Interactive Whiteboards

What is Inquiry?
My Research
Key Competencies

 I have been involved with using interactive whiteboards (IWBs) for several years. Most of that experience has been with Promethean ACTIVboards although I have had some experience with other boards. This page relates to use of IWBs in all subject areas, not just for inquiry-based learning. For the results of my research relating to interactive whiteboards see the Inquiry & ICT page. For information on the Kopu Digital Opportunities project which used IWBs to support inquiry see the Digital Opportunities website and the public pages of the Opoutere School KnowledgeNET.

I would not like to have to teach in a classroom without an interactive whiteboard. There are four main reasons why I think IWBs are great classroom tools. They are:

  • Interactivity

  • Writing, saving and reviewing

  • Resources readily available

  • Student motivation and engagement

Interactivity  - the ability to  interact with the activity is, for me, the most important feature of the boards. There are several aspects to this, the first, and probably most beneficial, is the ability to physically move things around on the screen. This is particularly useful when sorting , mind-mapping etc.  

Reading activities such as sorting or matching text and pictures or Cloze exercises can easily be developed. Maths is another subject where this ability is extremely useful. Students can classify objects, move them, resize them, rotate them etc. Students can also physically interact with the numbers and equipment on the screen. This aspect especially appeals to tactile/kinaesthetic learners but all students (at primary school level anyway) seem to enjoy this feature.

The highlighter tool is extremely useful, allowing teachers and students to interact with text and images. For example students can highlight areas of text that support their answers or opinions. It can be used in reading and language to highlight parts of speech, examples of text features etc. Students can, for example, highlight the similes in the story or highlight all the adjectives.  Being able to share a big book on the screen (pages of any book can be scanned and inserted into a flipchart), then interact with the text, is something I have found extremely useful.

The ability to find sounds and video and save them on a flipchart is a very valuable tool. Adding sound and video can add another dimension to a lesson. Some examples of ways this can be used:

  • I use sound clips as motivation for written language using sound files I have found in the board software and on the internet.

  • Students can write their own interactive stories inserting sound clips. Pick-a-path type stories are easy for students to make and share using the board.

  • Using movie and sound files of famous events e.g. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech as resources and to motivate students.

Having students record themselves and using these sound files is very easily done. The sound recorder in ACTIVboard automatically inserts the recorded sound file into the current flipchart page. This feature is useful for all ages but especially with young students who are not yet fluent writers. The files can be saved in the flipchart to be used at a later date. Some uses for sound recording:

  • Brainstorming - students record their ideas rather than writing them. Just record using a microphone, name the file and it automatically inserts into the flipchart. If wanted student images can be linked to their sound file.

  • Retelling a story. Students can easily create their own interactive stories, drawing their own pictures directly onto the flipchart or using an existing image or photograph and adding their own narration. They can also include text if wanted.

  • Students can record their ideas on topics. These can also be linked to image files if wanted.

The camera tool in ACTIVboard is very useful, allowing you to take snapshots of anything on your computer or the internet. What I like about this tool is the ability to not only take the usual oblong pictures but also to take point-to-point or freehand snapshots. I have found the latter very useful when working with a shared book. I can scan the book onto a flipchart then I can also create freehand snapshots from the scanned images. This is useful for getting images of individual characters which can then be used in a number of related activities such this activity from the story "The Big Block of Chocolate", where students move the characters into the correct place. The screen can be printed to provide a cut and paste follow-up activity for students if wanted.

 Write, Save and Review - being able to record student brainstorms etc for later review is very useful. Being able to write directly on the board is a lot faster than having to type answers and, if wanted, the handwriting recognition tool can be used to turn handwriting into text.  I found the ability to save and review work especially helpful during inquiry units where all work on the unit, including student responses, could be saved into one flipchart. Reviewing at the end of a session or referring back to previously saved work was then very easy to do.

In addition, being able to write on the board also means being able to draw. Thus it is very easy to draw diagrams, pictures etc. which, along with accompanying text, can then be saved if wanted. The interactive functions mean that any text, diagrams etc can also be moved and sorted if necessary.

