A misguided revolution!

Rarely does one find a classroom in Indian private schools these days without an interactive whiteboard (IWB)! Even cash-strapped schools that can barely pay its teachers a decent salary have IWBs installed at least in a few classrooms. People go to the extend of calling these curious devices the most revolutionary piece of technology to reach schools after the good old blackboard found its way into the classrooms back in the 1800s.

The last three years were phenomenal for people who sell IWBs in India, with schools scrambling to buy these devices so that they can show parents they are as contemporary as their counterparts in the neighborhood. According to a report by Futuresource Consulting, in the first quarter of 2013 alone, the sale of IWBs and flat panel displays for the education sector went up by 50% in India. However, if one takes a closer look, the IWB revolution that is taking place in India has failed to deliver on its promise of dramatically improving how children learn.

Most schools that have IWBs installed in the classrooms already know it is not working! However, they still do not seem to be able to put a finger on what exactly is not working. During the early part of August 2013, 25 private schools in Bangalore decided to go to the consumer court against a leading IWB seller for “allegedly not providing timely technical, resource, and maintenance support.” The problem is actually deeper than that! Even if ‘technical, resource, and maintenance support’ were given, can IWBs fundamentally change how learning takes place? IWBs have not been able to change a thing about learning yet, with or without the said support! At its best, IWBs have effectively replaced the blackboard and saved many a teacher from allergic reactions to chalk dust.

To understand the problem with IWBs in our classrooms, one needs to look at how teachers actually use these devices at present. Most teachers use traditional methods to teach concepts for the first twenty to thirty minutes of a lesson and then play digital media relevant to the concept on an IWB towards the end. Children usually sit and watch a video or presentation, passively. Many teachers use digital resources during the lesson too.

However, they blend it with their good old lecture, pausing the video or presentation often to explain what is happening, again to a class that is listening quite passively. Children are asked to do nothing to actively process the information that they receive. Some of the teachers use the digital board to write as they teach, instead of writing on the green board attached to the IWBs. Certain teachers call a random child or two to the board to answer a question or solve a problem, while the rest of the class sits doing nothing. Neither are the digital resources made available along with IWBs nor are the interactive element of the board used effectively to encourage children to think, discuss, and collaborate to learn.

National Curriculum Framework 2005 clearly states that it is “two-way interactivity rather than one-way reception that would make technology educational.” The use of education technology in classrooms becomes meaningful only when we allow children to collaborate with each other to create and communicate, and in the process learn. The way teachers currently use IWBs hampers this possibility, moving the focus of the classroom back to where the teacher stands and delivers a lecture instead of where the learners sit. Unless there are teachers who know how to use this device for active learning, enabling children to think, to talk, and ask questions, the scenario is not going to change any time soon.

Though many would like to believe otherwise, IWB is not a panacea for ineffective teaching. The mere presence of an IWB in the classroom is not going to make children learn magically. These are devices oversold on the promise of motivating students and making learning effective. However, there is nothing that an IWB can do for a classroom that a simple LCD projector and a computer with an internet connection cannot. And an LCD projector and a computer work out cheaper for schools than an IWB. Once the initial ‘WOW’ factor fades out, it is like any other teaching aid and does nothing on its own to motivate students. How it is used in the classroom to support learning depends on the teacher in the classroom. That was something most schools chose not to pay attention to as they clamor to get technology into the classroom heightened. In fact, they were misled into believing that IWBs were going to revolutionize learning, make the classrooms futuristic.

Bill Gates famously said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” And unless you support and train that teacher to teach better, to promote active and collaborative learning in the classroom, this revolution will remain what it is — a misguided revolution!

Note: This write-up was published in Deccan Herald Education Supplement in August 2013. Posting it online, as it was published only in the print version of the Deccan Herald.

The opinion is purely mine and does not represent that of any organization I work with.