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Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative

When you get called to post by “The Innovative Educator,” you post.

I 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 (and there’s some wow factor there that might amuse students for an hour), 2) and it makes saving content on the whiteboard a little more efficient.  (You can essentially use Microsoft OneNote and press “Save” with a projector and get the same love.  Or, you could use an Overhead Projector, a transparency, and a scanner.  Or, you could take a picture of the whiteboard with a camera and save it to Evernote.  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.
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.

1) With a Smartboard, the teacher 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; 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 remediate 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.

One Response to “Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative”

  1. Pconrad September 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    Why is this post on such an interesting and timely topic so casually written? What is happening at the end of that list of slash-separated items?
    “…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.”

    This doesn't strike me as a useful comment on use or misuse of IWB's — just a call for us all to “start working towards re-imagining what’s possible” in education.

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