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Investigating the Impact of Interactive Whiteboards in Higher Education: A Case Study

Journal of Learning Spaces Volume 7, Number 1. 2018 
Andy Benoit Lethbridge College, Canada


Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are a billion-dollar industry. Their prominent position in classrooms, frequently the single display to share digital information, draws attention to their influence on teaching and learning processes. This research presents a case-study of a Canadian college with over five years of IWB experience. Findings show that despite implementing best-practices, most instructors underutilize IWB capabilities. This research concludes that the IWB contribution to student learning has been limited with potentially detrimental impacts on student perception and comprehension given the smaller size of IWBs and their lower mounting position when compared to traditional projection screens.  

Background

Lethbridge College completed a three-year classroom technology standardization project in 2013. The work entailed installation of audio-visual communication technologies to support the amplification, transmission and capture of information (e.g., text, audio, video). The focal point of the installation was interactive whiteboards (IWBs), a technology purported to enable innovative teaching practices and learning experiences. Given their prominence in classrooms, the single display to share digital information, IWBs are not insignificant mediators of teaching and learning processes. Having surpassed the five-year implementation point, the extent of adoption and the relative impact of IWBs on teaching and learning at Lethbridge College has remained unclear. Using a case-study approach, this research provides a rich description of a Canadian post-secondary institution. The investigation has two overarching research questions: (1) What is the IWB contribution to teaching practices? And (2) what is the IWB impact on student learning experiences? The research begins, first, by synthesizing IWB literature, second by sharing institutional findings from an instructor survey on the topic of IWB utilization, and lastly it identifies best practices concerning IWB installation with a focus on learning, achieved using a document review. This research culminates with assertions that may be of interest to post-secondary institutions currently deploying or considering deployment of IWBs. 

 

Literature review

A rapid review of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) identifies the relationship between IWBs, teaching and learning, academic achievement and factors influencing educator IWB adoption. Current state of interactive whiteboard (IWBs) deployments Interactive whiteboards (IWBs), also referred to as electronic whiteboards, are one type of classroom technology. A conventional IWB installation includes an electronic whiteboard connected to a networked computer and a data projector (Smith et al., 2005; Al-Qirim, 2011). IWBs receive considerable attention and are found in classrooms around the world. The UK has the highest penetration rates worldwide with adoption rates of 80% in primary and secondary schools, and to a lesser extent in further education colleges (Hennessy & London, 2013). Similarly, commencing 2004, Mexico saw EUR 1.43 billion invested into IWBs and associated implementation in fifth and sixth-grade classrooms, and in 2012, Turkey forecasted equipping 620,000 classrooms with IWBs over five years. Hennessy and London further estimated classroom penetration rates, as of 2011, at 41% in the USA and 31% in Canada with forecasted penetration rates of 52% and 46%, respectively by 2016. The five-year introduction of IWBs into 43,000 (Bolkan, 2012) K-12 classrooms across schools in Quebec, Canada, suggests the popularity and appeal of IWBs remains unabated (Karsenti, 2016).  

 

Educational impact of IWBs

The predominant benefit of IWBs is to enable whole class teaching (Becta, 2004; Armstrong et al., 2005). In the context of digital learning, Betcher & Lee (2009) stated: "The opportunities for connecting students with highly relevant and engaging digital content are enormous, but without some way of sharing those resources on a whole class basis, the potential of the PC for teaching with these resources is fairly limited. As a tool for connecting teaching to learning in a digital world, the interactive whiteboard appears to be the missing link" (p.3). In their critical review of IWB literature, reflecting a focus on changes in classroom interaction and learner attainment, Smith et al. (2005) noted the relative advantage of IWBs remains unclear when compared to other presentation technologies, especially a data projector and screen. DiGregorio and Sobel-Lojeski (2010) extended this perspective, noting studies carried out too soon after implementation, sparse longitudinal research, and a need for more insight on the contextual factors influencing IWB implementation (e.g., school culture, technical support). In their systematic review of the literature from the vantage point of preschool and primary education, Kyriakou and Higgins, (2016), indicated, “there is a general consensus across the studies of this review that IWBs have not raised pupils’ achievement levels, at least as measured by tests of attainment” (p. 17). Karsenti (2016), likewise, notes, “As of 2016, not much is known about how the IWB is actually used or the real impacts on educational outcomes, and the results on the educational impacts are contradictory” (p.3). Despite recognition for the potential of IWBs, Karsenti’s (2016) survey results from 11,683 students and 1,131 Teachers in the Canadian K-12 system led him to propose, “for the great majority of teachers, a simple electronic projector would be more suitable for teaching purposes, at far less cost and with a much larger screen” (p. 16)

 

Contextual factors influence IWB adoption amongst educators

DiGregorio and Sobel-Lojeski (2010) identified five common themes or effects associated with IWB use: pedagogy, motivation, interaction, perception, and achievement. The extent to which such effects are realized, they note, is dependent on contextual factors, including, available opportunities for teacher training, teacher confidence (e.g., time to develop confidence), institutional culture (e.g., supportive leadership), skilled technical support (e.g., knowledgeable, reliable), and time for lesson preparation and practice. Betcher and Lee (2009) further noted the importance of optimal IWB placement and installation and use of quality software. Gregorcic, Etkina, and Planinsic (2017) draw attention to the importance of disciplinary context, noting the influence of epistemological conventions on instructors’ selection of learning activities and methods of technology utilization. Hennessy and London (2013) identified student age, suggesting that adolescents may feel self-conscious completing activities in front of their classmates. A range of contextual factors, in addition to those under the purview of the institution (e.g., professional development), can thus been seen to mediate IWB adoption and use. DiGregorio and Sobel-Lojeski (2010) acknowledge that institutions vary in how and the extent to which such factors are addressed, making it difficult to generalize results of IWB studies.

 

Summary

This brief literature review offers insight into the relationship between IWBs and teaching and learning, academic achievement, and factors that influence educator adoption of IWB technology. Three findings emerge. First, IWB technology is portrayed as an enabler of whole class teaching and learning with the potential to positively affect pedagogy, motivation, interaction, perception, and achievement. Second, numerous contextual factors such as institutional culture and skilled technical support staff, which are noted to vary across institutions, mediate the IWB influence in relation to teaching and learning. Third, the relationship between IWBs and student achievement remains unclear–resulting from situational factors that influence instructor utilization of IWBs. Less clear, as noted in the literature, is the extent to which educators use IWB features to support student learning; with further research needed to determine the relative impact of IWBs in comparison to other presentation solutions, e.g., data projectors and screens.  |
 

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What is an Interactive Whiteboard?

An interactive whiteboard is a piece of hardware that looks much like a standard whiteboard but it connects to a computer and a projector to make a very powerful collaboration tool. When connected, the interactive whiteboard becomes a giant, touch-sensitive version of the computer screen.