New Media in Foreign Language Education

The interactive whiteboard

On the 23rd of November 2010 we had a session of our seminar on interactive whiteboards. The interactive whiteboard gradually replaces the traditional blackboard in the classrooms and nowadays probably every school in Germany has at least one of them. There are even schools that switched to interactive whiteboards completely and do not own even one blackboard anymore.

The reason for the overwhelming success of the interactive whiteboard is due to its seemingly unlimited functions. You can compare it to a huge computer screen including a touch-screen-function. Consequently the interactive whiteboard offers all the traditional functions of a computer and therefore it should not only be regarded as an improved version of a blackboard, but instead it should be used appropriately. The number of interactive whiteboards in school will increase rapidly in the future and therefore it is important that future teachers are familiar with all the functions and possibilities it offers. It will make the lives of the teachers but also the lives of the students much easier.  

The interactive whiteboard connects the computer to a projector which displays the content of the computer screen onto the screen of the whiteboard. To enable the communication between the whiteboard and the computer you need certain software which is offered by the producer for free. When you write on the whiteboard the data will be processed and turned into digital data. The use of the interactive whiteboard is generally pretty simple and often works intuitively.

Most of the parents have a positive attitude towards the use of interactive whiteboards in school because they consider it to be important for the education of their children and they think the students need to be familiar with it for their future career. But there are also some parents that are of the opinion that their children already spend too much time sitting in front of a computer screen during their leisure time.

The functions

The sponge and the optic sensor of the storage shelf.
The interactive whiteboard offers a broad variety of functions. Naturally, there are a lot of different producers of interactive whiteboards, but the functions I describe in the following do refer to the well-known “Smart Boards”. The functions of the interactive whiteboards may vary due to their different producers.

For the teachers it is important to know as many functions of the interactive whiteboard as possible to be able to use it according to the students’ needs. But also the students should have knowledge of the basic functions. Furthermore, they have to take the interactive whiteboard seriously as a medium because it is not something to just play around with for fun. Some functions can be used intuitively while others are a little bit more complicated. Generally it offers all the functions of a traditional computer, so you can show content of the internet if the computer has internet access. You could also show movies or presentations. Because of the touch-screen-function of the interactive whiteboards you can control the computer via the screen of the whiteboard. 

Naturally, you have all the traditional functions of text editing - so you could highlight certain words, underline text etc. The screen of the whiteboard is accompanied by three pens of different colours and a “sponge” that functions as an eraser. Each tool has its special storage shelf and the used tool is recognized by an optic sensor. Therefore the last tool, which was taken out of its storage shelf, is active. Actually you could also write with your finger or other items if you take one pen out of its storage shelf because it is not the screen, which recognizes the tool that is being used. You could also make use of an on-screen-keyboard and the interactive whiteboard is even capable of handwriting recognition, but actually this function often does not work properly. One function that is very handy is that the teacher is able to save what was written down on the screen during a lesson and then the material could e.g. be sent around to the students, so that they do not need to copy it from the board. This way the teacher can make sure that every student has all the material – even if a student was ill. The teacher could also make use of graphics, charts or maps and make students work with it.

The teacher has the chance to prepare the content, that he or she wants to be displayed during a lesson, at home so that the teacher does not need to write a lot down during the lesson. Furthermore, one teacher could share these sheets with other teachers. Another function is that the teacher is able to create digital video files with recorded instructions. These videos would be a great opportunity to revise the content, especially for struggling learners or students who were absent from school. Of course there is also the possibility to download data sheets, of which many are interactive.

The advantages

Because of this new and interactive medium the students may be more attentive and more motivated. The interactive whiteboard naturally is more interesting than a traditional blackboard because of its various functions and its interactivity. It is very pleasant for the teacher that he or she is able to prepare sheets at home and it also saves time because not a lot has to be written down on the board. It is very useful that you are able to create several sheets in parallel and you can also switch between them - on a blackboard one would have to wipe everything away and you do not have the opportunity to take a look at the old writings again. The interactive whiteboard addresses different types of learners because it offers a variety of tasks and methods. The whiteboard makes it easy to review content for an examination and students who were absent are no longer disadvantaged because the material can be saved and sent around. To work with an interactive whiteboard means that the students work with new media on a daily basis so that their competences in this field will improve. A pleasant side effect is that teachers do not need to use the traditional chalk and sponge anymore, which means a relieve for irritated skin and also there is no need to fear white stains on your clothes anymore.

The disadvantages

It was already mentioned before, that this new medium might motivate the students, but probably this will not be a permanent state if the students get used to working with the interactive whiteboard. A danger of the interactive whiteboard is that the focus might be more on the medium than on the content and that some activities could be over-valued because of their interactivity but in the end there is not much outcome. Another danger is that this “new improved version of a blackboard” could make teachers tend to practice more teacher-centred teaching. A teacher will need some time to be confident of working with the interactive whiteboard and to become familiar with a good amount of all its functions. A risky development might be that the handwriting of the students is negatively affected by not writing down as much down as they used to do in the past. Another negative point is the high costs for the purchase of an interactive whiteboard and possible additional costs for downloading software. Therefore the teacher and the students have to be very careful with this medium which probably means that students are only allowed to use the interactive whiteboard under the supervision of the teacher. If it might suddenly turn out to be broke one day the teacher may have difficulties to perform the lesson if he or she prepared sheets for the lesson or it might even cause problems to find an alternative medium to write on.


In my opinion the advantages of an interactive whiteboard outweigh the disadvantages as it offers so many possibilities and functions. It will make learning and teaching more pleasant and more interesting. As a possible future teacher I am looking forward to working with the interactive whiteboard because it enables you to teach the content in a way that is just much more appealing and more fun for both sides.