I’m not wild about Interactive White Boards. My reasons are fairly simple– we don’t expect young people and teachers to identify their real learning and creative purposes often or early enough, and I question how IWBs facilitate this well. I feel it’s important to begin most learning there, and  I have a hunch that when we overlook this, we increase the chances of integrating technology in ways that don’t serve any one very well. So when a conversation relevant to this began unfolding on Twitter and via Bill Ferriter and Miguel Guhlin’s blogs yesterday, my cyber-ears perked up a bit.

Like most, I believe that technology is best used to enrich the creation of ideas, our abilities to share them, and our opportunities to learn with others. Those purposes are primary, and we choose our technologies based on them. I also believe that while we might introduce people to these tools inside of schools, they can only be of real value if they are the kinds of tools that many people are able to access outside of schools too–for their own reasons. I don’t know how many people will be running out to purchase an IWB for their home or for recreational use, so I can’t quite understand why we make them a focal point inside of our schools. I’m not sure how they can sustain us in our learning, our creativity, or in our connectivity outside of the classroom. They are crazy expensive too. As a result, whenever I’m asked to share my personal opinions about IWBs I offer up a half-hearted shrug. This certainly doesn’t make them useless, though. In my mind, it just makes them what they are–tools that serve a limited number of purposes. They are things that can also do a bit of harm if they are used without considering the unintended effects of doing so.

Miguel posted a great question in the comments section of Bill’s blog yesterday. He wanted to know what people should do if they’ve purchased IWB boards without considering the questions that Bill posed first.  My first thought as I read Bill’s post and caught Miguel’s reply? These are questions we could and probably should be asking our students now, prior to purchase. And when that doesn’t happen? Maybe we could try this kind of dialogue on for size:

Hey kids–guess what? We are already swimming in technologies and tools that have been sent our way at warped speed. Why? Because it’s possible, and as Americans, we dwell in possibility. That reality provides much food for thought, and perhaps we can dig into it further at some point. In the mean time, here is our current challenge. I expect it’s one you’ll find yourself confronting often in life: we’ve been given some stuff that we are finding ourselves underwhelmed by. Given that reality, how do we proceed in a responsible way without wasting what we’ve been given? How can we use this stuff best, given our different purposes? And what can we do to ensure that the stuff we get is better aligned to what we need in the future?

I agree with Bill-we need to begin the work that we do and the purchases we make with very clear and common vision. I’d like to hope that the vision created was a collective vision too. Considering unintended consequences wouldn’t hurt either. When this doesn’t happen though, perhaps asking our students to align the resources that they are provided to their greater purposes might ensure that we don’t squander what we’ve been given. Maybe this could help kids think and plan and problem solve in ways that will serve them well in the future too. I guess I think this issue is one they will be dealing with for a long time to come.

What about the teachers who wouldn’t dream of leading learning in this way? Well, they’ll use their IWBs in much the same way they used to use their chalkboards…..or not at all. My guess is that any new resource would receive a similar sort of reception. When they’re ready to change, they will. Particularly if they’re blessed with the kind of support they will need to attempt it. In the mean time, I don’t know that IWBs are reinforcing bad practitioners any more than they are helping others move forward.

Sometimes, I wonder if we’re missing a far greater point. Every teacher has tremendous expertise to share……even the ones that aren’t particularly tech-savvy. In fact (I dare say)…especially the ones who aren’t tech-savvy. I’m with Claudia here: teachers are professionals whose current perspectives, practices, and expertise count. They are the ones who are creating current reality. And that’s where we need to live and work. When we don’t recognize and appreciate this as leaders, we’re the ones who miss out. We’re the ones who are out of sync. If we listened and learned from everyone else more often–especially the kids,maybe we would accomplish a lot more a lot faster for a greater number of people. It might not be what WE want or what WE envision. But it might be reflective of real learning. And that might be even better.

Or maybe I’m just being crabby because even though I swore I’d never blog about IWBs, here I am doing that. And on my spring break, no less.

In short, if you’ve acquired a bunch of stuff that looks a lot less dazzling on the ground than it did during the pitch, maybe all isn’t lost after all. This is a very real problem that we and our students will  probably be confronting forever. Fortunately, inside of every school there are hundreds upon thousands of learners with different dreams and passions and needs. Ask them how they can use that stuff. I’ll bet that some of them can come up with some great ideas.


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