The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Smartboards are sort of stupid

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the type of teachers (or rather, student teacher) to bash technology. I’m not going to dress in a pencil skirt with cat eyeglasses and buy my own stick for pointing at the board, then slam a ruler onto a student’s desk because they’re dozing off.

Because no students would be dozing off in my classroom.

And it isn’t because I have snazzy technology like the infamous Smartboard, which I believe is too overhyped that some of us may feel bile crawling up our esophagi, so that we are unable to look at why the Smartboard could be a sound investment, if at all.

A Smartboard is an interactive whiteboard (IWB). I’ll be referring to it as an IWB from now on since it’s much easier to type.

First, let’s look at why IWBs are seen with such high regard.

  • interact by touching the screen
  • can display websites, Smart Notebook lessons, etc. Anything you can see on a computer can be projected onto the IWB
  • looks really awesome. I mean, who doesn’t want to go up to a board and move things around? And I mean this with all the genuineness I have, because I don’t hate IWBs, I just think they’re overhyped.

I’ve used an IWB before when I was teaching 5th grade last year about rotational symmetry using Symmetry Artist. Go ahead. You can play around on that site. I’ve even made it open in another window so you can come back and read my precious thoughts when you’re done indulging your inner child.

So basically, I asked students to create their own kaleidoscope image, and as a class, we conjured up some rules or patterns we found when doing a 9-point or 5-point rotational symmetrical pattern. What did we see? If we know what a 6-point pattern would look like, what do you think an image will look like if we selected 7-point? Then they can test their theories out on the IWB.

Students were engaged, it was quite fun.

So yes, I do like the Smartboard. I wasn’t depending on it to make my lesson awesome, since the unit of rotational symmetry is already pretty awesome, and you can do lots of fun things with it without technology at all.

But then I see this post on my Facebook feed.

Firstly, let me provide the context. The campus I go to just got a brand-spankin’-new building that looks like it’s from the future. The lobby has tons of white marble. It practically looks like the concierge counter of a futuristic hotel from the year 7983.

Glendon’s new French building

And then we come to the issue about the lack of outlets in this building. If you’re going to get a fancy upgrade, why not actually provide outlets so students can link their laptops and things?

This is the main point that was raised. And I believe it’s pretty good. I mean, what sense does it to make to buy a million-dollar (give or take several hundred thousand) decoration, and not be able to use it as an educational institution? Because that’s really what it is.

And then somehow this branched into our dire necessity to buy Smartboards. And also how this will connect students more in the classroom by being able to participate from the comfort of their seats.

I completely disagree.

IWBs do have the wow factor, but unless you can really integrate visual movement on a screen in which it’d be really relevant for you to do that, I don’t think it’s worth half the price to install it. I mean, science, sure. Illustrations of theories, maybe, if you try hard enough. Linguistics: when drawing is involved, or some type of visual movement, as said above.

But that isn’t even the main point I’m trying to argue.

If you really want student engagement, and not just a “Who knows when the war of 1812 happened? Anyone? Anyone?” answered by 3 people out of your 40-person lecture, Smartboards aren’t going to do it. You can even bring in a holograph projector, and it won’t do it. Yeah, your students would be amused for an hour or so, but have they really understood anything?

Do you want real discussion happening in your classroom? Tech isn’t going to cover it, then. If you really want juicy, fruitful discussions, look past the fancy technology. What you’re looking for is a flipped classroom. We’re talking about student-oriented learning environments instead of teacher-directed. That is, have students read whatever they’re supposed to read, or do individually, at home, and the next day, students will be doing activities practicing the material they read the night before, or ask questions first, and the proceed to activities. In universities, this can be roleplaying or discussion.

Oh wait, what’s that? University as a public forum to share and debate ideas? That sounds so crazy it just might work.

Some teachers use Adobe Connect, or create a Wikispace, or use Edmodo (Facebook for educators/students). Some have Twitter discussions, like my tech ed class. Or create a Google group.Community does not lie in technology; it lies in human interactions. 

It’s vital to remember that technology is a tool, and not an end in itself. Not every single thing needs to have technology thrown in that. It’s easy to get caught up in the craze surrounding technology in the classroom, and technology integration, but weigh the consequences. IWBs look amazing, but they definitely aren’t cheap, and neither are Smart Notebook software. How about maintenance fees? Repair fees? Teaching teachers how to use these things? Calibration? Accessory fees?

Technology can help, but if you’re just going to project some stuff on a screen, and you’re going to just circle some stuff or write some letters, a regular whiteboard, LCD projector and some type of laptop/computer would suffice, even produce the same effect as projecting it on a Smartboard.

Honestly, if your lesson doesn’t really require visual movement, a Smartboard is about the most cost-ineffective investment you can think of. Very, very few university learning settings would actually benefit significantly from using an IWB. It will hold the attention of your students for an hour, and then what? Has the technology really helped them grasp a concept? If not, perhaps creating a nurturing, warm and safe learning atmosphere would be better than installing a whiteboard that costs several thousand. Thrusting technology into everything can lead to dire consequences, hindering your students’ learning.

Technology is an amazing tool, but don’t let it control how you learn.You are in charge of your own learning, not some fancy whiteboard. Learning is in the mind, not how sparkly a certain thing is.

After all, giving you a Porsche does not make you a better driver. Why would giving you a fancy whiteboard make you a better teacher, or “better” learner?


One comment on “Smartboards are sort of stupid

  1. Pingback: Turning the tables on flipped classrooms « The Grumpy Giraffe

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This entry was posted on July 12, 2012 by in education, school, teaching and tagged , , , , , .


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