Wednesday, October 3, 2012

SMART Boards Are Dumb?

I recently read a blog posting about how bad an idea SMARTBoards were for school investments and couldn't help but respond. I hope you don't get too bored reading both, but here goes:
I can’t argue cost effectiveness in the context of technology because no technology is cost effective until it’s too old to be effective at all (in the classroom, that is)… What I can and do disagree with is the limitations of a SMARTBoard in any setting (though specifically classrooms here), especially with what the author describes. I cannot, therefore, “acknowledge” that SMARTBoards only “amuse… students” and “save content.”
SMARTBoards are a giant interface, to this I will agree; but let me give you a brief soap-box-sermon on how/why I think they should be used:
1.    Your computer monitor is too small for everyone to see and your mouse and track pad are too small to share. (Not to mention limited to one user at a time)
a.    The current incarnation of the SMARTBoard is multi-touch (currently 2 points) and DViT camera based. Other models include these features and do not require a projector as they are built into an LED display.
                                              i.     As a side note, think of the possibilities for special needs students and small group instruction if teachers had a TV stand allowing for swiveling to the horizontal plane! Basically, you would have an interactive monitor as a table/desk/learning center…

2.    SMARTBoards do enable more dynamic presentation of content. What is wrong with that? Student showcasing and modeling of lessons by the teacher are vital to instruction. This is most effectively done on a SMARTBoard.
a.    With Applications like Reflection, you can use your computer like an Apple TV. Meaning you can share from iPad to the computer driving the SMARTBoard in it’s own window. Any student could share to the teacher through airplay. With other apps for iPad like SplashTop, you can control a computer from iPad! i.e. Teachers can allow students to interact with SMARTBoard, computer, or iPad to communicate with the computer running the Board.
                                              i.     Be mindful of display limitations on your hardware… I recommend a Mac Mini for the scenario above.

3.    Saving content on a computer is easy and the methods are numerous. Saving a worksheet a student wrote on last year for a student this year would be silly. So would saving inked materials in a Notebook file. What would be powerful is creating an electronic worksheet for students to click through on their computers or mobile devices. Creating this on a SMARTBoard, using Notebook software’s page recording, is so much more interactive and responsive than a screen capture. Saving ink on a page is like saying a Cadillac has cup holders…
4.    Using a tool in the classroom to do something you used to do with a different tool is not ideal, but it’s also not wrong. If you can be more effective and efficient at a beneficial activity, then the benefits must simply balance out with the cost. To truly do something new (like having two student solving a problem on a large interactive display in front of the class or in a small group setting) is my hope. This is directly dependant on the ease of use of the tool (hardware or software), the skill level of the learner, and the professional development of the instructor/facilitator.
a.    For more in formation about ideas about technology skill acquisition and its impact on learning see the work of Dr. Ruben Puentedura.
b.    For more information on student centered learning research flipping the classroom, Project RED, and One-to-One computing initiatives.
5.    The model is certainly “broken” in this I agree wholeheartedly with the author. Implementing rolling cushy chairs in every classroom in hopes that comfortable seats would improve engagement would be an expensive misguided venture to continue the broken system. But SMARTBoards, just like laptops or iPads, are tools, not furniture. It is all about the use of these tools. We don’t stop buying textbooks when instructors teach from the textbook and students vandalize or hit each other with them; so why stop buying technology when teachers and students don’t know how to use the tool properly?
a.    The answer is professional development. Short of a complete cessation of the compulsory educational process in the US, the best we can do is improve what we have. What we have is an army of talented educators and millions of learners disengaged due to a disconnect between the words ‘school,’ ‘education,’ and ‘relevant.’
6.    The following points were made quickly and I will try to respond accordingly:
a.    Not adaptive – the SMARTBoard allows for on-the-fly adaptation from the teacher live during direct instruction. Combined with any common formative assessment tool, whether Neo2’s, SMART Response, or cell phones, this is the very definition of an adaptive classroom.
b.    Not differentiation – perhaps I am off the mark here, but differentiation includes the use of multiple senses, various means of interaction, and references the multiple intelligences. The SMARTBoard is big, bright, physically interactive, easy to integrate with multimedia, and collaborative.
c.    No social feedback – being a giant image of a collaborative interface, it seems fairly social… though in essence I think the author makes a good point.
d.    Teacher workload – if the SMARTBoard does anything, I think it decreases teacher workload. Projecting worksheets and writing on them digitally is a lot easier than the old printing on transparency method. Clicking through Google Earth in front of the class is much easier than hiding at the desk with a mouse. Saving student work and delivering it electronically is infinitely easier than creating catch up packets for missing students… I could go on, but I thought this one was an easy one to disagree with.
e.    Lesson planning – the SMARTBoard is obviously not a lesson planning tool, but I would argue it should be a part time teacher presentation tool, part time small group learning center, part time student presentation tool. Meaning teachers would only plan activities for it 33% of the time... If they have never used a SMARTBoard before there will be a learning curve, but suddenly this fictional class is student driven (i.e. less planning).
7.    “SMARTBoards are an administrative cop out”  - I think this comment was both thought provoking and comical. First, if you assume a principal had the money to spend in the first place (comical), what else might they spend money on? The fact is one-one computing is difficult to manage, nearly impossible to convince newcomers to technology to implement (especially at the classroom level), and a complete paradigm shift for traditional education.
All said and done, I think the author did an great job summarizing where we should be heading in the future, but was unaware of some pedagogical possibilities of using the device. I hope if they read this they know I respect them very much and our minor disagreements are simply a conversation and never to be misconstrued as antagonistic. Please comment below on what you think of the concepts shared in either blog.