Optimization of interactive whiteboard usage in teaching and learning foreign languages

Interactive Whiteboard (IWB), a new technological tool in education that offers strong interactive features and effectively supports teaching and learning activities, has been widely used in many countries around the world over the past decade. In Vietnam, IWB is rather less explored due to the associated high cost and the need for other accessories such as projector, computer and speakers. Some schools are equipped with IWB but only limited features of IWB have been utilized. Thus, the aim of this paper is to provide readers with a succinct description of IWB, and to make recommendations on how to maximize the usage potential of IWB in teaching and learning foreign languages.
Interactive Whiteboard - a popular teaching tool in developed countries

Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) first appeared on the market in the early 1990s, but it was only in the past decade that, together with the increasing usage of technologies in education, IWB became popular, mainly in Europe and America.

According to the annual survey by BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association, 2009) on the availability and application of educational technologies in schools in the United Kingdom (UK), there were only 25% of primary schools and 18% of secondary schools that were equipped with IWB in 2005. By 2009, these numbers were increased to 77% and 57%, respectively (Figure 1). At the beginning of 2013, nearly 200,000 IWBs are available in UK schools, and most of these schools have IWB (CNDP, 2008).

Figure 1: The annual growth of IWB (percentage of schools equipped with IWB)

In Vietnam, the number of schools equipped with IWB is rather modest due to the high cost (around 1,000 – 10,000 USD/unit), and these are mainly the top primary schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. At the tertiary level, IWB usage is rather limited, and there are no official statistics reported by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET).

Interactive Whiteboard – an effective supporting tool for teaching and learning foreign languages

IWB is currently an effective supporting tool for the teaching and learning of languages in many schools. With IWB, the teacher can coordinate several teaching tools simultaneously: whiteboard, projector, speaker system and documents in the form of text, sound, picture or video. The teacher can easily edit with the content presented (e.g. move, copy, de-lete, add, save, print...). This feature is highly advantageous as it allows flexible usage of multimedia files in teaching languages. In addition, the lecture content will be displayed on big screen, further enhancing the attention of students. Besides following the lecture on screen, students can directly be involved in using IWB. The lecture can also be recorded through camera recording or print-screen function. As a result, students have more chance to participate in classroom discussions and problem solving since they are free f-rom spending time to copy the teacher's presentation. The lecture contents can also be exported as PowerPoint slides, pdf or picture files, website, attachments sent via emails, or they can be uploaded to a forum for future reference.
IWB can be used at different levels. At the basic level, the users, including teachers and learners, can use the above-mentioned functions. Teachers can also use DVDs or interactive workbooks for IWB. At the advanced level, teachers can design lectures according to specific skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) using the software integrated in IWB.

Optimization of IWB usage in teaching and learning foreign languages

The high-tech applications of IWB could pose challenges to users. In order to effectively utilize this tool, users need to have a certain computer background to be able to master basic functions of IWB. Occasionally, some technical problems or just simple actions such as how to write on IWB, how to connect and how to recalibrate the board if it is in constant motion could be of concerns to teachers. At a higher level, teachers need to up-date on how to use the software compatible with IWB to effectively design the lectures. Although these techniques are not complex, regular practice is needed to keep users aware of all the functions of the software.

It could be seen that an effective use of IWB requires a good ICT level of teachers and students. According to a study by CNDP (CNDP, 2010), it is important to provide users with the knowledge and skills needed for IWB usage through training sessions, to encourage them to use this tool frequently and flexibly with students. The results may only be visible after long period of implementation, which could be up to several years.

At Hanoi University, training sessions on the usage of IWB in teaching foreign languages were held in March and September 2013. Unfortunately, since then, the implementation of IWB in daily teaching work is rather limited. In order to evaluate the usage of IWB by teachers, to understand their challenges, and to propose solutions to promote IWB activities, we conducted a survey on 21 teachers f-rom the French and English Departments. These teachers previously participated in the University seminars on the implementation of technologies in teaching foreign languages, and were introduced to IWB. Furthermore, most of them attended at least one training session on IWB usage.

