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Pedagogical Strategies For Using The Interactive Whiteboard To Foster Learner Participation In School Science

Sara Hennessy, Rosemary Deaney, Kenneth Ruthven & Mark Winterbottom

Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK

Paper accepted for publication in special issue of Learning, Media & Technology


This study aimed to extend the currently limited understanding of how pedagogy is developing in response to the influx of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in schools in the UK and some other countries. A case study approach was employed to investigate how experienced classroom practitioners are beginning to harness the functionality of this technology to support learning in science. The methods included focus group interviews with four secondary science departments, plus lesson observations and interviews with two teachers and their pupils.

We analysed the data from a sociocultural perspective on learning, focusing on the strategies that teachers used to exploit the dynamic, manipulable objects of joint reference and annotative tools afforded by the technology to foster the cognitive, social and physical participation of learners in whole class activity. The case study teachers demonstrated contrasting approaches to designing and supporting activity in which pupils shared, evaluated and developed ideas using the IWB. Pupil manipulation of objects on the IWB was deemed desirable but - along with pedagogical interactivity - was constrained by systemic school and subject cultures, curricular and assessment frameworks. Observed and potential opportunities for active cognitive and social participation are outlined.


The earlier literature review introduced the notion of pedagogic interactivity within the setting of IWB use (Smith et al., 2005). This is related to ‘interactive teaching', where teachers use higher order questioning and pupils' active contributions are valued as they test their developing understanding against collective meaning (e.g. Jones and Tanner, 2002). This reflective discourse dovetails with the established literature on prior conceptions in science (Driver et al., 1985; Osborne, 1985). The teacher's role is critical in structuring activity in ways that challenge and build upon pupils' implicit conceptualisations, whilst integrating new scientific ideas (e.g. Taber, 2003).

Introducing an IWB which learners can use interactively during whole class teaching may offer new opportunities for publicly expressing their ideas, not only verbally, but using graphical and other representations. Hence they can more easily articulate scientific knowledge and receive teacher (and peer) feedback. The IWB provides collaborative opportunities for reasoning, hypothesis testing and interpretation that go well beyond those afforded by more established classroom devices. We argue that it provides a dynamic and manipulable object of joint reference which offers new forms of support for ‘intersubjectivity'. This is a form of socially shared cognition which facilitates explicitation and exchange of ideas, and negotiation of new meanings in accordance with others' perspectives (Rogoff, 1990).

Rogoff's (1995) framework of ‘guided participation' shapes our analysis of the teacher's pivotal role in supporting learning with the IWB. It describes the ways in which a skilled partner subdivides tasks into manageable goals and gradually increases the child's participation and responsibility for activities, extending familiar knowledge and skills. S/he provides both challenge and constrained, sensitive assistance to the child. This is more than a cognitive scaffolding process; our particular sociocultural perspective emphasises the importance of the social context of the classroom too in creating favourable conditions for learning. In focusing on whole class interaction we acknowledge that ‘teachers and children negotiate a mutual understanding of the social rules and expectations which underpin classroom order' (Pollard and Filer, 1996, p. 309). This sets up boundaries that contain the risk to pupils engaging in academic tasks in that setting.

Our specific focus is on teacher mediation between the IWB (and software employed), and the pupils; exploitation of technical interactivity is an integral part of this. In science, dialogic, interactive communication allows teacher and pupils to explore ideas together, pose questions, and reconcile scientific and informal ideas (Mortimer and Scott, 2003), building up and making accessible the ‘scientific story' (Ogborn et al., 1996). The IWB contributes to the creation of a fluid ‘shared communication space' where this can happen. Godwin and Sutherland (2004) describe how teachers represent individually constructed knowledge in the larger context in order to build a mutually acceptable ‘common knowledge' (Edwards and Mercer, 1987). The likelihood that individuals will instead develop their own ‘idiosyncratic knowings' rises when learners use digital tools individually or in groups, with more scope for experimentation. Whole class interactive teaching also overcomes the managerial difficulties of teachers supervising multiple pupils in hands-on mode and making timely interventions. Thus the IWB appears well suited to support interactive teaching. Yet how active a role are pupils actually playing?

