The day I removed an Interactive Whiteboard for the first time

In the last few weeks I have begun removing Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) from classrooms in my school. That’s right. You read correctly. And I don’t mean removing to put another board up.

I had planned this for a while. But when the crunch came I had a little moment. Am I really going to do this? I reflected on the excitement we all felt when they first went up such a short time ago. And I wondered to myself, in a time when surrounding schools were still getting excited and still aspiring to put these up in every room, am I the first Assistant Principal or ICT coordinator to actually take one of these things down?!?

I’ve been lucky enough to work at two different schools over the last 3 years that have been ahead of the curve in adopting IWBs. Both schools were among the first to have boards in every classroom, and this has meant that it has been at least 3 years since I’ve taught without one, and 6 years since I’ve taught without at least a fixed data projector and screen. So IWBs are not special or new at our school. They are ‘normal’, and I’ve watched as our teaching practice has grown and changed with them and around them.

In the Junior school (Prep – Grade 2) they are a hit. Teachers in these grades spend a lot more time modeling things to a whole class. Students in those class groups are thrilled when they get the chance to come up and manipulate something on the screen and the teacher taps into this engagement to help make their point. During Literacy and Numeracy times, small groups of students work together on a game or puzzle of some sort on the big screen which still genuinely thrills their socks off.

In the Senior school (grades 3 – 6) its a different story. This year we have been able to flood the Senior School with iPads and Macbooks. Devices in the students hands when they need them has been absolutely pedagogy changing. Finally we are fully moving away from teacher at the front of the room. Students have access to everything in the palm of their hands and this has been reflected in how their learning is being structured.

And that is why it has become more and more ridiculous to have a giant touch screen sitting at the front of the room. I noticed that our Level 4 teachers (grades 5 and 6) were using the touch screen element of the boards less and less this year. It has got to the stage where I can’t remember the last time I saw a student actually using an IWB in these classrooms. But then I thought, is that really a bad thing? The more I thought about it, the more I realised I could barely think of a single situation in this fantastic, dynamic learning environment where the technology an IWB provides makes any sense at all.

So the answer is no, their lack of use was not a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing. The teacher is no longer controlling the technology, and we are no longer operating within a ‘knowledge given from the front of the room’ modality.

So here’s what I did. We are lucky enough to be a growing school. We have 2 new classes in our Junior area that needed two new IWBs. I knew I didn’t want to buy more of these things. Especially considering the insane amount of money they cost. So instead of buying new ones, I removed 2 IWBs from the Grade 5/6 area and put those into the Junior School rooms. I then bought 2 interactive LCD screens for our 5/6 area. I wasn’t ready to drop the interactive screen idea just yet, but I had got rid of the expensive IWB and projector double act, and replaced each one with one beautiful, thin LCD screen. With the money I saved I had the trolleys custom built to house a Mac Mini on the back of the screens. I connected the Mac Mini to the screens via HDMI and the result was a potable Mac with a 46″ interactive screen!!

Now here’s where the learning curve comes in. Whenever you enter a new frontier there are going to be things you discover that work better than others. The feedback from teachers was that the portability of the screens and the fact they came with their own PC attached was fantastic. The size however was not. While the picture was crisp and sharp and easily beat the quality of the projectors, when text needed to be shown there just wasn’t enough screen real estate to make it big enough for all students to see. And yes, the interactive component of the screens still wasn’t being used!

Here’s where we copped a lucky break. One of the screens was damaged in a break in, and we got a replacement screen on insurance. The replacement screen was a new model that had dual touch capabilities. The problem was, there was no driver for the screen that would make it work with a Mac. After a bit of back and forth with Samsung, we ended up getting our money back. First I considered other touch screen models. But then I realised, if we were willing to make a break from interactive screens, we could get a 60″ LED screen and a 55″ LCD screen for the price of one interactive LCD screen.

Here’s how the figures are currently:

– a 46″ Samsung interactive LCD screen is between $3500 – $5500
– An interactive whiteboard with ultra short throw wide screen projector costs between $7000 and $9000.

…A Sony 55″ LCD screen is just $1300.

Stacking up how much interactive boards were being used in our classrooms and their lack of appropriateness to our current pedagogical practices against the price differential, the decision seemed like a no brainer. Two bigger screens for the price of a smaller one. And with change left over! And the change left over meant the screens would now no long just have a Mac Mini, but an Apple TV as well!

With iPads in the student’s hands and an Apple TV to mirror them live onto the LCD screen, why on earth would you want a child to come up and actually have to touch the screen at the front of the room to move things around on it!?

So here we are in what feels like a brave new frontier. What do you think. Am I a crazy man?

23 thoughts on “The day I removed an Interactive Whiteboard for the first time

  1. Great post.

    Granted you are years ahead of my small part of Canada. We’re still at the point where SMART boards are being installed for the first time. And I’m not sure about the difference in our dollar but SBs are 4,000 dollars installed here. Perhaps the fact that they are manufactured here in Ontario.

