Whiteboards began replacing chalkboards in many classrooms in the 1980s. Today, most classrooms across the country have whiteboards, and teachers are reaping the benefits, which include the removal of chalk dust, ease of writing and cleaning, and visual appeal. Yet despite their many benefits, whiteboards come with distinct disadvantages as well.
The scratching of chalk against the chalkboard can make a student’s hair stand on end, but chalk has no odor. Dry-erase markers are soft and silent, but they can cause vapors in a classroom and contribute to indoor pollutants. Smaller children who are more vulnerable or those with chemical sensitivities may experience throat or eye irritation after prolonged exposure. Whiteboards also require a special cleanser made with an alcohol solvent, adding to the pungent odor associated with the markers.
White print against a dark surface makes chalkboards easier to read. Whiteboards’ polished white finish can create a ghostly glare, making it difficult for visually impaired students to discern what is written. Colored markers in red, green and orange are deemed bright and eye-catching, and teachers employ them to enhance the text, but they can actually diminish a student's ability to read what’s written. Black markers work best against the white surface to decrease glare and increase contrast.
Because dry-erase markers are easy to use and colorful, students and teachers both tend to write more on a whiteboard than on a traditional chalkboard. Therefore, markers wear out more quickly than chalk and must be replaced more often. A package of 10 can cost up to $8, as of 2009. Unlike a stick of chalk's visibly diminishing size, a marker's final hours are not always obvious--a teacher can start her lessons for the day and discover too late that she doesn’t have a working marker.