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Why the SMART Board May Have Been a Dumb Choice

  • Written by Kris Nielsen
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From my middle grades math and technology blog, MGM Focus

The teacher across the hall just received a long-awaited gift from our school’s technology department–a SMART Board!  It felt like Christmas as the students and teachers in our hall watched the technician open the boxes, unwrap the components, secure the board to the wall, connect the teacher PC to the interface, press the power button, and stand back proudly as the shiny, new technology came to life.  Then, well, that’s what I’m writing about.  What’s next?  Now what?

Every time I walk into a classroom where a SMART Board is installed, I see engagement and livelihood in the classroom.  It seems that the improved functionality of the technology made teaching so much more interactive and exciting!  Gone are the days of standing behind the computer to advance slides; here are the days of touching the screen, drawing and writing notes with the electronic markers, and saving everything for the good of the teachers’ evaluations!

The students are sitting in their desks or at their tables watching the teacher do technological magic tricks.  Every once in a while, the teacher invites a student up to interact.  The student touches a few places on the screen or writes analtanswer on the board with those fantastic markers, and then bows and returns to her seat.  Then, the teacher thanks her volunteer from the audience and resumes the magic show, er, I mean,interactive lesson!

And that’s it.  This is where I’m confused.  SMART has a tagline on their corporate homepage that suggests that “millions of students and teachers around the world who use the SMART Board interactive whiteboard…help improve learning outcomes.”  I don’t think this is over the top or overblown.  I do believe that SMART Boards are being used in ways that actually do help.  I just don’t think it’s happening very often, and certainly not with “millions of students and teachers.”

Every new toy gets old.  Every new method of displaying lesson media is going to get boring.  Every technological solution in education has the potential of being overused or, in the case of SMART Boards, misused.

Please don’t think that I’m suggesting that every SMART Board be torn off the walls and sold at rummage sales to support the athletic booster club (although many boosters could use the money); on the contrary, I am suggesting that too many schools, districts, and teachers are using the SMART Board as standalone, all-in-one technology.  Too many classrooms employ this fantastic technology as the be-all-to-end-all of educational technology.  The reason for this blog entry is to suggest that the installation of a SMART Board is only the beginning.  Or, perhaps somewhere in the middle, since the beginning should have involved some sort of plan.

I’ve seen incredible things done with SMART technologies.  I’ve seen classrooms (usually in high school or higher education) where the SMART Board was simply the communications hub.  The research suggests that the key to truly improving student learning and achievement is making sure that students are actively participating in not only the lessons, but also the communication and collaboration of a true learning experience.  If technology is going to be part of our 21st century classrooms, it needs to be authentic and it needs to evolve.

I have a scenario that I’d like to describe briefly; I’ve never seen it happen firsthand, so I will need to walk you through my, um, dream.  Since my collaborative groups are generally in groups of three (no more than four), each group has the iPad as the interface to the rest of the class.  The SMART Board at the front of the room is the place where the teacher can share what each group is working on and lead discussions from the presentation of each group’s screen.  Software such as ClassSpot makes this possible in real-time, and works to allow students to see how global communication looks in the “real world.”

As my math students, for example, seek to solve a complex problem, every step of the process would be done in collaboration and using the interface where the teacher could incorporate “discussion breaks.”  Since the iPad (or other tablet–I’m an Android man, myself) would be wirelessly connected to the Internet, students would be expected to find the necessary tools and develop an effective strategy to solve the problem.  Once they’ve done this, they will develop an engaging and logical method to communicate their results.  This could be done easily in one 70-minute block!  Especially if the students are used to doing things this way and know how to self start.

Instead, I see teachers using the SMART Board as I described above and I picture something that is not existent in collegiate or corporate America, much less corporate world.  It’s not always the teachers’ fault, since most of us do not work in tech or the corporate sector.  So, if I have to point fingers, I will point to states and districts.  This is a PD issue.  And it’s an issue for a separate editorial.

Back to the title: was the SMART Board a dumb choice?  I’m going to say yes, only because of the way that it was brought to bear.  Without a plan, without training, and without supplement, it was nothing more than an expensive, fancy toy for teachers (and the occasional student).  If we are to justify the funds that we need for instructional technology, we must be smarter about how we approach and implement them.  We must be ready to show real power to boost student achievement and motivation using these magnificent tools.  To do so, we must be prepared to use these tools in the same ways that our colleges and top employers are using them–to solve real problems.

References:

Buyer, L. (2008). Smartboard changes classroom. ABCNews Online. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=4278772&page=1#.T4rhrVFSSnw