Towards effective use of interactive whiteboards in the modern language classroomi

Ton Koenraad TELLConsult

Introduction After its large-scale introduction in the United Kingdom the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) is invading other affluent parts of the world such as Canada, Australia, and a number of EU countries (EACEA, 2011). A rapidly growing number of managers, inspired by flashy presentations by vendors and enthusiastic teachers, equip their schools with them. What makes this device so special? In the wikipages on this subject Kennisnet, the Dutch Schoolnet provider, is developing, the IWB is described as follows: 'A digital whiteboard is a large touch screen that is connected to a projector and a computer. The beamer projects the image of the computer on the screen. Because the screen is sensitive to touch, it can be operated by hand. The screen can also be written on, in some cases with a special pen. [..] The big difference with a traditional whiteboard is that anything you can see on a computer screen can be projected and manipulated on a digital whiteboard. This means that teachers can make use of websites, software, movies, music fragments, interactive texts, presentations, etc. It is possible to annotate board content and store pages for use later’. The way the IWB is used may vary considerably depending on target group, type of education, and of course disciplines and school subjects. The question therefore is how IWBs can be used effectively in language teaching. Below we outline some examples of IWB use in the language classroom. We do so partly on the basis of some characteristic features of this electronic whiteboard. Some possible uses of IWBs in the language classroom Annotations, information capturing and editing. Everything that is projected on the IWB, from written text to video images and text, can be annotated using words, arrows or lines. Because you can ‘take pictures' of (parts of) the screen, elements from other sources such as Web pages and other software such as Word or subject-specific courseware can be used.

Figure 1. Practicing with a lexical set: immediate linking of meaning and sound to concepts. The representation in written form can be added.

Marking, dragging objects and the use of colour. Paragraphs, sentences, words and images can be turned into objects and then manipulated: set diagonally, coloured or dragged to a different place. In this way, all text and images can be shifted on the screen independently of each other. Typical mental activities that can be supported with this include comparing, sorting, matching and categorization. An example in this respect is the word web developed with students in a brainstorming session, as an advance organiser to a topic and so activate related cognitive schemata. With the help of colour differences or similarity between concepts can be further underlined. Using colour and animation can highlight morphological and grammatical phenomena. Hide and reveal. By using a colour for text(parts) or images similar to the background they are put on they become invisible for the students. They are made visible again by dragging them to a section of the IWB with a different background colour. This is one of the ways key parts of text and / or images that provide answers and solutions can be kept hidden temporarily. With a 'sliding screen' can you gradually reveal larger portions of a page at appropriate moments in the lesson. These techniques are particularly useful for plenary activities involving text reconstruction, such as gap texts, and to demonstrate and evaluate learning strategy skills such as predicting and guessing unknown text elements. Being able to manipulate words and phrases can help students to verbalise or demonstrate the mental steps that are needed for successful application of this type of strategies. Among other reasons this is why it is important that students, too, learn to handle the board well.

Fig 2. Focus on morphology: what combinations are possible?

Save and reuse materials, creating links The outcome of the brainstorming session, the word web we mentioned above, can be reused at some later stage, this time for a different purpose. Thus, the images and words - in the context of the completion of a series of lessons – can be used to structure a fluency practice activity. As part of her lesson preparation, the teacher may have enhanced some elements of the word web with pieces of text, audio or video and parts of websites that were part of the contents of the previous lessons. In this way she can contribute to the further consolidation or extension of the lexical set or use the materials as incentives for talk, discussion and reflection. The use of the board can promote a common focus for the collaborative, deep-processing of parts of texts. A variety of objectives might be involved here. Such as, for example, the reinforcement of the aesthetic experience when collectively listening to a professional audio version of a poem or the presentation of song lyrics enriched with audio. Or the highlighting of style or linguistic characteristics and shades of meaning in core passages of a text or blog. Access to the Internet With the help of the Internet topicality and context can be efficiently added to a wide range of learning activities. A few examples: with the help of a news and/or weather site of the target language country, the vocabulary or discourse related to particular themes can be practised or extended. A comparison with the current, local weather also offers an authentic context for, say, rehearsing comparatives. A variety of applications is available for visualising and developing knowledge about the country and culture of the target language. Google Earth can provide a quick impression of regions, cities and buildings (also in 3D now). Using sources such as YouTube, podcasts and video news attention can be given to national events and cultural manifestations, while at the same time practising viewing and listening skills and in a more interesting way. Webconferencing facilitates the organisation of the contribution of native speakers or experts at a distance and provides efficient support for activities in the context of international cooperation. In relation to the promotion of learner autonomy IWBs can be used to quickly demonstrate navigation and the use of discipline specific websites and software or web-based applications such as online dictionaries. And, of course, Internet offers a wealth of fun activities and language games.

Figure 3. Introducing or practising proverbs and sayings with the help of flash movies.

