Monday, July 9, 2012

The case against Smartboards

Dr. Gary Stager is the executive director of the Constructivist Consortium and founder of the summer learning institute Constructing Modern Knowledge. He may be reached at gary@constructingmodernknowledge.com. This post first appeared on Tech and Learning here.

by Gary Stager

Interactive White Boards (Smartboards) and their clicker spawn are a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices. Aside from producing an illusion of modernity, interactive whiteboards are a pre-Gutenberg technology; the priest chants while the monks slavishly take dictation on their tablets. They reinforce the dominance of the front of the room and teacher supremacy. At a time of enormous educational upheaval, technological change, and an increasing gulf between adults and children, it is a bad idea to purchase technology that facilitates the delivery of information and increases the physical distance between teacher and learner.

I work in schools all over the world. Many of these schools have installed IWBs on every surface of the facility, including the parking lot and football field, yet they go largely unused. The unfortunate administrative response to this top-down waste of money is to purchase canned curricula provided by the IWB vendors and our friends at the multinational textbook conglomerates. This “content” is an insult to 50-cent flash cards. It focuses on low-level repetition, memorization, and discrete skills devoid of any meaningful content. Some schools proudly show cartoons followed by comprehension quizzes on their IWBs with a self-confidence bordering on parody. The IWB vendor demonstrations at conferences are embarrassing and don’t rise even to the level of toddlers “playing school.” If such “lessons” were presented in a teacher education course, the candidate would now be selling churros.

Worst of all, the remarkable power of computers to liberate learners and construct knowledge is squandered in the service of test-prep and teacher agency.

Here are the inevitable reactions to my argument.

• The kids are so engaged. Twitching is not interaction, and fidgeting is not engagement!

• It’s just a tool. Technology is never neutral. It always influences and shapes behavior. Some teachers may be able to use the IWB in a creative fashion, but this hardly justifies the investment of one for every classroom. The teacher should get an IWB if they can justify its use.

• It all depends on how teachers use it. We don’t buy a chain saw for every teacher. If we did, a few teachers would do brilliant work with the chain saws, a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess. Even in the case of the great teachers, the best we can hope for is one of those bears carved out of a log—not high art.

• You should see it when the kids use the board! That usually means that a kid is permitted to stand up and click on the right answer or present information to the class, effectively substituting one lecturer for another.

• We use it to share student work. Great! Buy a better projector and use that.

• Our ninth graders went to Israel for a month and didn’t miss a math lesson. If your “lesson” can be reduced to screen captures, you’re in trouble; and why not allow kids to have authentic experiences?

16 comments:

  1. I could not agree more!!! I have railed against this waste of technology dollars for years now, and I was just in a school that wanted to go one-to-one (computing), but said it couldn't afford it until they finished putting a "Smart" board in every room--plus they had the smart projector, smart speakers, etc. They probably had $10,000 in each room and could no doubt have financed a one-to-one program twice over. Please scream this message from the top of a mountain for all to hear.

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  2. I enjoyed your post and I think you capture the smart board counter-current well. I have had a smart board in my room for 10 years and I have made quite an investment of time in mastering the tools and potential of the the Smart Board. Last year I starting working with a documant camera and a livescribe pen. I do more lesson capture now than I ever did using the smartboard.

    Just because you can doesn't mean it is good pedagogy.

    Thanks

    Sam @ www.mypaperlessclassroom.org

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  3. Thank you for this post! People love ARGUING. About the positive pedagogical use of IWB. However they fail to see that they are glorified chalkboards / dry - erase boards. All I ever see people using them for is to display content or play games that only one child at a time can interact with. Yuk! Sure, you can turn it into an interactive center, but still...only one child at a time can touch it. You'd get better bang for your buck out of a board game.

    And I see plenty of people using them for this IWB created lessons by textbook companies. Ummm....it takes the teaching out of teaching. And it's no different than teaching from a scripted program or curriculum (which just makes it easier for administrators to check off their list of 'look-fors').

    It does do one thing: it allows people who are afraid to take risks into the uncontrollable www to say they use technology in their classroom.

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  4. I am hoping this post is meant to curb future purchasing of IWB's (which I agree with) as opposed to making people feel bad for having one in their classroom. They are not the best tool out there but I could buy 3 or 4 of those with what we spend on a photocopier, yet schools continue to buy that technology. Where is the anti-photocopier post?

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  6. Gary, I know you know what I am about to say.... I've said it many times before.... but...

    One of the most powerful things I have learnt over the past few years is that there is no such thing as educational technology (including IWBs). These tools, like every other tool in our classroom -whether that be a textbook, 50cent flash cards, postit notes and pens - need to be carefully considered. They need to be repurposed by educators so that they are used meaningfully and effectively.

    I've spent years helping teachers get the best out of IWBs. I agree that many schools bought them because they were 'cool' and the 'in thing'. I don't however agree that IWBs are "investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices." not anymore than a text book, or laptops. There are schools who equally have purchased sets of laptops and just word-process and surf the web, or have iPads filled with apps which "focus.. on low-level repetition, , memorization, and discrete skills devoid of any meaningful content".

