Orchestrating learning in the language classroom: the IWB as digital dashboard

Orchestrating learning in the language classroom: the IWB as digital dashboard
Babylonia, Special issue on language learning and technology
Submitted December 2013

Today’s technology-rich environments present a number of challenges and opportunities for language learning.  In educational circles, new methodologies based on blended learning, the flipped classroom, mobile learning, and game-based learning, to name but a few, are recommended for digitally literate and digitally motivated learners. For language teaching in particular, communicative, task-based, and socio-constructivist approaches are promoted, emphasising collaborative learning, authentic language, emergent language, and learner autonomy, again among many other buzzwords and trends.  These developments are set against a backdrop of traditional institutional infrastructures, with their constraints of obligatory programmes and curricula, assigned textbooks, examination requirements and, of course, limited technical and human resources.  In this paper I will argue that one particular technological tool, the interactive whiteboard (IWB), can offer a single, fixed point from which many of these differing and often conflicting demands can be addressed.  A large, touch-sensitive screen on which a computer desktop is projected and manipulated, the IWB can serve as a digital hub or dashboard to display, monitor and control aspects of language learning which

  • occur in class and out, face-to-face and online;
  • involve authentic, modified and learner language;
  • accommodate input from teachers and learners; and
  • admit individual, group or whole-class modes.

Unfortunately, the IWB can also be used as a convenient white space for the teacher to project lecture material.  It is the purpose of this article to suggest why such an approach is neither helpful nor inevitable, and how it may be avoided in IWB-mediated language teaching.