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Maybe The Board’s Not That Smart

I’m probably risking my instructional technology geek license for writing this, but when it comes to interactive whiteboards, I just don’t get it.

These are devices that look like a standard whiteboard on which you would write with colored markers. Instead, a computer screen is projected on it and the board responds to the touch of a finger or plastic pen to control the software.

Yesterday I spent the whole day in a training session for the boards being purchased by most schools in our district.

I came away still not seeing the value of paying all that money (around $1000 plus the cost of the projector) for something with limited instructional purpose.

The hardware is definitely cool and the software comes with lots of neat little tools and tricks.

However, all the examples of classroom activities I’ve seen are nothing more than interactive drill and practice sheets. The only reason to use the board appears to be encouraging students to do the drills. And that’s my problem with the boards.

One of the primary selling points for this technology is centered around its ability to “motivate” students. The same argument is made for student response systems (“clickers”) and one-to-one laptop programs.

As my colleague Karen asks in a similar rant on her blog (which needs more regular posting :-), what happens when the cool toy of the year no longer provides the big incentives?

I still have an open mind when it comes to these interactive boards.

But I’m also still waiting for someone to show me an instructionally solid activity that could not be done any way other than using this device.

interactive whiteboards, teaching

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6 Comments

  1. Hi. I’d agree with you that a lot of what’s done on the interactive whiteboards is not really very innovative, but I do think that the electronic voting systems are amazing if used sensibly as formative assessment tools.

  2. I have had one in my room for a little less than an year and I love it. It helps me be more organized myself. I love being able to print off what we did for a day for a student, I love that I can record actions that I am doing on the SB and loop the resulting video for students (I use that for cursive and math problems that use an algorithm over and over again), I love being able to show a video and then write on them, I love that at a moments notice, my class and I can spontaneously be researching something on the internet as was the case last year when I was introducing fractions and by the end of the lesson we were searching for world flags that demonstrated the fractions that we were working with.

    And this attitude that student motivation isn’t a factor or one that dismisses that is somewhat annoying to me, I see the excitement everyday in kids to use the SB. I’ll let you know when it wears off.

    When a highly respected 30 year teaching veteran gets a SB and says that it is the thing that has most revolutionized the way she taught, I listen up.

    Now I must admit, when I was talking to the teachers that I work with about the SB that they were going to be getting several decided that they wanted it off to the side, they didn’t really see the usefulness of the gadget either. “I could do that on the marker board” was one teacher’s refrain. “I’m still going to use my marker board. Take up as little of the marker board as possible. About two weeks ago that same teacher, a self proclaimed technophobe, came up to me and said that she should have listened to me and put it in the center because she finds herself only using the SB and that she loves it. Maybe there is something to be said for teacher motivation as well.

    As for as the “clickers,” I use them too but I call them remotes. Students haven’t really found those to be motivating but they are excellent for immediate feedback and assessment of what students know. I gave a test using eInstruction remotes and students worked harder than on a paper/pencil test because they wanted to keep the cumulative percent correct above 90%.

    That’s my two cents anyway.

  3. All of the classrooms in my school grades 3-6 have SmartBoards, and the teachers swear by them. I’ve done some activities with my kids where we work on combining letter sounds, and the ability to manipulate the words and chunks around the screen really grabs their attention in a way nothing else does.

  4. KG

    I”ve read all of the comments–and I would love to see a lesson plan that really goes beyond traditional teaching. Yes, they allow you to capture the traditional things that go on in a classroom and yes, they have some value with regards to review for students who are absent and yes, a for a lot of technophobic teachers, they have convinced them to move into technology use—but I want to know/see examples of uses that move beyond the ACOT adoption stage, or even the Adaptation stage, into appropriation and invention http://images.apple.com/education/k12/leadership/acot/pdf/rpt08.pdf
    As far as “clicker” systems go—99% of the use I have seen is in multiple choice activities that only require that students come with with a regurgitated answer that mimics a standardized test, whether “on the fly” or as part of an extended classroom activity. We have enough tools that allow us to do that, all in the name of data-driven instruction.

  5. Jack

    Want to see a “lesson plan that really goes beyond traditional teaching”? Then visit a classroom where a genuinely creative teacher is using the board – don’t rely merely on the SmartTech website or its sales representatives. Such classrooms exist in the “overly large school district” in which TS and KG are employed. Imaginative teachers are doing imaginative things with SmartBoards.

    Yes, they can be used for drill and practice activities – is there something inherently wrong with drill and practice? Depending on the students, the subject matter, and the situation, can’t these types of activities be effective and “instructionally solid”? And yes, the boards are extraordinarily engaging. Sorry, but this is a significant consideration for any teacher of any subject these days.

    The SmartBoard lends itself to highly visual and manipulative applications. Watch the students use it with, for instance, Geometer’s Sketchpad and you’ll see how a talented teacher uses the board to go beyond lower-level learning. The board is an excellent tool for group collaboration in the one-computer classroom that is still prevalent, even in wealthy “overly large school districts”; last Spring I watched a class collaboratively create sonnets with a teacher who saw the potential in the SmartBoard.

    The SmartNotebook software can afford students easy access to a large number of “digital manipulatives”, can allow classes to interact with a static website and with video, and can enable teachers to capture visual representations for later access and use. None of these things is remarkable in itself, but in the hands of a knowledgeable teacher, these features can be used to create examples at any level of learning and any stage of the ACOT model. This doesn’t always happen in a training session – but it happens regularly and increasingly in a lot of classrooms.

    No, the board’s not that smart, but many of our teachers who use it are. Get out of the office and go into the classroom before determining the effectiveness of classroom technology.

  6. I have found an amazing interactive presentation in youtube that shows and advance sketching software from MIT that uses and interactive board
    Here is the link

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