About the Project
For a more detailed synopsis see below:
We investigated what happened when a wall-mounted interactive whiteboard was used by groups of primary school children (8-10 years old) as they worked together on science activities. Our central research focus was on if and how children could use the IWB to share ideas, solve problems and build knowledge together. We were interested in what the IWB may offer as a distinctive classroom tool for children's collaborative learning.
WHY INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS?
Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are now commonplace in primary schools in the UK. The IWB allows direct interaction with images, text and video on a large touch-sensitive screen. It can provide easy access to the internet, and to material entered by the teacher or children, which can be saved and revisited in subsequent lessons. The IWB seems to have great potential for supporting the activity of a small group of people working together because the large screen makes it more publicly visible and jointly accessible than a desktop PC or laptop. It also has many features which make it easy for a group to access material and record their deliberations. However, in many primary classrooms, children may have relatively little opportunity to use the IWB directly, except in response to a teacher's request during whole-class sessions. We aimed to find out more about its potential for children's more independent use during collaborative groupwork.
HOW THE RESEARCH WAS CARRIED OUT?
Case studies of collaborative group activity in twelve primary classrooms have been compiled, using video recordings and interviews gathered during one school year. The focus was on a series of science lessons planned by the participating teachers, in which children considered their options, planned their activity and made joint decisions about the task in hand. In some cases, the given activities were also tackled in a 'paper and pen' form by the whole class at their tables. However, the activities at the IWB were primarily designed to exploit IWB features that could be expected to support the children's collaborative activity. Such features include the easy and flexible reference to relevant information, easy annotation of pictures and texts, the facility for moving quickly between different images and writing drafts, and the combined presentation of images, text and sound.
Previous research has found that groupwork in school is often unproductive, because children need to develop the skills for working well together. It has also found that there are good ways for teachers to help them do so. An important aspect of the project was therefore that the teachers all took part in initial sessions, led by the research team, on ways of helping children talk and work effectively in groups
WHO TOOK PART?
Twelve teachers and their classes have participated, all based in schools in Cambridgeshire. Their full and enthusiastic involvement, and the support of the relevant Local Authority, has enabled the satisfactory completion of the project. None of the children had worked with others at the IWB prior to these lessons and so had little or no experience this technology except through observing their teachers.
We have found that the IWB does offer some very useful and distinctive facilities for supporting children's discussion and science learning. For example, it allows a teacher to structure a task by arranging material in a specific sequence on the IWB, for children to access and act upon as they progress. In terms of the children's use, we found that the IWB allows children to:
- access relevant material relevant prepared by the teacher and move easily back and forward through it according to their needs;
- annotate that material to take account of their discussion;
- remove and modify what they have written to take account of each others' views and their changing shared ideas;
- ensure that all members of the group can see evidence of what is being discussed and what each has contributed, and thus advance the discussion and learning collectively.
Some of these things could be achieved using pen-and-paper, or other conventional means. But the IWB makes these things much easier because of the way material can so readily be shared (within the group), retrieved, modified and stored. It was also very apparent that using the IWB motivated the children. They clearly enjoyed using it, and most observed groups stayed well on task for the whole of their allocated time. The teacher's supporting role remained important for the children, and the IWB helped to maintain this contact even when the teacher was physically elsewhere in the classroom.
However, we have also seen that in some ways the IWB is not well suited to the needs of a children's discussion group. The work of a group is very apparent to the whole class, and this might inhibit some children. Its size and location may prevent small children reaching all parts of the interactive screen easily. As with any computer-based technology, technical failures or 'unfriendly' responses by the machine sometimes stopped children' science activity altogether, while they waited for it to be sorted out by the teacher or tackled the problem themselves.
The IWB is very useful for supporting children's discussion and science learning – but only so long as the teacher helps children develop the appropriate skills for collaboration and discussion before they use it, and offers them suitably designed tasks which make best use of the affordances of the board. By highlighting the benefits of using IWB in this way, as well as pointing out its limitations, we believe our findings should be useful for IWB designers, software producers, teachers and researchers.
DISSEMINATION AND IMPACT
This research has been presented at several national and international conferences and workshops to a variety of audiences, including teachers, trainee teachers, ICT co-ordinators, school managers, advisors, policy makers and academic researchers. Academic papers have been prepared for publication and publicity flyers have been distributed widely. Further valuable collaboration has developed with Cambridgeshire Local Authority, drawing on the consultative research approach that we developed with the teachers involved.