The research literature on whole class interactive teaching in non-technology contexts raises some alarm bells. Such teaching may be associated with a faster lesson pace and superficial collaboration and participation at the expense of co-constructing, assessing and extending knowledge - the ‘deep' interactivity helpfully described by Hargreaves et al (2003) - and of developing genuine dialogue and a reflective and strategic approach to thinking (Denvir and Askew, 2001; Smith et al., 2006; Tanner et al., 2005). Likewise, teachers value the surface features of the IWB - those associated with pace, motivation, involvement, participation and collaboration (Becta, 2003) - yet these may not be sufficient to enhance learning (Moss et al., 2007). In fact, IWBs may by their very nature allow teachers to teach in a familiar, authoritative way - 'with the central focus of a board, but with the excitement of media-rich content... [thus] it doesn't interfere with their existing pedagogy' (Heppell, 2004, p. 8).

Research indicates that teacher choice of technology is often related to their own conceptions of teaching and learning (Niederhauser and Stoddart, 2001; Olson, 2000), and introducing new tools does not typically drive radical pedagogical change (Hennessy et al., 2005; Kerr, 1991). Instead a slow, evolutionary process occurs whereby these powerful tools interact with existing practices. Whole class teaching with technology in science has tended to use the computer for demonstration with little manipulation by pupils (e.g. Rogers and Finlayson, 2004).

The ever-present concern to maintain lesson pace means that ironically IWB use may afford even less thinking time and opportunity for pupil input than other forms of educational technology. Indeed teacher-only operation of the IWB avoids reducing pace through committing time for turn taking (Moss et al., 2007), and it simultaneously retains teacher control. Authoritative use of IWBs in science seems particularly congruent with the requirement to ‘deliver' a content-laden curriculum (House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, 2002). Kennewell (2005) observed PowerPoint presentational software to be the main technology used with the IWB in secondary science (mathematics teachers found it too restrictive!). The earlier review indicated that use becomes more fluid and pedagogically interactive with experience. This has direct implications for our understanding of learner participation, which is informed by Rogoff's descriptions of how individuals ‘appropriate' the external socio-cognitive process itself - the process of shared decision making and contributing to an activity. Her account of how participation changes from being relatively peripheral towards a greater responsibility for managing activities (Rogoff, 1995, p.157) illuminates researchers' descriptions of increasing interaction of learners with both teacher and IWB.

Aims Of The Research

This study examined whether and how enthusiastic and ICT-confident practitioners are structuring and supporting subject learning with the IWB. Existing studies offer limited insight into the developing pedagogy, particularly when learners use whiteboards interactively in a whole class setting, and have mainly been undertaken at primary level. Our research explored how secondary teachers using the IWB may be exploiting technical and pedagogic interactivity of the IWB to create the conditions that foster intersubjectivity. Is there more active pupil participation and devolution of responsibility with IWB use? Finally, we consider whether physical interaction is important for learning. Research in other contexts indicates that vicarious participation in educational dialogue can establish common ground, challenge indirect participants' own understandings through comparison, and increase the levels of critical analysis and justification used in their own discussions (Stenning et al., 1999). Does the IWB support this modelling approach through explicitation of scientific concepts for the benefit of everyone watching?

Design And Methods

This study formed part of a larger research project examining pedagogical approaches incorporating ICT in secondary subject teaching. Firstly, drawing on multiple recommendations (including academic colleagues, subject advisors and school inspection reports), we identified 10 science departments considered to be successful in terms of the quality of their teaching and of their integration of ICT into classroom practice. All of the schools were state-funded. Focus group interviews were conducted with teachers in each department to find out what they viewed as particularly successful classroom uses of ICT, and to identify practitioners who confidently articulated a well-developed associated pedagogy. A smaller number of practices were selected for more intensive investigation; use of interactive whiteboards emerged as one such promising practice.

We invited three teachers, in separate schools, to help us gain insight into their practice with the IWB, and carried out two lesson observations and follow-up interviews in each case. We also asked a group of six pupils to comment on which aspects of the lessons they had, or had not, found helpful to their learning. Interviews were structured through a series of prompt cards.

Data were analysed within and across cases, drawing on lesson plans, schemes of work, lesson observations and transcribed interviews, including the departmental group interviews. Transcripts were analysed through an iterative process of constant comparison, starting with open coding of a teacher's ideas about a particular lesson, proceeding to coding across lessons, resulting in the thematic organisation of ideas.

In this paper, for space reasons, we focus primarily on two lessons (see Table 1) exemplifying how the teachers (whom we shall call Ursula and Brian) used the IWB to motivate and challenge pupils and to support teaching and learning of scientific concepts.