    Anyway, I see some of the most incredible math lessons being taught in my school with the use of a SB. And I mean above district and above province level math results to boot. So my question is how does one wrestle the SB away from a teacher who uses it effectively?

    My second point is that you are doing with large screens, Mac Minis and Apple TVs what I can only dream of. A buddy of mine aw able to get ATV working on his school wifi network but it was after hours and he had to bring his own kit!

    Please keep writing about the disruptions in your school. After all, isn’t that how real change happens?

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  3. Well done. I work in a Victorian school that got rid of all of the interactive whiteboards 3 years ago. People around the region thought that we had lost our minds but we stood firm in our decision. We replaced the IWBs with TVs ranging from 42″ – 50″ allowing students to share their screens with the class at any time through Apple’s Remote Desktop application. What we found was that students were more actively engaged in sharing their work and the screen became far less important to us as teachers but gained value as a presentation tool for the students.

  4. My school never went down the IWB path. Nearly every learning/meeting space has a 55″ LCD. At last count we now have 30+ screens with some having ATV2 installed for screen mirroring of the iPads. $1000s saved.

  5. Just read this Richard. No brainer. We are lucky to have you. The students can get their touch screen kicks from iPads.

  6. I agree completely Richard. For years I’ve loved the projection of engaging multimedia and sharing students work but I almost never use interactivity with my Yr 5-8 students. I almost felt like I wasn’t getting it because all schools were putting up IWB everywhere. It’s very reassuring to read your blog. Keep up the great innovation!

  7. I heard about one of the schools in our district where the district is requiring the purchase of $15,000 of SMART Boards, even though hthe school would rather pursue iPads and Apple TVs. What a shame.

    I agree that the Smart Board or IWB is a great improvement over the white board or chalk board. I see its effectiveness at the elementary level. But once you hit secondary levels, the effectiveness does not remain.

    Right now you can buy an 80 inch LCD TV for $4400. That LCD TV will outlast a projector–several projectors and bulbs, for that matter–probably until holo technology emerges and changes the field yet again.

    My advice to schools is exactly what you are doing; cycle IWBs out of secondary classrooms as you make the move to 1-to-1 programs, and don’t look back.

    Those 80″ TVs will only continue to drop in price and still increase in size.

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  9. Wow Paul, what a decision. As I read it I pondered. I thought, I reflected. You see I love my SMARTboard. My students run it, they open and close files they add links and know how the software works. They design files in it and they are in control. I love it for the way I can save lessons and record details. I Embed videos and links into files and program. My maths program is designed in notebook and used by four maths groups.
    I know I could teach without it but I also know that I have invested hours into learning how to use it and teaching my students how to use it.
    Perhaps that is the difference.

  10. Removing IWB’s??!! I’m amazed that I’m actually reading about this, when the technology is still being chased after by so many schools.

    Recently I taught in a 5/6 class and had the oppurtunity to teach using a screen linked with Appple TV and 1-to-1 iPads for all the students. The instant sharing and collaboration across all curriculum areas was fantastic, and the students were so engaged in everything they did.

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  14. Great read – would be interesting to know if you’ve experienced any issues with AirPlay (Bonjour) being blocked on your school’s network, and if so, what your work around is?

  15. Yes, we are looking at possible replacments for the IWB also. We do like the 50 to 60 inch LCD’s. Any suggestions? The maintenance cost is escalating as the boards obtain age.

  16. Hi Tommy. I think going for LCD TVs is absolutely the way to go. In 2014 I wouldn’t go smaller than a 60 inch. We started about 4 years ago with 42″ which was large at the time. Then 55″ came in which also seemed huge. 60″ is a great size for a classroom though, and you should be able to pick them up for a reasonable price now. We have been purchasing the Sharp 60″ LED TVs. They are the last ones with the old ‘RGB’ (display port) points (although HDMI adapters from your computer to the TV work just as well) and the last brand still made in Japan!

  17. Hi Lousie. I see you’ve written from Australia, in which case the school technician in most states has the power to ‘white list’ web sites that the education department may have blocked. We use Reflector app or Air Server and haven’t had issues with either.

  18. Hi Lousie
    Bonjour is a communication protocol not a website so a white list will not help. It is noisy as it multicasts and so, is often blocked to improve a network.
    subnetting and good switches are needed. It is a real pain. Apple is not designed for enterprise environments.

  19. Hi Rich
    happened across your post while researching replacing IWB with interactive screens.
    Just wondering if you have an update on this change?

  20. Hi Brad, nothing much has changed! It still comes down to what you want to achieve in terms of pedagogy. And even then, you need to justify the extra $2000 or so for the interactive functionality. I recently put some interactive projectors into our junior school because we already had the brackets and IWBs in place so that was the cheapest option, but otherwise we’ve been installing the domestic 60 inch Sharp TVs and they’ve been great.

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