Many educational organisations have invested (often huge amounts) in interactive whiteboards only to the be disappointed that they are underused or badly used by staff.
The first problem is that we have a habit of putting the interactive whiteboards in classrooms, and then we fill the classroom with students making it difficult for staff to get to the board when it is not in use, and even if they do find a time when the room is empty many people don’t like to ‘play’ with the board in a large room like a classroom especially as they will be stood at the front in a position where people are usually looking at them. If I wanted staff to use something like a video camera I would let them take it home so they can ‘play’ with it on their sofa – a safe environment to experiment or learn. Even the staff room is seen by many as a safe place to learn, whereas as the classroom isn’t and this is a fundemental issue for staff development in this area.
The second issue is then what and how much training do we give people. it is very easy to pull in an enthusiastic user to run an inspirational training session which will have a wow factor as we use and integrate all the wonderful features that the board and software offers, but there is a risk that a nervous user may think that they need to use it to that level, when in fact they are better off doing a bit one lesson, then a bit more next time etc. and building up their skills and confidence that way. I once ran an interactive whiteboard session to over 30 people which I managed by doing a simple opening presentation then I split them into about 4 groups and sent them off to different rooms with a challenge sheet to work their way through the software – this sesion actually worked really well, we didn’t cover as much ground as usual but I think the staff used the boards better as a result.
A third problem with the interactive boards is their positioning on the wall. I too often see a board positioned too high either due to the person fitting it not thinking about other people heights or because there is some electrical trunking at half height that they have gone above. Having a board in the wrong position is a huge barrier to many.
So what should we do.
1) Get teaching staff to influence the location of the boards in the rooms, check that the board works for people of varying heights and left and right handers.
2) if you have enough money to buy say 6 boards, then buy 5 only and use the money saved to invest on staff development. 5 well used boards is better than 6 badly used ones.
3) If you are buying multiple boards then put 1 of them in a safe place for staff to practice using it. This could be a staff common room, a training room etc. this will give staff the chance to ‘play’ and to become confident. After a year then move the board into a teaching area if you wish
4) work out what your licence will allow you to do. For example some of the boards will allow staff to install the software at home or at least on other computers owned by the institution. This is essential for staff to prepare resources for the boards as well as helping them to become familar with the software.
5) Think about running shorter training sessions but more often. I think an initial 1 hour session will get people going, then another short session a few weeks later is much better than a half day session up front.
6) Offer some sort of post training support – this could be turning up at the beginning of their first lesson to make sure all switched on etc. or having a mechanism where staff can easily ask for help
Used well the interactive whiteboard can be a very useful bit of kit. Used badly and it is an expensive gimmic that may have a negative effect on the learning, but the simple message is to invest in the staff development and CPD