Normally, the biggest challenge in deploying a new technology in schools is related to the ICT level of the teachers. However, according to this study, even when the teachers are equipped with a reasonable ICT level, other various factors could still influence their decisions in applying the new technology in teaching. 

Specifically, 95% of the teachers asked use computer and access Internet for more than an hour a day. More than 50% of them actually spend more than three hours a day on Internet, which means the use of computer for basic activities such as reading news, entertainment, education and work should not be a problem for these teachers. In addition, 75% of the teachers are in the age of 20-39 and should be rather receptive to new technologies.

100% of the teachers agreed that the use of ICT in teaching foreign languages is highly advantageous and could help improve teaching quality. However, more than 50% of them only use Internet occasionally in the classroom whe-re Wifi is actually available.  (Some suggested that the intermittent Internet access discourages them f-rom using Internet-related technologies in lectures). When asked about IWB, 14% of the teachers responded that the use of IWB in university teaching is not necessary and it is more suitable to primary school level. They also suggested that costs and benefits need to be considered together to avoid wasteful investments. The remaining 86% of the teachers agreed that IWB could improve teaching quality, with more than half of them having attended at least two training sessions. However, it is surprising that only one out of the 21 teachers under the survey has used IWB (and only occasionally) in teaching after the training. Why is this case?
  • When asked about the reasons, 38% of the teachers said their biggest obstacle is the lack of access to IWB, while 29% attributed this to the lack of skills to use IWB in classes.
  • The next obstacle that more than half of the teachers (52%) picked is the lack of skills to prepare interactive lessons.
  • The next obstacle is the lack of time to prepare lessons. (33%)
The teachers also expressed their wish to obtain more training in designing lessons and preparing lectures based on specific exercises. The good news is 76% of them said that they would use or consider using IWB if getting the right support.
Based on the survey performed at Hanoi University and taking into account of the suggestions by the teachers under the study, we would like to propose the following actions to optimize the use of IWB at university level:

Actions by the University:
  • To provide the interested parties with more IWB and computers with suitable software installed;
  • To train the technical team to maintain IWB and to provide timely support to teachers;
  • If possible, at the beginning, universities could have policies to encourage teachers to use technology and, more specifically, IWB, in teaching;
  • To organize training sessions for teachers on designing and preparing lessons using specific types of exercises; the duration could be longer that the previous sessions in order to give the trainees more chance to practice;
Actions by Departments:
  • To combine designing IWB lesson activities with the Department’s language practice program;
  • To order some ready-to-use language practice textbooks/workbooks suitable for IWB;
  • To organize lesson preparing or experience sharing sessions, giving teachers the chance to exchange their prepared lessons;
  • To encourage teachers to work in groups to cre-ate interactive thematic exercises per semester, and to turn this into a regular research activity;
  • To appoint one or two teachers, who are more experienced and active in using IWB, to assist and support others in the same Department.

IWB integrates many advanced functions to support teachers and learners. This tool becomes increasingly popular in many countries in the world, including Vietnam. However, the tool will only bring great benefits if teachers know how to effectively use the diverse functions of IWB and use them regularly. A number of activities could help to attain this goal, for example, to provide regular training to teachers in updating their knowledge and acquiring the skills of using IWB, to encourage them to use IWB in classrooms, to organize discussion sessions for teachers to share their IWB experience, and to appoint teachers to provide IT support at each teaching unit.
  1. British Educational Suppliers Association. (2009). ICT Provision and Use in 2009/2010. Education Market Outlook Series. Retrieved f-rom http://resources.eun.org/insight/BESA_ICT2009_Summary.pdf
  3. Centre National de Documentation Pédagogique. (2008). Tableau Blanc Interactif. Retrieved f-rom http://www.cndp.fr/crdp-toulouse/spip.php?article15647
  5. Centre National de Documentation Pédagogique. (2010). L’usage du TBI : formation et étapes à franchir. Retrieved f-rom http://www.cndp.fr/agence-usages-tice/que-dit-la-recherche/l-usage-du-tbi-formation-et-etapes-a-franchir-43.htm
Người đăng:Nguyen Bao Chau (French Department, Hanoi University)