Case Study Teacher Profiles: Pedagogic Rationale And Design Of Engaging Science Activities That Exploit The IWB

The two teachers differed in pedagogical and technical experience but we noted a pronounced degree of whiteboard dependence in both, partly resulting from their development and electronic organisation of immediately accessible IWB-associated resources and partly due to the changes in teaching methods that had become ingrained. Ursula described how she would feel ‘bereft' without an IWB. Brian agreed:

It isn't an add-on any more, it's very much become an organic part of my teaching process.... You can't ever go back to teaching like you did.

Ursula was a very experienced teacher working in a mixed sex school; she had recently acquired an IWB and was using it strategically to enhance her practice:

I've taught this way for 20 years, this works, that didn't. How can I use the gadget to make it better?

She aimed to give pupils hands-on use because ‘it's about doing rather than passively receiving'. Her style was to ‘go with how the class interacts' rather than rigidly following a lesson plan.

Ursula devised all her own resources. Her lesson was based on (non-digital) materials used for the last 10 years ‘because it's a very nice way of actually getting the kids to link lots of food chains into a food web' She now employed the whiteboard as a visual focus and dynamic medium for collaborative construction through use of ‘drag and drop'. Printed copies of displayed whiteboard material (matched resources) were used for reference during the lesson and later formed annotated records of collaborative work.

Brian was an Assistant Principal, Head of Department and Advanced Skills Teacher in a mixed sex school; he was also lead Science teacher within the local region, specialising in IWB training. He had been using the technology for 3 years and was highly fluent. He too drew on tried and tested lesson plans, but incorporated digital videos, animations, and use of the flexible camera, specifically tailoring to group needs by picking the ‘best mix' of resources, some generated by himself and others collected ‘from all sorts of places'. He aimed to present challenges and provoke uncertainty, framing activities so pupils could ‘work out [for themselves] what's actually happening', ‘applying and extending their original knowledge.'

His lesson was carefully staged and structured using a series of ‘flipchart' software pages incorporating a wide range of materials, including paired statements, diagrams and visualisations that harnessed the dynamic, presentational and interactive affordances of the whiteboard. Like Ursula, Brian used matched resources for priming activities away from the whiteboard. The mini-diagrams supported group discussion and formed personal records to which pupils added their own colour-coded notes:

I don't want time wasted copying a diagram, because it's not their thinking time. I want them to stick that diagram in, then work out how they annotate it in their own words. So... the brain is active right the way through.

Creating Opportunities For Active Pupil Participation In IWB-Supported Whole Class Activity

Pupil Interaction With The Technology

Interview data indicated that teachers themselves considered over-emphasis on teacher demonstration (‘death by OHPs but just on the bigger screen') unwise. Focus groups stressed the ‘hands-on- and ‘student-centred' nature of IWB-focused activity. Teachers and pupils unanimously agreed that active physical manipulation of objects by pupils on the IWB was beneficial in terms of learning and motivation (‘there's something about touching a screen that really excites them'). All of the teachers disagreed with the suggestion that pupils interacting with a whiteboard may ‘decrease the teacher's classroom control'. As with practical work, clear expectations helped to maintain control.

Ursula ensured that all pupils used the IWB to express their ideas during collaborative construction of food chains and webs (Fig. 1). Pupils manipulated objects on the IWB far more than she did. Expecting them to add links which built on previous contributions exploited the tool's interactivity to support a kind of nonverbal Socratic dialogue. Ursula explained that to her, 'interactive' meant ‘not just me playing with the board, it's interacting with the whole class'. She asserted that involving pupils in collaboratively constructing graphical representations of increasing complexity had promoted ownership of collective work and a deeper understanding, which her pupils corroborated.

In the focus groups other teachers described many further examples of pupil manipulation. However despite rhetoric from teachers, the literature and policy documents about the value of physical interaction of pupils with the board, this was observed less often than expected. In the first lesson interview, Brian described the IWB's biggest benefit as enabling him to 'annotate the answer with their ideas, get them to come up and work on it themselves, and actually have that process already planned out in advance'. In practice only one pupil used the board in that lesson, and two pupils came out in the second lesson (detailed here): one briefly to re-order the paired statements, and a second to manipulate the True/False statements. Hence, pupil agency and opportunities for experimentation more generally were also limited. Input was mainly confined to responding to directed questioning.

