Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative

By Michael Staton
Cross posted at

See full size imageI roll my eyes every time I hear people talk about putting Smartboards in the classroom. Ugh….

Don’t get me wrong, Smartboards are cool. They are just the least cost-effective way to improve learning I’ve ever seen. (Except for building new physical plant, that’s worse.)

We need to acknowledge that all a Smartboard does is:

1) Instead of using the mouse at the keyboard to interact with content, the presenter can stand at the board (without access to a keyboard) and there’s some wow factor there that might amuse students for an hour.

2) It enables you to efficiently save content on the whiteboard, though you can do this without a Smartboard in various other ways i.e. screenshot, screencast, use Microsoft OneNote and press “Save” with a projector. Or, you could use an Overhead Projector, a transparency, and a scanner. Or, you could take a picture of the whiteboard with a camera. The reality is the “save the brainstorm” possibilities are endless on a much smaller budget.


Here are my two arguments:

  1. Smartboards don’t change the model that’s broken. They just make that model way more expensive.
    • With a Smartboard, the teacher usually still controls the content, stands in front of a classroom, and has to manage a bunch of kids through a lesson plan they’d rather not be managed through. It doesn’t give kids an adaptive learning environment, doesn’t differentiate instruction (though it does make it a little more media savvy), doesn’t enable social feedback, doesn’t reduce teacher workload, doesn’t make lesson planning more efficient, yada yada. It just makes the whiteboard a little more attractive.

  2. Smartboards are an administrative cop out. Administrators like Smartboards because when they spend money on technology they need to spend a lot of it and it needs to be on things they can point to and count.
    • Instead of re-imagining what school/classrooms/learning looks like/the student-teacher relationship, they write proposals with line-items, they spend money and buy things. Administrators get evaluated on test outcomes, true, (not learning outcomes), but they also get evaluated on anything else that can fit into spreadsheets and reports. A senior administrator can ask: “Why do you need more money?” and a junior administrator can say “Because we want to buy Smartboards.” This is convenient, because if you want to ask for additional resources, you need to specify how you are going to spend the money. Saying “I would like an extra 200K to experiment with ways to improve learning outcomes” just doesn’t cut the cheese. It’s also doubly convenient because an administrator can look moderately successful just by spending that money on what they said they would spend it on. ”Test scores are up 1%! And, we bought as many as 30 Smartboards!!!!” It’s less risky to buy objects you can count than spend money on more ambitious initiatives – like, let’s say, reading and math remediation for students supposedly at grade level.

Having said those two things, if I was teaching I would be thankful for a Smartboard only because I’m a gadget geek. Personally, though, I’d rather everyone in our education system start working towards re-imagining what’s possible.

Related Posts:

Erase Unnecessary Costs by Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard

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