate stuff on-the-fly. You can also manipulate the elements of any digital presentation with a stylus as you teach, instead of having to go back and forth between the board and your computer. (Of course, you could solve this problem with a reasonably-priced clicker.)
…But as far as I can see, that’s kind of it. And it has to be said: the (small) ways in which this technology changes education seem mainly to be focused on the experience of the teacher, not the students. I’ve seen for myself that from the students’ perspective, they may as well just be watching another PowerPoint or hand-drawing on a dry-erase board; they’re not experiencing anything different.
Add to all of this the fact that the cheapest Promethean board I could find online was almost $1700, while the most expensive VGA projector and dry-erase board combination I could find totaled out at under $500…and I know which purchase I would make. In my view, an interactive board is technically a more powerful presentation tool; but my questions are: A) is presenting synonymous with teaching?, and B) does an interactive board really have a $1200 advantage over more “conventional” tools? My answer to both questions is “no”.
Especially when you consider that that $1200 difference could be spent on 4 iPad Minis, as part of what I would deem a much more useful effort toward democratizing computing power and putting digital tools in the hands of students, rather than on the Tech Altar in front of them, at the “head” of the class.