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Do Whiteboard Benefits Justify Their Cost?


There's a simmering controversy in the education world about the value of interactive whiteboards (IWBs). These devices work like very large computer screens, allowing data and images from the internet or computer software to be displayed and manipulated by teachers and students on a large whiteboard.

whiteboards are expensiveAlthough many teachers feel IWBs are a valuable asset in their classrooms, critics say they don't provide enough learning advantage to justify their high cost, and that they promote a teacher-centric style of learning, instead of a model in which students are fully involved in exploration, discussion, and discovery.

The whiteboard debate prompted Candace Hackett Shively, Director of K-12 Initiatives at The Source for Learning,, to confront the issues at the recent conference of the International Society for Technology in Education. Her presentation, "Hands Off, Vanna! Giving Students Control of Interactive Whiteboard Learning," drew an enthusiastic response from conference attendees.

Shively runs the nonprofit Web site, aimed at "thinking teachers teaching thinkers." She said, "We don't take a position on whether schools should spend the money for IWBs. What we're saying is, if you have one, we want to help you use it well."

That desire to help led TeachersFirst to create a detailed discussion of useful IWB strategies and ideas at

Using the IWB for student-centered learning

The new section of the TeachersFirst site focuses on techniques for using IWBs to promote student-centered learning.

Shively explained, "Using a whiteboard just to illustrate a teacher's lecture is a waste of a potentially valuable resource. Students get energized by doing hands-on, collaborative learning, and it turns out IWBs can both motivate and facilitate that learning. In addition, IWBs can be helpful for special-needs children and those who have a primarily kinesthetic learning style,” she said. “Using an IWB as a student-operated 'center' or 'sidebar' in a classroom invites them to write, move, label, and create things on this large screen. In some classes, IWBs are being used with great success as 'intellectual graffiti walls' to provoke deep thinking and honor the ideas that students might otherwise keep to themselves. There's a wealth of information in our site's IWB section—in fact, schools could offer a complete in-service training using what's there."

TeachersFirst is a service of The Source for Learning, Inc. (, a not-for-profit corporation providing enhanced learning through technology. SFL is a member of ISTE 100, a group of corporations and associations that are key supporters of the International Society for Technology in Education.

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