21st Century Learning | Feature

10 Interactive Whiteboard "Don'ts"

When it comes to interactive whiteboards (IWBs), nearly everybody has heard a horror story. You know, like the one about some ignorant teacher who grabbed the nearest magic marker and began scribbling a lesson all over that inviting, shiny surface.

Using IWBs as mere dry erase boards may be an obvious misuse, but it is by no means the only one. These “worst practices” generally stem from failing to understand what whiteboards can really do in the classroom. T.H.E. Journal asked several educational technology leaders to share some common “don’ts” for teachers using an IWB. Here are the top 10.

1) Don’t Forget It’s Connected

James Torres, executive director of educational technology at the Durango School District (CO), recalled an episode with a teacher who was still fairly new to using her SMART Board. She decided to check personal e-mail while the class was busily engaged in their assignment, forgetting she still had her laptop linked to the IWB for display. This particular teacher also had an admirer who was prone to pour his heart out in e-mails, and often in very candid terms. Opening up his latest communication, the teacher momentarily had her head in the clouds—until the laughter of her students brought her quickly back to earth. “She was mortified,” Torres said.

2) Don’t Keep It Turned Off

Teachers’ comfort levels with IWBs is as diverse as, well, teachers. Some catch on right away, said Steve Prull, educational technology director at the High Desert Education Service District (OR), while others just don’t. “Many use it as a glorified chalk board,” Prull said. “They don’t use the software at all. They just use their finger as a mouse.” In his most extreme case, Prull said he had one teacher so uncomfortable with the new technology that she refused to turn the device on at all. “We had to have a little talk,” Prull admitted.

3) Don’t Ignore the Substitute

School districts often fail to properly train substitute teachers how to use IWBs, said Steve Buettner, director of media and technology at the Edina Public Schools District (MN). The solution, Buettner said, is to alert ed tech staff as soon as possible that someone new will be running the classroom. Tech support can provide quick training before opening period so the substitute can use the whiteboard as the classroom teacher originally intended. And the school should ensure that full lesson plans are always available to anyone who needs them.

4) Don’t Write on It With Markers

IWBs get used as presentation boards all too often, noted Betsy Jones, technology trainer at Knox County Schools(TN). Jones divides her time between 90 school facilities in the course of a year. In defense of her teachers, Jones says that the teachers who write on IWBs  tend to be guests in the school. Still, it happens often enough. The good news: Jones has learned that a little bit of Expo Marker Cleaner and a rag will clean an IWB right up.

5) Don’t Turn Your Back on Your Class

Buettner said Edina has SMART Boards and Promethean boards in every classroom in all but one building. They were put there in response to the “stand and deliver” style of too many teachers, who stood like statues at the front of the class and dictated lessons. Understandably, he gets frustrated when he sees a teacher standing with her back to the class, focusing on the board all lesson. Interactive boards are intended to be just that, with teachers staying off them as much as possible and kids taking turns on them for short periods.

6) Don’t Just Use It as a Projector

An all-too-common mistake with IWBs is think of them as projection screen, said Torres. When Durango purchased its first IWBs, they were still novelties. Training was minimal, so teachers had to figure the devices out for themselves in many cases. Torres recalled an early adopter who went with Plan B: using the board as a screen for her overhead projector. The district has since put a lot of emphasis into training and staffing, and purchased many more boards, including models from SMART and Promethean.

7) Don’t Put Post-its on It

Even if teachers know better than to write on their IWBs, they don’t always know to keep everything else off, according to Jones. She said some teachers tape all kinds of papers and notes around the perimeter of their IWBs, turning them into makeshift bulletin boards. Knox County Schools countered such behavior with a three-hour class that all teachers are now required to take. It covers the technology behind the board, as well as desired behaviors in front of it.

8) Don’t Make It a Teacher-Only Tool

According to Torres, “One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is when teachers look at the technology tools as teacher tools only. Make the students a part of the process. Tell them, ‘These are your tools, use them.’ ” Torres encourages teachers to introduce a lesson on the IWB—and then get out of the way and turn the board over to students immediately to do the lesson work. To help get the message across, Durango School District has established a SMART Board Literacy Program to ensure that each teacher with an interactive board knows how to use it in a way that truly engages students.

9) Don’t Neglect Training

Perhaps the biggest misuse of IWBs, according to Buettner, is the lack of professional development that a school or district devotes to initial training and follow-up reinforcement. To avoid this pitfall, he said, “We provide lots of face-to-face training. We hold a technology camp every year where teachers can get the basics and get individual help, and attend sessions taught by other teachers.” The sessions use actual lesson plans devised by teachers that take advantage of IWBs, and provide discussions about how the lesson was created with the board in mind. “It lets them bounce ideas off colleagues, and helps build a culture of sharing,” said Buettner.

10) Don’t Use It in Isolation

 “Just putting a SMART Board in the hands of a teacher doesn’t make for a good teacher,” Prull said. He recommended integrating various classrooms together so that different groups of students can access the same material in a collaborative manner. Lessons should actively engage students and take full advantage of the functions on the board. And every lesson plan should consider how the IWB can expand and enhance the day’s work.

About the Author

David Weldon is a freelance education and technology writer in the Greater Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected].