Can the interactive whiteboard support young children’s collaborative communication and thinking in classroom science activities?

  • Ruth KershnerEmail author
  • Neil Mercer
  • Paul Warwick
  • Judith Kleine Staarman


Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) have been widely introduced to English primary schools (5–11 years) in the last decade and this has generated much research interest. In the past, research has focused on IWB-use in teacher-led sessions, attending particularly to the nature of teacher-pupil interaction at the IWB and the apparent motivational advantages for children. In contrast, this study focuses on children’s communication and thinking during their semi-autonomous use of the IWB during collaborative groupwork in primary school science lessons, aiming in part to see if the IWB is suited to this type of use. Over the course of one school year, twelve primary teachers of Years 4 and 5 (8–10 years) took part in a professional development and research programme which involved them in devising a sequence of three science lessons incorporating small-group activity at the IWB. The functionality of the IWB is analysed here as means for supporting the children’s joint communication and thinking, using embedded cues and the availability of certain features in the IWB technology. Our observational analysis of two examples of children’s collaborative activity in different classrooms, together with subsequent group interviews, suggests that the IWB can make some identifiable contributions to children’s productive communication and thinking. However the IWB is not seen to be an entirely distinctive or pedagogically transformative learning resource in the primary classroom. In our developing conceptual framework, the children’s knowledge building is closely related to their active engagement in using IWB affordances and their productive dialogue, essentially supported by the teacher’s scaffolding strategies, the establishment and use of “talk rules” in conversation, and the opportunities and constraints applying in classroom participation structures. These conditions help the children to deal with interconnected social, cognitive, and technical problems arising over time. Certain aspects of this form of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) are discussed. These relate to the integration of the IWB with other classroom learning systems and resources, and to the nature of progression in children’s activity and learning with this new type of highly integrated system of CSCL.


Collaborative groupwork Classroom communication Collective thinking Interactive whiteboard Primary/elementary education Science learning Teacher development 



This paper is based on a project entitled “Interactive Whiteboards and Collaborative Learning in Primary Science”, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-2556). We would like to express thanks to all the children and teachers involved and to the local authority that supported the research. We are grateful for the comments and advice of the editor and reviewers on an early version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© International Society of the Learning Sciences, Inc.; Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Kershner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Neil Mercer
    • 1
  • Paul Warwick
    • 1
  • Judith Kleine Staarman
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Cambridge Faculty of EducationCambridgeUK
  2. 2.University of Exeter Graduate School of EducationExeterUK

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