Are interactive whiteboards really being used interactively?

19th April 2014 at 11:00

Walk into any classroom in the UK today and it’s likely that you will see an interactive white board (IWB) taking pride of place on the wall. It is also likely that you would see this expensive piece of technology being used as nothing more than a glorified projector.

How often are interactive whiteboards really being used interactively? It was this question that inspired a group of University of Cambridge researchers and experienced classroom teachers to produce a new professional learning resource to help teachers make the most of their whiteboards, particularly to support whole-class dialogue.

“We have the boards in almost all our schools in the UK now; they are multiplying like rabbits,” says Sara Hennessy, one of the researchers who developed the resource. “But policymakers need to realise that simply plonking these powerful tools into classrooms won't change teaching and learning by itself. How the teachers and learners use them is absolutely key.”

The resource consists of a set of free online teaching resources, plus a book published by Open University Press, that leads groups of teachers through a workshop-based enquiry process, centred on the online resource bank and video clips of dialogic practice with the IWB.

“The resources emerged from our collaborative research with practitioners over several years, based here at the University of Cambridge,” says Sara. “They differ markedly from those provided by the government as they are not ‘models of best practice’, but stimuli for discussion and reflection. The idea is that teachers are inspired and supported to develop and test out their own, more interactive and dialogic activities and lessons.”

Try these three simple ideas as a starting point for using your own IWB in a more dialogic way:

1.)    Display an open-ended prompt or picture to stimulate whole class discussion. Start by asking a really general question such as "Why is that on the screen" or "What meaning could this image have for the lesson we are doing at the moment?"

2.)    Ask students to discuss their ideas publicly. Students can compare and contrast different perspectives by sharing them using the IWB (writing or drawing) and talking them through. They might be primed for this by first making notes on mini-whiteboards.

3.)    Get students to build on each other’s contributions. Students can be asked to come up to the board in turn to add or move objects around, explaining their reasoning as they do so. This will create a collective object that builds on previous contributions.

 For more information about the research or to download the free resources, visit: 

Hennessy, S., Warwick, P., Brown, L., Rawlins, D., & Neale, C. (2014). Developing Interactive Teaching and Learning Using the Interactive Whiteboard: A Resource for Teachers: Maidenhead: Open University Press.


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