Additional hardware The instruction process can be made even more interactive by using additional tools. Voting devices, for example, can help to visualise the ideas and distribution of opinions in the group at any point during sessions. Teachers can check whether pupils are still ‘with them’ when developing a line of reasoning or explaining a complex concept. If used appropriately (for example, by also challenging students to motivate their choices (Schmid, 2008)), this type of device can contribute to students’ involvement and deepen the processing of lesson content. The visibility of diversity of opinions in the group can quite naturally lead to new questions and/or trigger the need for further research or discussion.

Added value or hype? Above we have sketched a number of features and options that a language teacher can use to support, in an efficient way, those episodes in the course of a lesson that are relevant to organise in a plenary mode for process and/or content reasons. From our analysis of the international research literature (Koenraad, 2008c) it appears that effective use of the IWB can offer added value to educational processes. It helps to focus the attention (cinema effect), increases concentration and motivation, offers more opportunities for interaction and cooperation and facilitates the dynamic use of resources such as software and the Internet. On the other hand various metastudies (Kennewell, 2006; Higgins et al., 2007) show that IWB use does not of its own accord provide added value in educational practice. Several researchers (Gray et al, 2005; Cutrim Schmid & Schimmack, 2010; Koenraad, 2012) emphasize that without a high level of professionalism and materials designed specifically for this medium no significant educational improvement can be achieved. An obvious trap -especially for language teachers – in this respect is the temptation to use the IWB as a kind of ' Overhead Projector with anabolic steroids' mainly for knowledge transfer purposes (Gray et al., 2005). After all, learning a language remains mainly a matter of actually using it receptively and productively. It is for this reason that opinions about the alleged added value of the IWB for language education vary in the (international) community of teachers of modern languages. Silent witnesses to the discussion are a number of (parts of) titles of publications and blog items such as: 'Interactive Whiteboards: Boon or Bandwagon?, `Interactive, Quite Bored' or `White Elephant or teacher's pet?`. EU project ‘iTILT’ Although the IWB was and is being received most enthusiastically in the world of education, for many language teachers its application seems less obvious. To meet the need for pedagogical support created by the increased use of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in foreign language classrooms, from primary school to higher education, the European project iTILT (Interactive Technologies in Language Teaching, 2011-2013) was developed.

To support teachers in developing the necessary competencies for exploiting the IWB in ways consistent with current theories of language teaching pedagogy the website will provide them with over 140 multimedia IWB practice reports, containing examples of IWB-activities in foreign language classrooms from six European countries. These video-enhanced documents also include relevant feedback from teachers and learners and the related teaching materials. These IWB practice reports have been designed as learning objects meant to encourage reflection on IWB use in MFL practice. Additional project objectives include the development of:     subject-specific professional development materials for (student) teachers of modern languages research-based guidelines for designing effective IWB materials a searchable collection of references to relevant research literature and opensource IWB materials a learning community to support the sharing of related pedagogical knowledge and IWB materials.

Conclusion In our view the methodology for the use of classroom-based interactive technologies in language education is still in its infancy. However, it is evident that real interactivity requires dialogic skills and specifically designed materials and didactic procedures. The contribution to the efficiency of organising language learning activities is equally clear: no more hassle with various pieces of equipment. Our expectation is that interactive whiteboards, in the hands of a creative teacher who is prepared to experiment with its affordances, can contribute to making (plenary) moments in the language classroom more attractive, dynamic and effective.

References Cutrim Schmid, Euline (2008). Using a Voting System in Conjunction with Interactive Whiteboard Technology to Enhance Learning in the English Language Classroom. In Computers and Education, Vol. 50, pp. 338-356. Elsevier. [link] Cutrim Schmid, Euline & Estelle Schimmack (2010). First Steps towards a Model of Interactive Whiteboard Training for Language Teachers. In Thomas, M. and Cutrim Schmid, E. (Eds) Interactive Whiteboards: Theory, Research and Practice. IGI Global, USA [link]

EACEA (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency) (2011). Key Data on Learning and Innovation through ICT at School in Europe 2011. [link] Gray C, Hagger-Vaughan, L, Pilkington, R and Tomkins, S-A (2005).The pros and cons of interactive whiteboards in relation to the key stage 3 strategy and framework. Language Learning Journal, 32: 38-44 Higgins, S, Beauchamp, G and Miller, D (2007). Reviewing the literature on interactive whiteboards. Learning, Media and Technology, Vol 32 No 3 pp 213-35 [link] iTILT Project (Interactive Technologies in Language Teaching) [link] Kennewell, S. (2006). Reflections on the interactive whiteboard phenomenon: a synthesis of research from the UK. [link] Kennisnet, Wiki electronic whiteboards [link] Koenraad, A.L.M. (2008c). Interactive Whiteboards in educational practice: the research literature reviewed. [link] Koenraad, A.L.M. (2012). Needs analysis research report. SMARTVET project: Supporting Continuous Professional Development of VET teachers in the use of Interactive Whiteboards [link]


The present article is an updated version in English of the paper in Dutch ‘Wat kan het digitale schoolbord bijdragen aan het taalonderwijs?’ published in Levende Talen Magazine. December 2008