Affordances of the IWB

Much of my work within the last few months has been dedicated to better understanding how the affordances of the interactive whiteboard can be leveraged to enhance teaching and learning in innovative ways.  So, really getting beyond the IWB as a fancy presentation tool and exploring ways the technology can support deep, rich collaboration and interaction.  Just to clarify – when I refer to “interaction”, I’m not just thinking about how a student interacts with the board or content at the board but rather interaction among students around content.  There is so much to discuss (and I will continue this thread in future blogs) but today I will share a research article that describes how IWBs can be used to orchestrate classroom dialogue.  After all, an active, noisy classroom filled with dialogue, argument and discussion support learning and engagement.

The article, “Using interactive whiteboards to orchestrate classroom dialogue”, written by Neil Mercer, Sara Hennessy, and Paul Warwick (faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, UK) was published in Technology, Pedagogy, and Education in July 2010.  The study investigated how teachers could leverage the technical interactivity of the IWB to support dialogic interactivity.  “Dialogic pedagogy” is defined as “… [pedagogy] that actively builds on learners’ contributions, engages both teachers and students in generating and critically evaluating ideas, and encourages explicit reasoning and the joint construction of knowledge.”  Sounds very constructivist, right?  In the study, three teachers (elementary, middle, and secondary) with a level of expertise in IWB use and dialogic teaching participated in training, designed lessons, and then were observed in the classroom.

The authors highlight the technical interactivity of the IWB:

  • Drag and drop
  • Hide and reveal
  • Highlighting
  • Spotlighting
  • Animation (shapes can be rotated, flipped, etc.)
  • Annotation (text and graphical)
  • Storage of all material
  • Feedback
  • Automatic handwriting recognition and text formatting

The connection is then made between the technical interactivity and affordances for learning based on the teachers’ common belief that “…dialogue should make reasoning explicit and support the cumulative co-construction of knowledge and understanding.”  The study findings show that the IWB helped teachers carry out the following pedagogic intentions:

  • Scaffold learning
  • Support the temporal development of learning = reduce the cognitive load of students by focusing attention on key content
  • Involve pupils in the co-construction of knowledge
  • Encourage evaluation and synthesis
  • Develop a learning community
  • Develop pupil-pupil dialogue
  • Support provisionality of students’ evolving ideas
  • Guide lesson flow = pace
  • Develop pupil questioning

The teachers and researchers found that the IWB supported the widening conception of “dialogue” to include the use of “non-verbal dialogue” – the concept that new digital artifacts were created though annotation, drawing, manipulation, linking, sorting, etc. in conjunction with talk.  And, that these digital artifacts capture students’ developing understanding, becoming powerful assessment measures.  This quote captures it all, “Individual and collective thinking was embodied within a series of evolving digital representations that were purposefully manipulated, reformulated, annotated, saved and/or revisited so that meanings were created cumulatively over time through sustained, responsive dialogue.”  Powerful and inspiring findings that highlight the need to go beyond skills-training and pair instructional practice (in this case “dialogic pedagogy”) with the strategic use of the features and functions of the IWB.


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