It’s easy to ridicule “interactive whiteboards” and the schools that are rushing to buy them. Choose your analogy: it’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, perfecting VHS in a Blu-ray world, or lemmings jumping over a cliff. For while individualized, self-directed online learning is all the rage, here’s a technology that still takes whole-class instruction for a given, puts the teacher front and center, and offers not much more than a modern update to the age-old chalkboard.
These contraptions, which go by brand names like SMART Boards and Promethean ActivBoards and cost about $5,000 a pop, are giant computerized screens that crackle with video, audio, and Internet connectivity. When hooked up to a computer, they enable teachers to present multimedia lessons meant to catch the eyes (and brains) of a generation addicted to Wii, iPhones, and IMing. They also serve as an old-fashioned blackboard (teachers and students write on them with special markers) but with a twist: whatever is scribbled on the board can be captured, digitized, and saved for later. This is particularly helpful for students who miss class and can in effect replay the lesson at their leisure. It also allows teachers to “rewind” and explain a point made 15 minutes or 15 days earlier.