"Use a stylus or use your finger." That is sometimes the extent and depth of the debate around interactive whiteboards.
The push to use interactive whiteboards fromeducation secretary Charles Clarke has probably been the worst thing that could happen if we want a considered implementation of this technology. The paradox of politicians talking about personalisation of the curriculum and financing interactive whiteboards that can encourage the very opposite bemuses teachers.
Sit in most lessons where a teacher is using an interactive whiteboard and you're only likely to see interactivity between the teacher and maybe three or four students. The boredom and apathy that characterised many lessons where video was used can still be seen with the interactive whiteboard.
You have to define what you mean by interactivity. Who is it for? The teacher? The pupils? Is interactivity bringing out one or two children during the course of a lesson so they can touch the board while the rest sit passively? Unfortunately, that's what happens in many classrooms.
Shouldn't interactivity be richer than that?
Sometimes interactive whiteboards are used well; but too often the full power is not exploited. The board, by its very nature, puts the teacher in charge, and recreates the old classroom model. But should we really blame the whiteboard - surely a creative teacher will use the technology imaginatively and an autocrat will use it to transmit information in a stultifying way? However, the board is so seductive that even good teachers enjoy the opportunity to show off their skills.
People often say how easy the boards are to use. Some are, but some whiteboard software is complex. There are good arguments for using simple programs; then colleagues will be more likely to use them. However, it's probably true that if you have simple software you'll only make minimal use of this powerful technology. Some boards can be used with little experience, but training will profoundly increase the impact on lessons.
The great danger is over-using the board. For whole-class teaching it can be very useful, but not all of the time. Use the board judiciously; to set personal tasks, to stimulate autonomous learning. And don't forget that there are other alternatives.
David Hunt, of education ICT supplier RM, does not believe that the interactive whiteboard with projector is the sole answer. He says you have to ask questions about purpose and teaching style. You don't have to hold centre stage and dazzle a class with your technical fluency. The tablet PC used with a projector and a conventional screen can be more involving. The teacher can work anywhere in the room, can face the class and can hand the tablet to anyone for their contribution.
The wireless keyboard and mouse combination can also put interactivity in the well of the class. The Class Pad, a wireless graphics tablet also means that the students have more access to, and more impact on, what appears on the screen - in other words greater involvement.
The mechanics of applications, David insists, work differently with different technologies. Asking a young child to move something from one side of a large interactive whiteboard to the other is a major task. Ask them to do the same thing on a tablet screen and it's a much smaller, easier movement.
In literacy, where you want pupils to enter words, the wireless keyboard works much better than the on-screen keyboard.
A laminated card, a pen and tissue for each child also works well. The children write their answers, hold them up and then clean them off. That way you can be sure that they all respond.
For a more expensive and more technological solution, look at voting systems like the Classroom Performance System or ACTIVote from Promethean which ensure the whole group participates (see page 31). The important thing is that everyone is involved. Every pupil has a handset to record their responses and they can all react to tests, quizzes and debates through the keypads. Their responses give the teacher a report showing the group performance and individual achievement. This allows teachers to plan future work, as well as "marking" what the children did during the lesson.
Finally you need good content. Worksheets culled from the archives definitely don't make the best use of the technology.
* The type style used should be big enough to be seen at the back of the class
* Create work so it fits onto the visible page to avoid scrolling
* Remember learning styles and adapt your displays
* Don't forget the cost of projector bulbs
* Try using a wireless keyboard so you can work away from the screen and so can your pupils.
* Find out about ClassBoard, ClassPad, Tablet PCs and Easiteach from RM www.rm.com
* Promethean has developed some of the most sophisticated whiteboard software www.promethean.co.uk
* The market-leading interactive whiteboards are supplied by SMART Technologies www.smartboard.co.uk
* Polyvision claims to produce the board that's simplest to use www.polyvision.com
* Check out interactive voting systems (see page 31). The Classroom Performance System has been used successfully www.einstruction.uk.com
* Espresso Education is one of the best providers of dynamic content www.espresso.co.uk
* The RM Whiteboard Report is based on the work of the North Islington Education Action Zone (NIEAZ). Select Press Office from the menu, followed by Reports www.rm.comcompany
* The REVIEW Project developed a series of guides for each curriculum area.
Download the Good Guide to Interactive Whiteboards www.thereviewproject.org
* The Learning and Teaching Scotland site www.ltscotland.org.uk connectedconnected8 specialfeature whiteboardsonline.asp
* The National Whiteboard Network provides general advice on using whiteboards www.nwnet.org.uk