There seem to have been two main reasons why teacher-led use of the IWB predominated. First, the approaches documented are consistent with a subject pedagogy which is recognised to be authoritative and uncomfortable with uncertainty. The content-laden curriculum and rigid assessment frameworks operating in England (House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, 2002) and elsewhere (Gray, 1999; NRC, 1996) are said to be creating a ‘pedagogical trap' in school science (Baggott la Velle et al., 2004). Opportunities for pupil use here were reportedly hindered by external time pressures including ‘feeling hidebound by the lack of curriculum time to get through all the syllabus'. This precluded the desired extension of IWB work by Ursula:

If we had the luxury of the time... if we did lots of pond dipping, we actually took digital photographs or scanned in photos of the animals we'd identified and made our own food web... they would really feel that they'd got to know a lot more about a particular habitat.

Pupil use of the IWB is considered more time consuming and so many teachers maintain pace by recording pupils' contributions for them. Ursula did point out that learners 'got a lot quicker' with experience so she was able to maintain quite a fast lesson pace.

Another important reason underlying the lack of physical manipulation by pupils was the prioritisation of cognitive engagement. Hands-on use is motivating to pupils, but can become mundane and unless carefully orchestrated, it does not necessarily enhance learning (Moss et al., 2007). Brian maintained that inviting pupils up to the board was of ‘secondary importance'; as only one child can be there at once, opportunities for physical interaction are limited. By contrast, Ursula's strategy was to encourage more pupils to use the board: she reported modifying the design of the food web activity during the lesson itself to engender more physical participation:

When they actually dragged the last two organisms into the right place, realising that's no longer a food chain but it's something bigger... I was then going to say, 'Right, you do your first 4-stage food chain, you do yours.' I thought, that's going to give [only] three or four students a chance... Why don't they just again dissect it down to the... little feeding relationship and then we've got sort of 14 arrows so that that's 14 people who can show that they understand the energy flow...

The food web activity illustrates how a teacher might use the IWB to help pupils communicate their reasoning. This reflected a widespread perception of teachers' responsibility to cultivate a ‘comfortable' atmosphere, involve all pupils and ‘ensure there's no hiding place'. This was only partially successful though as there was some observable reluctance to come up to the board - probably more common among self-conscious adolescents than primary children. Teachers suggested, however, that with increasing familiarity, such reluctance decreases.

The pupils interviewed were divided about whether their peers were supportive or critical of mistakes. In Ursula's class peers would ‘help you if you get it wrong'. Brian described how the 'nice relaxed atmosphere' with 'no pressure' meant that pupils are 'more likely to take risks… and not feel foolish'. However, a girl in his class asserted 'It's scary.... I don't like everyone watching me.' Her peers similarly asserted that 'you can make fun out of people when they get it wrong.' A teacher in the focus group interviews pointed out that this increased pupil concentration:

Get a student to work at the board, and suddenly they're all listening... and watching for them to make a fool of themselves, or watching for their success. Either way it's not boring old teacher now, it's my mate doing this. And I know I'm going to be next.

Balancing Whole Class Teaching With Teacher-Pupil Interaction

Pupils' occasional reluctance concerning using the IWB was linked with their desire to keep classroom interactions private. While interactive whole class teaching was the predominant mode of IWB use with teacher and pupils focused on the board for an average of 72% of lesson time, it was interspersed with pupils working on tasks or written exercises individually or in pairs/small groups while the teacher circulated. One group described how they appreciated the privacy:

P1 It makes you feel more comfortable because she's not just like standing there at her desk

P2 at the front [...]

P3 And less people are watching you as well. So if you stuff up then it's not so bad. (U/P1)

Responsive assistance to individuals, elaboration of responses, pupil-initiated interactions and informal assessment mainly took place in this setting:

You can differentiate to a certain extent, just by walking round the room... asking them what they understand by this, that, or giving them the opportunity to ask you questions yourself.

Teacher assistance while circulating usually increased opportunities for sustained dialogue; it was greatly valued by pupils as a key factor in helping them to learn. One group elaborated their teacher's role as giving hints and ‘taking out of our heads what we already knew' (B/P2). Teachers sometimes drew on emerging themes and ideas during plenaries, however, thus integrating the informal discussions into whole class activity.

Cognitive Engagement And Vicarious Participation In Physical Activity

The case studies indicated that effective learning was perceived to take place through cognitive engagement in collaborative enterprise - intended and designed to engage all pupils at once and not just the one at the board. One focus group participant described how the whole class became involved:

Although only one person can do it, they're very good about actually shouting instructions to everybody else.

