The IWB for EFL in France

A Technological innovation framework

Shona Whyte, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis

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Much recent research in digital technologies for language learning and teaching involves virtual environments, often the investigation of informal digital practices (e.g., Gee, 2003) or the replication or amelioration of face-to-face classroom practices through digital media (Levy, 2009). The physical classroom environment may be neglected, particularly traditional school settings where many are first exposed to foreign languages.  Yet the language classroom is also a locus of ongoing technology-mediated transformation, driven by both new technologies and new constructivist models of learning.  This presentation focuses on the integration of one such technology, the interactive whiteboard (IWB), in communicative and task-based language teaching.

The IWB is a somewhat controversial technology (Digregorio & Sobel-Lojeski, 2009; Gray et al., 2007) whose detractors fear a reinforcement of teacher-centred practice and favour newer mobile technologies. However, IWB penetration is widespread in many English-speaking countries and rising across Europe* (Futuresource, 2012), and this tool can constitute both a stepping stone and a digital dashboard for the integration of other devices and media (Cutrim Schmid & van Hazebrouck, 2010; Whyte, 2013).  As is often the case, both teacher education and research are lagging behind the trend, leaving open questions concerning the IWB’s techno-pedagogical affordances with respect to language teaching and learning, and the best ways to support teachers in integrating this technology (Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2014; Hennessy & London, 2013).

This presentation reports on a case study of nine French teachers of primary, secondary, and university EFL and TEFL classes in a collaborative action research project aimed at developing technical and pedagogical competences for IWB-mediated teaching.  Drawing on research into teacher perspectives as well as IWB-supported interactivity (Gillen et al., 2007; Jewitt et al., 2007), this mixed methods empirical study combines analyses of video examples of IWB-mediated activities with participant commentary obtained via video-stimulated recall interview, focus group discussion, and contributions to an online community of practice.

The results reveal a range of teacher responses to IWB integration, supporting a “slow-burner” view of technology uptake and providing a new framework for language teacher development including technical, pedagogical and reflective dimensions which are of relevance to the wider CALL and digital literacies community.

* 85% of UK classrooms were equipped with IWBs in 2012, with a figure of 94% projected for 2016; for Australia the figures are 53% and 63%, the US, 47% and 60%. In Europe IWB use also continues to rise with the Netherlands and Denmark moving from one half to three quarters of classrooms equipped over the same period, and France from 10% to 16%.

Shona Whyte

maître de conférences, anglais (Associate Professor, English)
Université Nice Sophia Antipolis

14 thoughts on “The IWB for EFL in France”

  1. I really enjoyed your presentation and in particular the very holistic research design, which so nicely brought in multiple dimensions of the classroom. I have a question that is a little outside of the scope of your study: to what extent do you think your implications could likely be transferable to other kinds of techno-pedagogical resources and to what extent is is the IWB particular as a technology in important ways?

  2. Thanks for your question – I don’t think it’s outside the scope of the study at all. I guess the specificity of the IWB compared to other technologies such as mobile devices or online environments is the obvious fact that it is physically in the classroom. On the positive side, this means it can constitute a digital hub or dashboard to harness resources in the F2F class, and to orchestrate external, virtual materials. And as a large-scale display it naturally encourages collaboration as long as teachers permit this. On the other hand, the need for access to the physical board and specific IWB software (usually not free) can mean it takes longer for teachers to adopt and adapt IWB technology, since they can’t “try it out at home.” Having said all this, I believe a large proportion of IWB-specific tools and features are common to other touch-sensitive devices and applications. In earlier times IWB trainers would reassure teachers that “if you can use Paint or Powerpoint, you can use an IWB.” There’s a lot of crossover between common apps and IWB features, and in the teacher development framework I present here the technical dimension is only one aspect, so I hope it will also be useful for other interactive technologies.

  3. Thank you very much for sharing your research with us. I have a few questions for you:

    1. Hearing about your action research on Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) was enlightening. However, I haven’t had many opportunities to work with one (Luckily, I had access to an IWB when at a Teacher Training Institute in France and student teaching ESL at a high school in Hawai`i). I was wondering if you might know how prevalent IWBs are in France or in Europe and if they are more commonly used with certain age groups or in certain subjects. I wonder if many university teachers have/use them.

    2. Would you recommend that more educational institutions purchase an IWB? Why or why not? Would you recommend it specifically for certain audiences or learning objectives?

    3. For those of us who don’t have access to an IWB, could you recommend suggestions for individual teachers wanting to advance their professional development on finding optimal ways of using students’ own devices (BYOD) to help students achieve learning outcomes?

