4 Sep 2008 10:19 AM

The British government has invested more money in Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) in its schools than any other government in the world. But is this huge investment worth it? Have the new data projection technologies allowed students to learn more effectively? This is the subject of recent research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

‘These IWBs have had a meteoric rise in popularity in schools,’ says Sara Hennessy who carried out the project with Rosemary Deaney of Cambridge University. ‘But, until recently, assumptions about how they have transformed teaching were not based on hard evidence.’

The system consists of a computer linked to a data projector and a large touch-sensitive board, which displays images, graphics, animations and videos. You can write captions directly onto the board and instantly convert your handwriting to type. You can create suspense by hiding and revealing text and graphics.

They can also be used with a special camera so that pupils can develop their own written ideas and images, and then share them with the class by projecting their work onto the IWB.

‘We explored how teachers might use projection technology to give space, time and status to pupils’ contributions to lessons. We wanted to look at the ways in which it could be used to challenge and develop pupils’ thinking,’ Dr Hennessy says. The research also discusses the dangers of technology-driven teaching and warns that time constraints can lead to superficial use of the technology.

In the study, English, history, mathematics and science teachers used interactive whiteboards and data projectors in various ways.

• Circling and highlighting make complex ideas more concrete and draw attention to particular features
• Spotlighting, enlarging and zooming can help to investigate detail and keep attention on key concepts
• Dragging and dropping are used to classify objects.

A unique strength of IWB technology is that it allows teachers and students to revisit previous sessions of saved activity, which helps to reignite and build on earlier learning. The researchers also found that using IWBs can:

• Provide new opportunities for learners to express themselves publicly, receive critical feedback and reformulate their thoughts.
• Stimulate discussion.
• Allow teachers to adapt to individual learning needs.

The project has provoked interest from academics, trainees and teacher educators. A series of 5 interactive CD-ROMs have been developed for teachers. These are designed to stimulate debate around key issues rather than offering models of ‘best practice’ and they are already proving influential in teacher education. The researchers are confident that the project will be welcomed by policymakers seeking a return on investment.

‘We have shown that in the right hands the IWB can be a motivating and immensely powerful tool,’ says Dr Hennessy. ‘It allows teachers and pupils to build and test complex ideas together, and supports active learning in new ways.’


Dr Sara Hennessy (Tel: 01223 767657, Email: sch30@cam.ac.uk)

ESRC Press Office:

Kelly Barnett on Tel: 01793 413032, e-mail: kelly.barnett@esrc.ac.uk 
Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, Email: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk)


1. The ‘T-MEDIA’ project ‘Exploring teacher mediation of subject learning with ICT: A multimedia approach’ (award number: RES-000-23-0825), was funded by the ESRC and carried out by Sara Hennessy and Rosemary Deaney, University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 8PQ.

2. The ‘T- MEDIA’ project brought together academics, teachers and students to explore how IWBs and data projectors are being used to improve teaching and learning in secondary schools. It identified and represented the ‘craft’ knowledge of teachers, which guides their teaching. Peer interviews stimulated students to reflect on how successful the teachers’ use of IWBs was in supporting their learning. It conducted analyses to determine effective pedagogic strategies, activities and styles of classroom interaction involving IWBs. It extended socio-cultural learning theory to develop a model of how teachers can support learning with technology. The project outcomes are available at www.educ.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/istl 

3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk 

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk 

5. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as ‘Good’.