Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are IWBs Past Their Prime?

guest post by Jacob Gutnicki

In recent months (perhaps years) many have questioned the cost effectiveness of the IWB and its siblings. More specifically, educators have voiced concerns that the IWBs are redundant as its interactive features mimic the tablet, which can be purchased for far less money. Additionally, numerous critics have lamented that the professional development services offered by IWBs are all too often substandard. In fact, a perusal of recent articles would suggest that school administrators should trash the IWBs and replace it with either tablets or Smart Phones.
Sounds crazy??? Think again. About 10 years ago, laptops became king. As such, many administrators threw out desktop computers that were still in their prime years. About 20 years ago incoming administrators broke apart computer labs, as the computing trend was to push the computers out of the lab and into the classroom. In recent years, schools have also been ditching old equipment believing that only the latest computer hardware should be used with students. This often happens, as it is convenient to purchase new equipment and follow the adage out with the old, in with the new. However, these same schools then wonder why their network-based programs no longer work or in some cases wish to reassemble the lab when computer labs are in style again. They also cry poverty claiming that their computer to student ratio is atrocious.
At the same time, there are many schools that believe that the IWB can do no wrong. In fact, they are aggressively working to outfit each room with an IWB. I have also noticed that IWB training seminars are always well attended.
So… who is right? After all, in this economy we should not spend our limited funds in a callous manner. In truth, this is not an easy question to answer. Many schools purchase IWBs because it is a brand name they are familiar with and believe it will be easier to get “buy in” from their teachers. Additionally, schools are reluctant to use cheaper alternatives, as they believe it will not be compatible with the software they are using. On the other hand, IWB critics believe this technology is prohibitively expensive and is quickly becoming obsolete. IWB critics also assert that tablets and Smart Phone technology is not only cheaper; it also includes far more interactive features thereby putting the IWB to shame.
In the end, schools have to weigh the facts carefully and decide how to best use technology to best serve the needs of their children. This includes examining the school culture, features of competing technologies, physical space available in the school, the school’s comfort level with varying technology models, and the total cost of ownership.
That being said, we must also be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. While its important to analyze differing technologies and purchase wisely, it is also essential that we carefully analyze how we are going to use our existing technology and re-purpose it when applicable. Additionally, administrators should inventory their existing hardware, assign all functioning hardware a purpose, and pursue a quality training program that helps build instructional capacity as needed and maximizes how legacy and current technology is used.

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