    If a teacher is worth their salt in the 21st Century, they will consider the technologies they use in their classroom in connection with the content and Pedagogies they use to delver it (TPACK - tpack.org). Any tool, whether it be a text book etc has the potential to have the same effect. The problem is not the technology… In my view, your argument can be applied to every single piece of technology purchased for any classroom….

    perhaps it's time to start coming up with some constructive frameworks to ensure that all technologies are used effectively… not matter what they are? Have you read the TPACK framework?

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  7. Although I do not agree with the entire post, I do agree with the fact that IWBs like many other learning tools were purchased because they were the new thing and deemed to be cool. Unfortunately, their failure is tied directly to the lack of real training teachers receive in how to use an IWB to enhance their instructional delivery techniques. Typical PD includes one or two days with the vendor followed by inadequate follow-up at the site level, resulting in little usage of the tool in the long run. The lesson in my opinion is to ensure dollars are spent on the best learning support resources, and that teachers are given long term support to enure each tool is maximized to support student learning.

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  8. Although I do not agree with the entire post, I do agree with the fact that IWBs like many other learning tools were purchased because they were the new thing and deemed to be cool. Unfortunately, their failure is tied directly to the lack of real training teachers receive in how to use an IWB to enhance their instructional delivery techniques. Typical PD includes one or two days with the vendor followed by inadequate follow-up at the site level, resulting in little usage of the tool in the long run. The lesson in my opinion is to ensure dollars are spent on the best learning support resources, and that teachers are given long term support to enure each tool is maximized to support student learning.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Although I do not agree with the entire post, I do agree with the fact that IWBs like many other learning tools were purchased because they were the new thing and deemed to be cool. Unfortunately, their failure is tied directly to the lack of real training teachers receive in how to use an IWB to enhance their instructional delivery techniques. Typical PD includes one or two days with the vendor followed by inadequate follow-up at the site level, resulting in little usage of the tool in the long run. The lesson in my opinion is to ensure dollars are spent on the best learning support resources, and that teachers are given long term support to enure each tool is maximized to support student learning.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Although I do not agree with the entire post, I do agree with the fact that IWBs like many other learning tools were purchased because they were the new thing and deemed to be cool. Unfortunately, their failure is tied directly to the lack of real training teachers receive in how to use an IWB to enhance their instructional delivery techniques. Typical PD includes one or two days with the vendor followed by inadequate follow-up at the site level, resulting in little usage of the tool in the long run. The lesson in my opinion is to ensure dollars are spent on the best learning support resources, and that teachers are given long term support to enure each tool is maximized to support student learning.

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  11. White boards are a presentation tool just like a chalk board. The difference is that the breadth of presentation is much wider with a SMART board. The presenter engages the kids, not the board.

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  12. White boards are a presentation tool just like a chalk board. The difference is that the breadth of presentation is much wider with a SMART board. The presenter engages the kids, not the board.

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  13. I appreciate that this conversation is taking place. I agree that SMART technology is a useful tool in its own right, that some people can effectively use this tool but it clearly has not been integrated properly, and that the purchase of this technology for every classroom was a gross miscalculation. The problem I see is a small group of people, who generally work in offices, deciding which technologies will be implemented in classrooms that they have a superficial knowledge of. Teachers, everyday, are integrating different forms of technology to better server their ability to create lessons, perform activities and engage students. Look at what blogging and the use of various websites like Pinterest have done for creative and inquisitive teachers. Why not let individual teachers select which technologies they would like to implement. If a demand exists for a tool that MUST be in every classroom I am certain the policy makers will hear about it.
    To say that these technologies are more engaging than other methods of teaching would be naive and sad. Students are bombarded by technology outside of the school walls everyday; hands-on and creative lessons will stand out and impress the minds of youth. Policy makers should continue (or begin depending on whom you are talking about) researching technological education reform and test the effects of new technologies, allowing the results of testing to speak to educators who can ultimately make decisions based on the needs of the classroom.

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  14. I can do much more with a powerpoint presentation than I can with Smartboard. Plus the learning curve for PowerPoint is much more navigable. I'm a former Powerpoint Instructor and after one day of training I had my class doing things with PP that is much more difficult with Smartboard. And the Smartboard is not even that good a presentation tool - I'd much prefer a 55inch monitor. It would be far brighter, and likely more compatible with the computer's video card. I've seldom see Smartboards set up properly with the correct brightness/contrast and resolution. In fact, at our school, many of our classroom computers can't support a Smartboard's native resolution.

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  15. Hello Gary,

    I do agree with your point about how the effectiveness of interactive whiteboards depends on how the teachers use it. I think that many teachers do not use these whiteboard to their advantage and those who want to use them do not have them! I think schools should be more selective when buying these whiteboards. The teachers should have to apply, train, and learn how to use the software in order to be considered for a whiteboard. Maybe even having a competition within the school where teachers have to create Smartboard lessons and get Smartboards based on how well they can use them!

    I also do not think that the interactive whiteboards are creating more space between the teachers and the students. I think it is actually doing the latter! Since I am a math teacher, I will use an example of adding and subtracting like terms. Students can come up to the board and drag the terms in an expression to group the like terms together. Then another student can write the new expression with the like terms combined. Then another student can drag and move the terms into proper standard form for polynomials. Being able to drag and drop is a great tool to help visual learners see how to physically combine like terms instead of just writing and rewriting the expressions on paper.

    This is new technology and just like with any new tool, we need time to play and make it more effective. Give it time! I think this is the way that teaching is moving and we need to bring out our creative teaching methods to make it great!

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