A lot has changed in the classroom over the many years the United States has offered public education. Perhaps no change is as obvious as that occurring in technology. Typing on a computer has replaced the emphasis on writing by hand. The Internet has added a new layer of connectivity to classroom lessons. And the traditional chalkboard has morphed a bit as well. Today, interactive whiteboards (IWB) are all the range. But how beneficial are they really?

This is a topic covered in this Education Week article

In the article, mostly anecdotal evidence and explanation is given one way or another. It does explain that some studies have linked technology and better grades, but it also makes the statement that any progress depends on the teacher.

One of those teachers talked about in the article is Sandra Simoneaux, a 3rd and 4th grade teacher at Parker Elementary School in Oakland, Calif. She said an interactive whiteboard can give her “immediate insight” into how well students are learning. If she asks a question, the whiteboard can actually track how long it takes for students to answer. If it’s taking a while for the students to understand the problem, then she instantly knows that she needs to spend some more time on that lesson.

She also likes how using an interactive whiteboard can help her to teach the lesson at her own pace. With students relying on her use of the whiteboard, rather than questions on a sheet or in a textbook, they can’t jump ahead. Instead, they must move the same speed at which the instructor teaches. This helps keep everybody on task and in the moment.

The article also talks about the Urban High School of San Francisco. They use interactive white boards there, and school officials talk about how helpful they are with visual learning. The teachers can set up lesson plans and visual tools ahead of time, saving them from having to spend class time setting up something like a graph or chart on the board. Also, the whiteboards have the ability to save work written on them by the teacher. That way, students can download the teacher’s visual class lesson later. This allows them to skip taking notes during the actual lecture and focus instead on taking the information in.

Professional development and repeated use are both emphasized in the article. Just adding an interactive whiteboard itself won’t make for a significant change. That fact is highlighted in this quote from the Education Week article:

“Some people think [the IWB] is a magic bullet that will solve everything,” said Patrick Ledesma, a school-based technology specialist and special education department chair at the 746-student Holmes Middle School, which is part of the Fairfax County public schools in Virginia. He is also a current teacher-ambassador fellow for the U.S. Department of Education. But once interactive whiteboards have been installed, “teachers will do what they’ve always done, unless there is training or support to do things differently,” he said.

It appears that technology can really make an impact in the classroom, but not without the guiding hands of a well-trained professional.