From the learner perspective, there was evidence for feelings of participation in all of the lessons, particularly during whole class inquiry and despite limited pupil use of the board. For example: 'it's more interactive... not just listening to some teacher' (U/P1); 'Because there's only one whiteboard... you can find things out together, and it's a lot easier' (B/P2). Ursula likewise described how pupils cooperated to ‘help each other out.' In her lessons pupils came up to the IWB one at a time while peers watched and listened avidly and were expected to record (a) others' representations of food chains in their books and (b) definitions in their own words.

Brian employed quizzes to involve all pupils actively, exploiting interactivity to assess and consolidate their knowledge, or to delineate a foundation for further knowledge building. On one occasion, a pupil used hide-and-reveal under direction of her peers while Brian mediated the interaction through pacing, questioning, clarifying and feedback. He highlighted how ‘they were actually arguing [about] whether things were right or wrong and why, most importantly'. His paired statements activity (Fig. 2) similarly involved only one pupil in physical manipulation to illustrate his conceptions of the relationships between lung structures and functions, but all pupils worked out the pairings beforehand on paper and committed themselves by voting on how many of their peer's links were correct.

Another key strategy used by all teachers for drawing pupils into class activity - regardless of physical involvement - was that of publicly interpreting a representational display to explain key concepts and processes dynamically and in vivid detail. For example, Brian developed a narrative through: introducing the process of gaseous exchange at the alveoli by first annotating the projected diagram (Fig. 3), then animating it to help pupils develop a powerful mental image of a dynamic process:

You can see the red blood cells all moving round the capillary... What's coming in now [as you're breathing in] is just showing you the oxygen content... as two of these red atoms join together to make a molecule of oxygen.

His intention was for pupils to understand complex processes by actually ‘picturing themselves in the situation', ‘seeing it in perspective' and using images as ‘visual cues' while he discussed them:

So that picture we just saw, that's me standing here and looking back towards the bronchial tube. Now that's one where the alveoli has been cut open so you can see all those little bubbles. Here's a picture of what it really looks like... some sort of seaweed... And you can see that running over these alveoli are capillaries carrying blood.

This example serves to illustrate the importance of the teacher guiding the learning process through describing and reformulating shared experience (Mercer, 1995). It also relates IWB use to the notion of ‘exemplary science teaching' derived from case studies by Alsop et al. (2004, p.207): “bringing abstract concepts to life through diverse and creative approaches, acknowledging students' different learning modalities, and promoting high student engagement.”

Two focus group participants described how they employed prediction to engage the class in activity at the board, exploiting technology during the observation phase of the traditional Predict-Observe-Explain sequence (Champagne et al., 1980), e.g. ‘You can show a quick video clip using the flipchart to either prove or disprove what we said.' There was some evidence of this across the lessons observed. Brian included a form of prediction in the sense of developing an 'atmosphere of mystery' to engage pupils, e.g. through examining mini-diagrams matching IWB slides depicting the structure of the alveoli and 'working out where the clues were themselves'. Pupils were expected to work with peers to formulate a theory about how the structural features facilitated gaseous exchange, including:

Where does the carbon dioxide come from that gets into the lungs when you breathe out? ...The oxygen that's taken out of the alveoli... what's carrying it away? ...How is that whole dynamic process working?

This kind of speculation and exploratory reasoning is known to play a key role in stimulating higher order thinking.

Knowledge Building And Sensitive Assistance

Both teachers used digital resources and IWB tools to support stepwise knowledge building. The data presented above provide evidence of how this process attended to and challenged pupils' everyday conceptions, on a whole class basis, sometimes through sustained interaction and questioning. Brian's approach was to foster cognitive conflict before unravelling complex scientific concepts and processes. His use of the paired items activity (Fig. 2) served to identify a knowledge gap concerning the distinctive functions of trachea and bronchial tubes. After discussion, Brian re-ordered items - thereby achieving resolution of the uncertainty engendered beforehand:

I couldn't have done the starting activity in the same way [without the IWB]… actually modelling and …allowing you to move between things and saying 'Well, does it go here?' So it actually allows children not to have to visualise it happening, they can actually see it properly.

He deliberately structured the lesson around the IWB ‘in lots of small chunks', aiming

to get to one area, find out what they can remember from it, get them to speculate on what they think the answers are. And then to look through and confirm the bits that were correct, address areas where understanding wasn't clear, and to [develop] a firm foundation from which they can then do further speculation.