    Many thanks again. I will try to make it to the online chat at 10:45 PDT after teaching.

    1. Sorry, regarding my first question above, I noticed that the end of your abstract has numbers. I wonder what they include in their figures on “classrooms,” e.g., K-12 in the U.S. (i.e., elementary through high school?) Would you know by chance? Thank you.

  4. Hello Merica, and thanks for your questions. Let’s see – regarding IWB statistics, I’ve been relying on this source Avvisati F., Hennessy S., Kozma RB, Vincent-Lancrin S. (2013). Review of the Italian
    Strategy for Digital Schools. OECD Education Working Papers 90, OECD Publishing. which cites Futuresource research on the prevalence of IWB in classrooms round the world. The UK is at over 80% penetration (by classroom, not school), the US around 50%, and France at 8% with 16% predicted for 2016. So I guess the incidence of IWBs is still increasing.

    1. Hello Shona, Thank you for your reply and again for sharing your research. By the way, after being inspired by the affordances of an IWB in your presentation and reading the chat, in my afternoon classes today I was really wishing I had one. It seems to be the future of the white board…

      1. Sorry I missed you – not so easy to coordinate in different time zones with different schedules, but thanks for your interest and hope you can get IWB access some time soon!

    2. I didn’t get back to your two other questions above: do I think institutions should invest in IWBs, and what alternatives are there for those without IWBs. I guess as a teacher, teacher educator and researcher I have never really had the whip hand regarding equipment, but rather have had to make do with, and make the best of what is there, so I’m not sure what I’d do if I were in charge. Having said that, IWB research does seem to show that installing this technology encourages teachers to move towards digital practices, and that it’s better to put an IWB in every room, rather than just one per school to start with. As for alternatives, a lot of colleagues are using mobile devices and apps; my focus over the past couple of years has been writing more than data collection so I’m not up on new hardware/software options, I’m afraid. During the iTILT project I didn’t have regular access to an IWB although I needed one, and used what they call a slate to practice manipulating the software. At the time I had an eInstruction device called MOBI which allows you to use IWB software with a computer and videoprojector set up, controlled by this handheld device via bluetooth. But I’m sure there are more advanced technologies on the market now.

  5. Hi Shona, my question is similar to Chantelle’s. Because I work to train teachers on how to use everyday technologies like social networking, mobile apps, chat, or social games, I’m wondering how you think your model might explain how a teacher learns to use everyday, rather than educational technologies?

    1. Hm, this is an interesting one. We held a EuroCALL teacher education workshop here in Nice last summer ( – keynotes by Jozef Colpaert and Nicolas Guichon online) and we ran a little video booth with participants, where one question was where do you see technology taking us over the next 5 to 10 years. I’ve just been editing that footage, and remember my colleague Euline Cutrim Schmid saying she thought the big break-through would come when teachers were able to transfer their private/social use of technology to classroom contexts. In her case in German secondary schools, it’s generally not possible for teachers to use internet and their own devices in school the way they would outside, and she saw this as a brake on professional development.

      I haven’t really thought about this before because the teachers I work with are often not big users of technology at all. At first glance we might expect my model not to fit particularly well, since it is based on linear progression, albeit along several axes, starting from low levels of competence and confidence. But perhaps it would still work, and teachers would place higher along the technical axis to start with, and still need time to develop pedagogical understanding and mastery of the specific affordances of a tool for language learning and teaching.

    1. Interesting question, and I suspect you think the older teachers were not so keen? That would have been my guess too, but in fact I didn’t really see age-related patterns. In the least engaged group of teachers there were the youngest teacher, in her first year, and the oldest, in his final year before retirement. And in the two more engaged groups, there were one teacher in her late 40s/early 50s, one in her 30s/early 40s, and one in her 20s. There wasn’t even a pro-tech biais – I had teachers who loved technology and those who were more circumspect in all groups.

  6. Dear Shona, I really enjoyed your presentation especially because you point out some interesting facts about the important role of teachers using technology in the classroom. I also agree that we should not wait, until everything is perfect. I also tent to agree that organizing any type of meeting (online, in person) among the teachers where they can collaboratively share new ideas and demonstrate the technology use, would benefit everyone and foremost our students. thank you so much. Borbi

    1. Yes, the teachers in my project said explicitly that they found it very helpful to watch other teachers in the classroom – they said they got ideas, and found it reassuring when things went wrong! But I could see from our focus group meetings that the actual exchanges among teachers were very valuable too, and that they articulated impressions and came to conclusions together that were probably different from what they might have thought or said on their own or just with a researcher or teacher educator.

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