I have been having some interesting conversations with distressed schools regarding Smartboards, Epson short-throw projectors – their high costs, the amount of training or lack of training associated with these devices, and whether they still the “smart” way of doing business.
These are loaded questions from the “get-go” because they make a number of assumptions that we in Educational Technology and the Innovation realms have been striving to address for years:
- The adage “learning first/technology second” shouldn’t be just an adage!!
- Devices don’t improve educational outcomes as a general rule
- Best teaching and learning practices DO improve educational outcomes
- In an age of fiscal responsibility, we need to be sure that the technology we DO purchase addresses the needs of students and fits with what we consider are solid teacher and learning practices.
It concerns me when I hear of expenditures based on grants secured or monies raised with little consultations regarding trends, best practices and the needs of learners in general. And this brings me to the main point of the post… Are Smartboards still smart?
The answer is it depends. It depends on how they are being used. I am going to dust of the the SAMR continuum again to demonstrate how Smartboards or EPSON Interactive short-throws MIGHT (and this is a rather important qualifier) be used effectively. The real issue with these devices, large and small, are that they are essentially single or double touch devices. Now before the masses jump on my back and say there are “multi-touch” devices available, ask yourself how many of these are actually in service in your District? I know in our Division, this number is VERY small – most are single touch, large screen, wall mounted Smartboards! We also have a growing number of wall-mounted short-throw Epson Interactive Dual Touch projectors.
So we have a large expenditure, a great deal of fuss setting up, lots of time creating notebooks for essentially a one-at-a-time student experience, however that happens to be structured. I have seen this occur in a number of ways in descending order of popularity:
- Large group presentation and lecture; primarily used by teacher
- Large group centre(s); calendar and day startup routines in primary
- Digital worksheets or activities
- Centre work
- Small group work
If we recall the SAMR continuum and the 4Cs model briefly from some earlier posts and we apply it to Smartboards and Epson Interactive Projectors we essentially arrive at the same conclusion… The teacher & students have a bit of careful thinking and planning to do BEFORE they embark on deciding how best to use these types of devices. Otherwise there is the real danger of a lot of money having been spent on a very large & glossy projection tool for the teacher to show YouTube videos on.
It is not that these tools cannot be used in a way that is collaborative, or creative, or for communication, or critical thinking or in ways that transform learning. They can!
So why is the default to use the substitution level, focusing on lower level thinking skills, essentially addressing the needs of single students? Ease? Time? Lack of training? I am not really sure. But the issue is that teachers seem to regularly rely on Enhancing experiences with technology with little consideration to student input or outcomes achieved.
Let’s look at how this could be changed. The fact of the matter is that Smartboards and Epson Interactive Projectors are expensive tools that allow for a variety of educational experiences to be provided for learners in a classroom. These devices aren’t being leveraged to their full abilities, and truth be told, there are a number of competing tools that are coming on the market that may in fact soon provide a viable and attractive replacement for these devices supporting learners in ways that were previously unavailable… More on that later in the post.
Here’s one person’s take on how a Smartboard could be taken advantage of more fully:
What’s clear is that Smartboards should be looked at as part of an ongoing learning process rather than as as a digital worksheet to be completed. For example, suggestions such as digital portfolios, or storyboard creation during a video or story writing process, part of a design or brainstorming or webbing process are outlined above. Teachers could use these device in small, needs-based groups as a manipulative for collaborative purposes – a few would work through a series of pointed learning problems. Both of these ideas redefine how a Smartboard could be typically used, and demonstrates a move away from the teacher presentation tool model or the digital worksheet for the whole class model typically selected.
What is also clear is that students will need to be involved in this process. We value Assessment for Learning: releasing responsibility to the learner, activating students as the owners of their own learning, encouraging learners to be instructional learners for each other, clarifying Task, Intent and Criteria and the like… are all part of this picture as well. Involving students in both the learning, collaboration/communication, creation, & critical thinking pieces of the learning supported buy the tools at hand (Smartboard, Notebook, websites etc…) is as important as the decision to change how you go about using the tool in the first place.
I recently did an inservice where I was helping teacher locate sites that they could use with their EPSON Interactive Projector. Their issue was that the school hadn’t paid the Smart Notebook licence subscription fee to use Smart Notebook with their Epson Projector. Therefore all of the Smart Notebooks they had created could n to be used. They were looking for other options… I created a Symbaloo of possibilities – but a caution here!! A teacher and her students really must plan for how the tool will fit in the outcomes. The learning MUST come first, the tools to support come second.
This brings me to some new thinking. For about the same cost of a mounted projector/smartboard combination or an Epson Interactive Projector one might consider a 40 inch HD TV, Media Streamer & 3–4 iPads minis. What’s the advantage? There are many actually:
- The TV is almost a big as a small Smartboard and has better resolution
- TV is very portable and doesn’t require mounting to a wall
- Cheaper to repair or fix TV
- 3–4 students can touch the iPads at the same time; double that if you work in collaborative pairs
- iPads can be repurposed for many other activities
- iPads can function as portable document cameras/ or simply as cameras/video cameras
- All material from all iPads can be streamed to the TV at the same time and be recorded
These are only a few of the positive advantages for roughly the same costs. These are things that the Smartboard and Epson cannot do.
For those of you who are really stuck on using an app like Notebook there is Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard for iPad It provides real-time collaboration, allowing users to work simultaneously on the same project from multiple devices while using all the design, recording, and export features of the interactive whiteboard. This functionality, of course, comes at a subscription cost, but they seem reasonable.
Let’s wrap this up:
Smartboards and similar devices may not be as smart as they use to be, and there are certainly better options available today, but I don’t think one needs to abandon ship just yet. That said, if you are ready to look at replacing an interactive projector, or a Smartboard it might be a good idea to explore some of the other options that exist and see how they fit into the current workflows, or current practices before making any final decisions.