He carefully built up a picture of the process of gaseous exchange (Fig 3), using annotation to support his explanation, questioning to check understanding and occasionally drawing on pupil responses to provide key information. Use of the annotation tool helped to scaffold and record the developing shared understanding of gaseous exchange. Brian then animated the static diagram to illustrate the simultaneous processes, exploiting its stop-start nature to break the system into manageable steps for learning:

It's the actual building up, that construction of the understanding of it, bit by bit, actually on the screen, that really makes a difference, and adding the arrows on, and again, being able to switch from the static image to the moving image... in the picture you can see [the red blood cells] moving, you can see the air coming in... going out, whereas on the picture you can just see the arrows of both processes taking place simultaneously. So again, the interactive whiteboard helped me... to... compartmentalise it, and see what the steps were to understanding.

Brian described his rationale further as follows:

I wanted to give them clues if they were unsure, but to actually allow them to then go back through their knowledge. So... they could really identify [any] wrong ideas... rather than just having another layer of information put on top of that previous information, and getting the two in confusion.

Thus the resilience of prior conceptions to new teaching and the weaknesses of an overlay model were clearly recognised.

Ursula adopted a similar approach to pupils constructing their understanding. She employed drag and drop features of the IWB to facilitate pupils' knowledge building in sequential layers and to move from a food chain to a food web:

It's again that gradual build-up of the fact that you realise that some could fit in the food chain twice; therefore it's got to be more like a web... I really appreciated that layering that you can do.

The latter was seen as a powerful aid to learning because it also enabled wrong connections to be unpicked: ‘there is a way of undoing every action.' Subsequent removal of image labels extended flexible use of the resource, affording opportunity for Ursula to assess pupils' understanding of relationships within the food web through question and answer.

She also responded flexibly by revisiting activities used before (exploiting a unique feature of the IWB software). Structuring activities within a hyperlinked file enabled her to jump to the correct resource to overcome misconceptions or develop pupils' understanding. Visibility of pupils' representations on the board helped in progressively increasing the complexity of the task and deepening understanding, e.g. after one girl had constructed a three-stage food chain, Ursula asked 'Can anyone do a four-chain one that doesn't use any of those three?' Pupil use of drag and drop revealed, and enabled Ursula to address, their uncertainty about the status of some items. Using the IWB also enabled her to print the outcomes for pupils who found it difficult to record them.


Increasing pupil independence from teacher. An important aspect of knowledge building was teachers' creation of opportunities for sharing with pupils the responsibility for learning and its application, again furthering their participation. For example, Ursula handed pupils responsibility to construct and evaluate the food web collectively by coming up to the IWB in turn and adding a link each time. She refused to give feedback: 'It's up to all of you to check.' Towards the end of the lesson she asked pupils to work out which are the producers and to 'find all the ones that eat producers.' These activities rendered pupils dependent on peers' prior contributions and thus jointly responsible for the learning of the class, while the IWB served as a tool for cumulative recording of representations.

Brian told his class after the peer discussion about the process of gaseous exchange at the alveoli:

I'm deliberately giving you this partly to get you thinking about what is your current knowledge about how the system works... so we can either confirm those ideas in your mind or show you where you've actually gone wrong rather than just telling you what the right answer is; to actually make it real to you whatever the level you're at.

Later in the lesson he displayed a slide illustrating some ways in which the lungs are well-designed for gas exchange and placed the onus on pupils 'to try to work out from what you can see on the board what those four features are that make the lungs so good at exchanging gases.' This activity, aimed at generating a component of an explanatory model, was thus scaffolded by the information projected and highlighted on the IWB.

Learning outcomes. Both teachers were convinced of the efficacy of the technology in supporting their aim to challenge and develop pupil thinking. In particular, the synchronous, multimodal approach supported by the IWB was seen by Brian as widening opportunities for learning: ‘that animation… maybe touched those pupils in a way, for their understanding, that wouldn't have happened otherwise'. The activity had stimulated pupil curiosity too, for example about what happens if someone gets too much oxygen in their blood or if the alveoli fail.

The group interview offered a co-constructed account showing that pupils had learned ‘all about the gas exchanges [and] diffusion':

P5: Oh, yeah, carbon dioxide coming out of the blood [...]

P4: Is more high.

