Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dumb SmartBoards?

Search the Internet for Interactive WhiteBoards and you'll find lots of cynics who pronounce these devices as a waste of money.

5 typical criticisms include:
1.  It is just a glorified chalkboard
2.  Too expensive, especially during tight fiscal times in education
3.  Too difficult to learn for many teachers
4.  There are much cheaper alternatives that you can make yourself  (see for yourself)
5.  It sits in the classroom untouched because no one knows how to use it

In the last two years in the Ottawa Catholic School Board we have re-tooled over 900 classrooms with Interactive WhiteBoards, short-throw LCD projectors, and wireless infrastructure.

The following are some of the keys to a successful implementation:
1.  Focus on the pedagogy not the tool
2.  Provide training and support
3.  Expect technical adoption before pedagogical adoption
4.  Provide digital resources to supplement the tools
5.  Standardize purchases and branding

Instructional practice continues to be the domain that makes teaching a profession.  A focus on personalized learning through problem solving inquiry is the starting point, not the interactive White Board.  Our Board focus on Student Success remains the key priority, and SmartBoards are one of many tools helping to change teacher practice and engage students with a goal of student achievement.

Training and Support
Over 1500 teachers in our Board have been trained on the use of a SmartBoard.  The training has included face to face workshops, online learning, in-class co-teaching, and dedicated support of an educational consultant.  In addition to teachers, training has been offered and provided to principals, superintendents, vice-principals, consultants, parents, and students.

Technical Adoption
Adopting any tool requires some time to become an "expert".  The first phase includes learning how to use the  software linked to the SmartBoard and the second phase is learning how to incorporate the tool along with changes in instructional practice.  Changes in instructional practice won't happen until there is a comfort level with the tool.

Digital Resources
The hands-on feature of an interactive WhiteBoard is what makes it engaging for students.  Complementing the device with rich multimedia digital content is also an important consideration.  Our Board has licensed Discovery Education Canada to provide over 120,000 rich resources for our teachers.  The SmartBoard and LCD projector is ideal for displaying learning objects, animations, and video clips to supplement student learning.  The Ontario Ministry of education has licensed Learn 360 and has created the Ontario Educational Resource Bank (OERB) with thousands of learning objects for student and teacher use.  Without the devices in the class, these learning objects cannot be used effectively in a class setting.

There are cheaper models available in the market than our chosen device, SmartBoards.  However, what makes the SmartBoard our interactive whiteboard of choice, is the teacher exchange network and the collaborative nature of the learning activities that teachers are sharing and co-developing.   Settling on one brand ensures that teachers who have been trained will be able to use familiar devices regardless of what classroom or school they may be assigned to.  Training, support, and development all benefit from a standardized unit in a school system.

So back to the statement - Dumb SmartBoards.  Instead of asking if SmartBoards are a good investment, we should be focusing on teacher practice, and asking what teachers need in the 21st Century to help all students meet with success.


  1. Another failed attempt at convincing me why smartboards aren't a dumb initiative. If you can save any more time and money by not going to IWB PD and not purchasing more boards, I suggest you do so. Here is why in response to each of your arguments that the IWB companies spent a bundle to mislead you to believe.

    You don’t explain how IWBs enhance pedagogy. I contend that I can teach anything more effectively without the device.

    Training and Support
    Why would I want training on something that makes me a worse teacher?

    Technical Adoption
    Why do I want to become expert in something that makes me a worse teacher and why spend all that time on learning to use a board that makes me a worse teacher? There must be more important things teachers can do with their time.

    Digital Resources
    You don’t need an interactive whiteboard to use interactive digital resources and you can use them more effectively wihout the board. Your Board does NOT have licensed Discovery Education or Learn 360. Your computer has that and can provide access to them more effectively without the board. Your belief that the board has this is a result of misleading IWB advertising.

    I don’t believe that having a network revolving around a piece of crappy, glitchy, ineffective hardware is the best place for teachers to mobilize. There are much better places where teachers come together around pedagogy. Not a piece of hardware.

    So back to the statement - Dumb SmartBoards. We should be asking if these costly devices are a waste of money because they are and millions of dollars that can be going to resources to children are going to a company that makes a fortune off consumers who don’t know better. Many hours of PD are wasted that teachers could put to better use.

    We can focus on teacher practice, and ask what teachers need in the 21st Century to help all students meet with success without wasting a bundle on a board. This is a smart focus, but when it comes to Smartboards, you have failed, as have those before you, to give even one concrete example of how teaching with a Smartboard helps students achieve success.

    1. Technology is a tool that magnifies. Used effectively, it can leverage good teaching practice. Used poorly, it magnifies poor teaching practice. If the technology makes you a "worse teacher" you should seriously look at your current teaching practice. This post seems to be a knee jerk reaction to the selection of a technology in a top down fashion. This should be the focus of the discussion rather then whether to use a technology or not.
      Of course controversy draws attention. My sense is that Lisa, as a blogger, is trying to increase her followers. If this is not the case, "The Innovative Educator" is an inappropriate name for her blog. An innovative educator would find effective ways to engage students with the tools available.

  2. I appreciate your comments but your experience is not the same as the experience in our Board. To clarify the comments about Digital Resources, around Discovery Education and Learn 360 - the reference to Board was School Board... not SmartBoard.

    We have had technology in our schools for many years but the change in practice and pedagogy occured with the introduction of SmartBoards. This has also resulted in increased engagement. We have worked with our researchers and a research team from the University of Ottawa and have found the increase in student engagement as a result of this tool... when combined with good teacher practice.

    The PD does include the basics of how to use an IWB but it goes far beyond that to include areas such as using the IWB as part of a 3 part math lesson, or as part of a guided reading activity within the gradual release of responsibility. The teacher actions are the key, not the tool.

    Your points are all well taken but and are valid when the IWB is not accompanied by changes in teacher practice and are being used in isolation. This is not case in our School Board as the IWB/wireless environment/Digital Resources are providing for more differentiated instruction and more engagement.

    I'm not trying to change your opinion or your experiences with IWBs, just sharing that the implementation has had the desired impact in our Board, where other technology initiatives have not.

  3. I find it highly amusing this "Innovative Educator" is going so far out of her why to try to convince others that Smart Boards are a bad idea.

    Fact: Thousands of educators, and many times that number of students, believe Smart Boards enhance learning. The psychological boost from interacting with the Smart Board makes them worth the cost, regardless of your number-crunching cost analysis or your belief that you, personally, teach better with the device.

    End of.