Guest blog post by Pete Sharma - IWBs in language teaching

graham's picture

It is my great pleasure to introduce a special guest blog post for iTILT by Pete Sharma, who is the co-author of a great new book for teachers called 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards (Macmillan). Pete is an author, teacher, and teacher-trainer and has been involved in lots of IWB training courses for language teachers.

The question I love to ask during workshops I run on technology is: "Do you teach with an Interactive whiteboard?" Watch those hands fly up in Brazil. Watch those hands stay resolutely down in Germany. In Mexico, sales of boards continue to soar as it fast becomes the country with most IWBs in the world. However, on a recent trip there I met many teachers who don't use the board they already have installed. I asked them why. "Lack of a reliable internet connection" was one of the commonest reasons given!


I'm always amazed at this vast difference in the penetration of IWBs as I travel from country to country. Here in the UK, no child is allowed to undergo their primary and secondary education without being taught at some stage via an IWB. Then at college it university, it may all go pear-shaped again, with hardly an IWB on the horizon, or maybe one from a bygone era. This year, as a teacher in tertiary education, I have struggled to get anywhere near this object of desire, or if I do, it seems suspiciously turned off with no-one in the vicinity to help me.

I'm always amazed at how training sessions usually establish the pedagogical benefits of using an IWB: memorable presentations, better review, great for kinaesthetic learners. Then, whenever a school starts to consider investing in one, the debate switches from pedagogy to cost.

In the language teaching world I inhabit, one argument seems to be: if you have the money, there are better ways to invest than on an IWB. Another suggests that IWBs are not about collaboration and communication. I beg to differ. Personally, I side with the passionate comment from one practitioner on his board: "My students love it and use it. I cannot teach without it".

I'm a classroom teacher, capable of delivering lessons with or without technology. If given a choice - to teach without an IWB or with one, I know which option I would go for! I'm all for flooding my classroom with the benefits of multi-media which have been so long relegated to the self-access centre.

As I type these words, I'm still basking the recent review of my latest book as co-author, 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards (Macmillan 2011). The review, by Wayne Trottman in the the EL gazette, was written from the heart. Inspired by his words of praise, the author team are putting together a short video clip explaining how we arrived at the 'Four Approaches' to using IWBs. These are as follows:


1. Using regular programs, like Word, PowerPoint and the Internet.

2. Using the software which comes with the board, whether Smart, Promethean, Hitachi or another make.

3. Using published materials, the 'whiteboardable' interactive courseware which accompanies today's course book.

4 D.I.Y. - teacher created material.

When this is ready, we will make it available to the iTilt community.

In the meantime, as I prepare for future conferences and workshops on IWBs, I reflect that we live in a divided world. As some teachers develop high-level activities, merging their teaching skills with the exciting opportunities offered by IWBs, others have never turned one on, let alone used it with their learners. As a teacher and an IWB user, I count myself fortunate.