P1: Yeah, high concentration. And then low concentration in the actual airbag. And then the oxygen going in the red blood cells... And I learned... all the advantages of how the walls, cells

P3: Which were...thin [...]

P2: Easy to transfer through.

P5: The surface area, which is as big as a tennis court! [...]

P4: And because of the water...

P1: Moisture, yeah, it's easier to catch the carbon dioxide.

Despite a very positive reaction to Ursula's lesson and a feeling of being ‘involved with the lesson', her pupils seemed less able to articulate what they had learned, probably because much of it was revision work. There was nevertheless some evidence of learners having internalised the products of collective activity and appropriated the socio-cognitive process of participation (Rogoff, 1995).


This study has highlighted the varied pedagogic strategies that two teachers used to engage pupils in meaningful whole class activities with the IWB. It has illustrated how the dynamic, manipulable objects of joint reference afforded by the technology were exploited in order to focus thinking on key scientific concepts and processes, to unpack, explain and ‘organically' build them up, and to negotiate new, shared understandings. Strategies included interspersing whole class teaching with small group discussion and supporting stepwise knowledge building that was mindful of prior learning. The multiple case study methodology served to illustrate the diversity of possible ways of fostering a positive classroom climate for active pupil learning through guided participation and collaboration. This included different strategies for sourcing and preparing teaching and learning resources, and for differentiating according to pupil needs. The teachers strove to create the social and cognitive conditions for intersubjectivity (Rogoff, 1990), evidenced for example in the co-construction of the food web in Ursula's lesson and the paired statements activity in Brian's lesson. These attempts to create a social context posing the ‘manageable risks' believed to be essential for effective learning (Pollard and Filer, 1996) were mainly successful in terms of the adolescents' willingness to publicly manipulate objects on the IWB, with some exceptions. Such manipulation was also subject to external constraints. Learners were nevertheless cognitively (if not physically) and socially engaged through the various strategies for vicarious participation in whole class activities deliberately designed to be motivating, challenging and relevant, and to stimulate scientific reasoning. Use of individual printed copies of displayed IWB material for manipulation or annotation by all pupils increased their active participation by providing a bridge between activity within the public arena and private learning spaces.

The depth of pedagogical interactivity varied within and between lessons. While pupils participated actively and engaged in discussion, teacher questions were often closed or 'funnelling' towards a desired response (Bauersfeld, 1988). Learners did not capture, devise or present their own material as might have been anticipated in the context of science. Teachers maintained control of the content, pace and structure of the lesson at all times. In keeping with previous research on integrating use of computers (Hennessy et al., 2005; Kerr, 1991), existing pedagogical approaches and thinking appeared to shape IWB use. Practice was developed by extensively ‘tweaking' existing lesson plans (as Brian described it) to incorporate a wider range of more exciting and interactive media-rich content. These relatively IWB-experienced teachers recognised that the potential of using the technology - in terms of technical and pedagogical interactivity - was not yet fully exploited. This was partly attributed to curriculum and time pressures and may reflect the fact that IWB use stimulates more pre-planning. These factors may constrain teachers' flexible responsiveness to pupils' needs.

However, our data have revealed the significant steps that these teachers have already taken - both technically and pedagogically - in adopting a complex, multimodal tool, and the directions in which they and others may continue to progress in their practice. The strength of the IWB lies in its support for shared cognition, especially articulation, collective evaluation and reworking of pupils' own ideas, and co-construction of new knowledge - the basic tenets of ‘deeper' interactivity (Hargreaves et al., 2003). The latter also includes attending to pupils' social and emotional needs. The motivating effects observed here (and universally) of using this technology, particularly in conjunction with carefully chosen real world applications and a predominantly supportive classroom culture, certainly serve that aim.

Implications For Classroom Practice And Research

In future we might expect to see less dependency on front-of-class teaching and increased use of pair and groupwork which characterises the ‘enhanced interactive' stage described by Miller et al (2004). It is notable that while experienced IWB users like our teachers tend to focus their uptake questions on the whole class (Higgins et al., 2005), pupils appreciate more intimate opportunities to seek and receive responsive assistance. These arise when the teacher circulates around the room after whole class teaching with the IWB (Levy, 2002), a form of ‘kikan shido' or ‘between desks instruction' observed in other non-technology contexts (Clarke, 2004), which accords significant agency to learners to shape their own patterns of participation in practice. The rising prevalence of remote input devices likewise releases the teacher from the front and potentially increases pupil agency (whilst reducing exposure). This anticipates more opportunities for learners to create and explain their own material and thinking, invoking Beauchamp and Parkinson's (2005) notion of a shift towards teachers as ‘co-learners'.

