12 Reasons Not To Be Afraid Of An Interactive Whiteboard

Alex Case
Reassuring tips and messages for people new to IWBs.

I am not writing this as an expert on the interactive whiteboard – in fact quite the opposite as I tend to avoid technology if at all humanly possible, making me the perfect person to write for people who feel the same way! Here are twelve reasons why even if you are dubious there is no need to be scared:

1. You can use it exactly like a normal whiteboard

For my first two weeks with an IWB I used it just like any whiteboard, writing things on it when I needed to. To do so during class all you need to know is how to change pages and erase. Before class you’ll probably want to go in early and make sure there is a pen, that the pen is aligned (= writing exactly where you’re touching the board), that the width of the “ink” is one you are happy with, that you like the colours, and that the projector remote control is working. If you can’t yet do these for yourself, it will only take someone a couple of minutes to set it up for you and only five minutes to learn how to do it next time.

Other things that are nice (but not vital) to know at this first stage are blanking the screen and freezing the image on the screen so the students can still see the last thing you put up when you want to do something else on the computer.

2. The basics of IWB software are just like other programs

The next stage after writing is obviously typing, either in class or when you are preparing. This is just like using PowerPoint or Word, but you also need to choose where you want to put your text and how big you want the text box to be (something someone can show you in a minute or two).

3. You can use it as just a big computer monitor

The next stage for me was to use the IWB as just a way of projecting something on the wall for students to see, e.g. showing them a video without the need to wheel in a TV. Thinking of it as just an extension of my computer’s monitor included interacting with it mainly from my computer mouse and keyboard rather than clicking on icons on the board with my pen, including often looking at my monitor rather than up at the IWB.

4. An IWB pen is just like a mouse or your finger on a touchscreen

The next stage is to touch things on the screen with your pen just as you would click things with the cursor using your mouse or touch the screen on an ATM or automated airline check-in machine with your finger. For example, if you are using the computer to play a CD recording you can press play, pause, skip etc on Windows Media Player with your pen on the IWB rather than going back to your computer to control it. The same is true of opening, shrinking and closing webpages and programmes; choosing things from menus; clicking in boxes so you can type in them; etc.

5. You can use other people’s stuff

Until you have got the hang of using the equipment in the classroom you can usually get away with a combination of using other people’s materials and writing the other stuff on the IWB (number 1 above). You might also find that the easiest way to start creating your own materials is by changing other people’s rather than by starting from scratch.

6. You can use other programs to prepare

If preparing materials with the IWB software is still putting you off, you can easily start with more familiar programs like PowerPoint or even Word. For example, a word processor document opened in the classroom will show up on the screen just like anything else on your computer monitor. You can make sure everyone can see it properly by using the magnify function in Word and/ or by highlighting the text you want to show and changing the font size.

7. You can prepare in other programs and then switch to the IWB software

Most IWB software can convert to and/or from PowerPoint, and it is always possible to copy text and pictures from webpages or other programs. You could, for example, prepare a Word worksheet for your students and then copy the part of it that you also wanted up on the board into your IWB software. Someone can show you how to do this in a matter of seconds, but it often consists of copying and pasting by highlighting and right-clicking and/ or keeping both programs open on the screen next to each other, highlighting, and dragging what you want from one to the other.

8. You can prepare with the actual IWB

If you are having problems with preparing with the keyboard and mouse, you can go into an empty classroom and do it all by pen, saving your results on the hard disk of that computer and/ or on a USB stick to take with you.

9. If you can use a CD ROM you can use the coursebook IWB software

It really is that easy, especially if you open the program (or ask someone else to do so) and find the right starting page well before class.

10. You can always undo

If you make some kind of mistake there are many ways of undoing it, e.g. the erase button, the undo button, and closing the program and reverting to the original version of the file (= closing the version you have changed and opening the original one again). To make the last one possible you will need to have two versions of each file saved – one that is the original and is never changed, and one that you can add to in class.

11. You can have a back up plan

If things really go wrong, that will hardly stop the whole lesson. Most schools also have (paper) flipcharts, OHPs and/ or whiteboards, and if not you can buy a cheap portable whiteboard and bring it in. The other emergency option is just to write on A3 paper and hold it up for the class to see.

12. You don’t have to write things down

Another reason not to panic is that, perhaps ironically, one of the most useful things that teaching with an IWB has shown me is that there is often no need to write. For example, spelling things out for students involves useful classroom language.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.