Smart Boards excepted, right?

From EdTechResearcher by way of Audrey Watters at Hack Education:

In general, our findings cohere with 30 years of educational technology research. There are a handful of teachers who make remarkable use of new technologies, but for the most part, when teachers adopt new technologies, they use them to extend existing practices rather than to develop innovative practices.

As a dear colleague of mine once noted in a Smart Board session, “It’s just like the chalkboard; it’s the teacher’s worksheet.”

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9 responses to “Smart Boards excepted, right?

  1. One powerful use of smartboards (in fact, the feature I was very excited by twelve years ago when I was about to get one – but didn’t because I took another job) is its ability to save and reload whatever is currently displayed. While it’s obvious that the reloading/loading saves teachers time putting up pre-loaded lessons and their own previous boardwork, the exciting part is saving and reloading STUDENT work for future analysis and discussion.

    I have never had a classroom with a Smartboard, so I don’t have experience to cite. But of course even if I did, n=1 isn’t worth much. I don’t have formal data to cite either, but in the previous decade of doing math coaching in grades 4-12, I have yet to observe a teacher saving/reloading student work. That sad reality supports your implication.

  2. Yeah, Michael, so here’s something strange about Smart Boards. That’s not a feature of the board; it’s a feature of the software. But Smart fancies itself a hardware producer, so it hasn’t designed the software to do much of anything without the board.

    If we were designing the ideal piece of software to do what you’re suggesting, I’m not at all convinced that it would require a Smart Board to run on, and I doubt that it would look very much like Smart Notebook at all.

  3. As I said, I have no experience with these things other than occasional access in someone’s classroom. As I don’t plan anything around having a Smartboard or equivalent, particularly as I work in one school where only some of the math teachers have one and another with none of them do, I generally just reflect on what I see done with them by those who have them. And I have noted that the software has lots of bells, whistles, and some actually useful (if not unique to Smartboards) applications. I didn’t know who made the software, and it sounds like you have animus against the company. Does that hold for all their competitors?

    That said, what do you imagine would be an alternative that would allow the sort of capture and reloading of student work I’m interested in seeing more widely used? Do you think the reason I don’t see teachers using that ability is that they’re unaware of it or simply don’t value being able to make use of it? My instinct is that it’s some of both, but more of the latter. In a place like Japan, however, the pedagogical philosophy suggests they would make lots of use of this, though of course they’re managing to use chalkboards to good advantage.

    One low-tech alternative is to have all work done on chart paper and simply save and remount it, though storing it, being able to pull the right paper quickly and easily, keeping things well-preserved, etc., might be rather cumbersome.

    From my perspective, the key issue isn’t high- vs. low-tech, but rather teachers doing whatever it takes to make better use of student work. One advantage of digital capture is, of course, that it makes things much easier to share with both other faculty in one’s school and the greater educational community. And that extends to parents, students, administrators, and other stake holders. I’m quite clear that there are lots of companies pushing pricey software and hardware that isn’t any sort of magic bullet, no matter what the high-sounding rhetoric might be that promotes the products. There are lots of reasons to be more skeptical about high-tech panaceas and wasteful spending of precious financial resources by people too lazy or unintelligent to think through their choices. I wish there were more emphasis on using student thinking in mathematics classrooms as a linchpin in instructional strategies. But surely this need not be an either-or situation. It still comes back, for me, to what teachers view as worth doing and their commitment to doing it. Twenty years into my career as a mathematics teacher-educator, I remain frustrated by the vast amount of indifferent teaching and worse I see all the time and that so many practitioners and administrators think that it’s simply a matter of degrees of the same old same old: there are really good shitty math teachers and really shitty shitty math teachers: the notion of degrees of meaningful, quality mathematics instruction seems chimerical.

  4. Michael, I appreciate your observation about high-tech/low-tech. I agree that this is a red herring.

    If capturing student work for use later on is a virtue (and I think that it is), then we ought to ask, which tools will be helpful in doing that?. But rhetoric around Smart Boards (and their brethren) rarely does this. Instead, we argue for the tool, and then back fill reasons (such as that it allows us to capture student work for use in later instruction). We don’t tend to start with the reasons.

    You observe, for instance, that poster paper is a good tool for this stated purpose. And I concur. It has limitations (search and storage are tough, for instance) and it has affordances (we can compare multiple examples side-by-side, which is not possible on a Smart Board, and multiple students can produce documents simultaneously, which is again harder on a Smart Board).

    And if you want to capture student work electronically, an iPod touch costs a lot less than a Smart Board. I can photograph student work, email it or dump it up into the cloud and make it accessible in any application for instruction or sharing. Same goes for video. And again, students can all be producing simultaneously, then I use my Touch to capture the finished product.

    That’s how technology ought to work. We ought to identify instructional problems that need solving, and then making intelligent choices about the tools to use to solve those problems. But it’s not the norm at all. Not in K-12, and not in higher ed.

    We tend to adopt the tool uncritically and use it without a tremendous amount of creativity. We extend current practices rather than use tools to change our practices. And frankly? I’d be a lot happier seeing more meaningful use of poster paper in more math classrooms. Let’s save the spending on Smart Boards until we’ve got that nailed down, shall we?

  5. Pingback: It’s not just me (Smart Boards) | Overthinking my teaching

  6. Pingback: On Kindles, iPads, SmartBoards, Prometheans and Apps in the Classroom | woodshopcowboy

  7. I have had a Promethean Board for about 7 years and a weird thing has happened. I loved it for a while, now I don’t really care and the other day when my projector bulb blew and I taught from the whiteboard, the class liked it better and so did I. I am so used to using it and it is convenient but its like comparing the sound of a record on a really good turntable to the sound of a CD, it loses something.

  8. I use the board to lay out my lessons. I know it’s an expensive tool but they gave it to me. I can pre-write out examples and have kids do them, or I do them. If I find a good video or picture I insert that in the appropriate spot. Sometimes I save notes for a sick kid or kid who can’t write and send them to them or record what I write with my voice. It is handy.

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