The relationship between the technology and interpersonal classroom interactions has emerged as critical. While these case studies yield some initial insights, future research might benefit from further sociocultural analysis of how creating space for pupil contributions, and the degree of teacher responsiveness to learners, may influence feelings of participation in activity using the IWB, and in turn, cognitive outcomes.


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Table 1: Aims and Outlines of the Observed Case Study Lessons

(Use of IWB shown in bold; hands-on use by Ps in italics)

Teacher: Ursula Lesson topic: Food chains (Biology) Group: Yr 9 middle ability doing Yr 10 work

Lesson aims: to understand that food chains and webs express feeding relationships within an ecosystem; to increase awareness of IWB toolbox.


- Ps complete simple food chain (revisiting Yr 8 work) from given components (pond organisms) on IWB: drag & drop

- T elicits P definitions for producer, consumer, carnivore, herbivore, omnivore; Ps drag & drop to categorise micro-organisms in chain; T adds annotation.

- T annotates displayed pictures as Ps identify the organisms and construct 3-step food chain in books with reference to paper version of IWB display: matched resources.

- T displays relationships between pairs of organisms (eg “hydras feed on water fleas”); Ps cumulatively develop food web on IWB: drag & drop. T facilitates through class discussion; Ps record web, with own coding.

- T deletes labels; Ps identify primary, secondary and tertiary producers; T annotates.

- T explains link with forthcoming ecology fieldwork.

Teacher: Brian Lesson topic: Gas exchange at the alveoli (Biology) Group: Yr 10 middle ability

Lesson aims: to explain how the structure of the alveoli ensures effective exchange of gases; to know the concentration gradients of the diffusion and the features of alveoli to enable efficient gas exchange.


- Pairs discuss 5 T-devised pair statements on lung function, referring to IWB and paper copy: matched resources.

- P re-orders on IWB: drag & drop. Class vote on number correctly placed; some uncertainty.

- T recaps. Class participate in physical demonstration of action of diaphragm.

- T clarifies function of trachea and bronchial tubes: T uses drag & drop to place statements correctly.

- Ps visualise structure and interior of alveolus, referencing displayed photographic image and diagrams.

- P groups speculate on mechanisms of gas exchange, aided by mini-diagrams: matched resources. T builds on P feedback with vivid example of diffusion.

- T explains processes of O2 intake and CO2 removal using series of diagrams, with annotation, then talks through animated version showing simultaneous exchange. Ps record, using mini-diagrams: matched resources.

- Ps discuss how design of alveoli contributes to exchange. T records P feedback beneath displayed diagrams.

- ‘Blockbuster' revision quiz: Ps decide how many of 16 statements were correct. Peer-guided P uses hide & reveal to check.


We are especially grateful to the dedicated practitioners who shared their expertise and to the pupils for their views. Many thanks also to Theresa Daly for her vital secretarial assistance, and to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding the ‘SET-IT' project.

Notes On Contributors

Sara Hennessy is a Senior Research Associate and part-time Lecturer, Rosemary Deaney a Research Associate, Kenneth Ruthven Professor of Education and Mark Winterbottom Lecturer in Science Education in the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education.

Corresponding author. Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 2PQ, UK

Email: [email protected]

Note that IWBs are not always used for whole class teaching, although they generally were in our case studies. Organisation is particularly flexible at primary level where pupils may also work with the board in groups, independently, with the teacher or classroom assistant (Stein, 2005).

The ‘SET-IT' project (2002-04) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (R000239823) aimed to elicit and disseminate ‘Situated Expertise in Technology-Integrated Teaching' in mathematics and science.

The third teacher employed a data projector and remote mouse only in one lesson as his IWB was temporarily unavailable; data from his other lesson was less rich than that of the lessons reported on and pupils did not use the IWB themselves.

This notation throughout the paper identifies teacher by initial followed by first or second post-lesson pupil interview.

Ongoing research in several subject areas by Hennessy and Deaney investigates the role of IWB use in supporting dialogic interaction between teacher and pupils and between peers within whole class settings, and their negotiation of shared interpretations: the T-MEDIA (‘Teacher mediation of subject learning with ICT: A multimedia approach') project is funded by ESRC (R000230825) from 2005-07.