Resources readily available

One of the advantages of IWBs is the resource libraries and tools accompanying the board. The tools available as part of the board software such as a protractor, ruler, timer, compass etc. are very useful, especially for maths lessons. There are also an array of images easily available. If you need a New Zealand or World map, graph paper, blank clocks or picture of a skeleton during a lesson for example, they are available very quickly. There are also a number of interactive games and activities within the board software. A large number of ready-made flipcharts are available in the library and many more are available for download. These are easily adapted to suit the individual group or class.

Student motivation and engagement

In my experience students find the use of the IWB engaging and motivating. This is not just when boards are new in a classroom but can still be seen over three years later. One of the reasons for this is the multimedia nature of content on the board. The ability to interact with the board would seem to be the main factor however. This was apparent in my research where students mentioned being able to use the board themselves as a reason they liked the boards.


Teacher up front

One danger of using IWBs is it can lead to the teacher spending more time at the front of the class. I have noticed that when teachers first get their boards this can often be the case. Professional development in use of the board seems to solve this as teachers learn new ways to use their board and learn to hand more control of the board to students.

Glorified whiteboard

Another danger is that of just using the board as a substitute whiteboard. I have spoken to teachers who have had their traditional whiteboard replaced with an IWB so that is all that they have. This situation does not seem to lend itself to full utilisation of the IWB. There are some things that a traditional whiteboard is needed for - things that need to stay in view for an extended period of time like the day’s timetable for example. Take away this whiteboard and teachers tend to use their IWB for those purposes, meaning they cannot take full advantage of the uses of the board.

In addition, if teachers are not given professional development on ways of using the board then many will continue to use them as glorified whiteboards - a huge waste.

IWB vs Data projector

I personally believe every classroom should have a ceiling-mounted data projector. As I mentioned previously there are several areas where IWBs come into their own including interactivity, saving and reviewing, engagement and ready access to resources, but some of the benefits ascribed to IWBs can be achieved using a data projector. These include:

  • Sharing websites with the class or group

  • Modelling and demonstrating use of computer programs, use of the internet etc.

  • Skills teaching

  • Sharing resources and information with the class or group e.g. Kiwi Kidsongs latest CDs where the lyrics can be displayed for the class and the music played at the same time

  • Sharing multi-media resources with the class or group

If these are all you intend doing with an IWB, then a data projector will be enough. If however you want the other aspects I mentioned, especially the interactivity, then an IWB is the better option. I would suggest that if you are having a data projector installed and intend in the future to get an IWB that you think carefully about where you put the data projector so that you don't end up having to pay to move the projector at a later date.

Screen Shadow

Screen shadow can be an issue when using an IWB. Newer versions of the boards with attached projectors virtually eliminate this, but if you are using the board with a separate projector then I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Get your projector ceiling-mounted. This eliminates a range of issues including minimizing screen shadow.

  2. Practice - the more you use the board the less this will be an issue. You learn to move so as to minimize shadow and also to ignore and write through shadow. It rarely bothers me now unless I am forced to use a projector on a table.

 Professional development

Professional development is essential if teachers are to use the boards effectively. Attending sessions at conferences where teachers with boards share some of the ways they use their boards has been a great way to gather new ideas. Training courses provided by the Envision board suppliers have also proved very valuable. Initial training was skills-based but later sessions involved practical classroom applications of the board and were very valuable. The Promethean Learning site has tutorials that can be completed and the Promethean World site has a Hot Tips section that includes video clips of ACTIVboards being used in the classroom.


Articles on IWB Use A list of articles on IWB use.

IWB Research A list of IWB research articles

ACTIVboard Resources Promethean Planet has an extensive collection of resources for the ACTIVboard. There are numerous flipcharts that have been created by teachers and which can be downloaded. has resources including video clips of ACTIVboards being used in the classroom. The Promethean Learning site has training courses for using the ACTIVboard. The level one certificate is free and has tutorials for all basic skills. This is a great one to do for both teachers and students if they want to improve their skills in board use.

Websites that work well with IWBs This is one of my favourite sites. There are lots of interactive activities for maths, language, science and other areas. Maths activities Literacy and maths activities A variety of IWB resources Maths activities IWB activities in a variety of subject areas Activities in a number of different areas Junior reading activities Online stories Online books, fiction and non-fiction and includes some New Zealand books. A lot of the learning objects because of their interactivity work well on an IWB. Your school will need to register and get a password.

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2008 Jan-Marie Kellow
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