I read a twitter post recently that referenced this article: https://tinyurl.com/2ftkz7c entitled, “SMART Boards Becoming Classroom Staples

I have a few issues to raise with this article, I want to explore the idea of what we expect as a return on investment from interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and put up for discussion the general idea of what a large display should do in classrooms.  I have this conversation with @ugaodawg often and he has helped me to examine what my core beliefs are about large displays (further proof your PLN is strengthened by someone who challenges you).

First, to critically read the article,

can’t imagine teaching without SMART Boards, even though she did it for 25 years

Notice that the subject of the article is talking about making her job easier, not necessarily making learning easier.  In a sense that is okay.  There are two types of educational technology use: Type 1 make it faster or more convenient to continue teaching and traditional ways and Type 2 results in new ways of teaching students ways that could not happen without that technology present (Maddux & Johnson).

connected to the teacher’s computer

My only point here is that the teacher is still a bottle-neck of control.  If this is the only computer in the classroom that may have to be the case, but consider how students might view the IWB differently if it was not in fact “the teachers” computer?

upper-level math teacher at Knoxville High School and certified SMART Board instructor, says SMART Boards are changing the way teachers do their jobs and widely diversifying the learning environment for their students

I am currently prejudiced against IWBs in secondary classrooms, there I said it.  Let’s agree to come back to that point.

Here again we are talking about making the job of teacher easier. It is a Type 1 technology.

50 percent of it is a help to the teacher, and the other 50 percent is student participation and their engagement

Not focusing on the 50% that helps the teacher, let’s examine the student participation and engagement.  The article refers to one-at-a-time interactions such as logging in to take a quiz, helping a substitute teacher ‘play’ the lesson, the multi-sensory stimulation.  I have a couple of thoughts on this.  Is it really appropriate for high school students to be taking a quiz while the rest of the class sits at their desks?  I mean this in the sense that the lone student at the board is not likely to feel as comfortable taking risks and may actually dread that type of experience.  Developmentally that age student with that intricate of curriculum might not be the perfect storm for one-at-a-time quizzing in front of the class.  The rest of the hype here has the potential to fade away in a few years and if it doesn’t reveal a compelling reason for switching to this technology will just be the expensive whiteboard which may also be the reason you can’t get/afford any other new technology. This is a perfect non-example of developmental appropriateness and return on investment.

Knoxville has 72 SMART Boards, one in every classroom, and while … considers … a leader in using the board, …maintains that nearly 70 percent of other teachers, including KHS history teacher … …, are just as enthusiastic about their boards as she is.

This raises two questions with me.  First, did all teachers get the IWBs whether or not they were enthusiastic?  How can a HS Math teacher train a K-12 system appropriately?  There *have* to be differences in the way K and HS use this tool.  And if these were just given to all classrooms, what is even worse, is that there *have* to be people not using them any different than their overhead projector.

…uses the board nearly every day, whether it’s creating a virtual field trip through Paris for her world cultures class, illustrating the movement of battles for her United States history class, or even just for vocabulary lessons and class notes.

Check them off with me: teacher-created/centered or student-created/centered? If these are not student-created/centered, then could they have been carried out with something less expensive?

as interactive with the students as possible … know how to use the SMART Board and are getting that sense of ownership

This is what I want to hear, that students are using the IWB to create.  I want to hear that students are the primary users in every class, because otherwise a lot of money has been spent on a teacher tool.

It gets them to pay attention, and it’s just that visualization for our visual learners. It’s right up there on the board, and it makes my life a lot easier.

Easier for whom?

she is able to save the day’s lessons to the SMART Board and leave directions for the substitute or have a student help, making it so she can maintain a presence in the classroom when she is away.

Type 1 use, making the job of teacher easier.  Type 2 use might be if students taught the lesson the next day instead of the absent teacher still the center of the lesson.

she’s able to draw shapes, lines and parabolas with her fingertip. In an advanced math class Wednesday, she used the TI-83 Plus function, displaying a graphing calculator on the screen that’s identical to her students’ calculators, and walked them through the problem, inserting the variables as her students followed along. In the past she would have walked to each student and helped them individually.

Okay, the teacher is able to do all those things. Great.  She is now relieved from individually interacting with the students. Oh My.  This may just be the person writing the article adding this emphasis.  Picture the last high school math class you took.  The teacher walks you through the problem and asks if anyone has any questions.  Bueller? Now what if that teacher walked to your desk and asked to see you do the problem?  This model may be more developmentally appropriate in another setting, but not HS.

teachers are more organized

*insert your own comment here*

able to take students to a website as a class, rather than having them in a computer lab situation where 20 students quickly find themselves in 20 different places

Refreshing, a case against differentiation.  No, seriously, I understand the point, but again these are HS students.  Assuming there is still a lab left to go to and they are not just using their own devices to get there it isn’t all that terrible that different kids are at different places.  I think this could also be solved with a classroom management strategy.

the kindergarten and first grade classrooms not only have SMART Boards, but also SMART Tables.

If you have followed my logic this far, you might be willing to take this next leap with me.  We already spend more on lower elementary classrooms, with a lower teacher to student ratio.  The rationale is present.  I think we can expect to pay more in these classrooms for appropriate technologies, but expect some savings as a district by narrowing the range of grade levels to which we apply that solution. Are you still smarting for that SMART Table price?  Well, then at least consider that maybe the lower elementary grades are the *only* grades that should have an IWB at all.

I can have up to eight students around the SMART Table doing an exercise with money, and some might be doing a spelling game at the SMART Board, and they rotate

If you every want to know what Blended Learning is, visit an elementary classroom with some technology which can support a center/rotation/station.  This is how you use an IWB, groups of learners (at an appropriate age for risk-taking in a group) actually using the technology to create or interact with content. Do you need both? No, but you do need at least one.

but in the new year, they will convert to having a SMART Board in every classroom.

Any staff will have some hold outs, but they too will get IWBs in this district.  They will be the worst return on investment, they will be horrible for morale, they will be the next article in the paper when it is time to buy more technology and a bond/tax is being considered.  But they will get one too.

Now, I do agree an IWB is superior to the Mimio device mentioned, but maybe they could take the IWBs they currently have and reinstall them in all/select lower grade classrooms first and then outfit the secondary classrooms with the Mimios since they don’t sound like they have as intense student interaction?

How to Display?
Most of the items discussed in this article could have been carried out using a significantly less expensive large flat screen (TV) display.  As prices of these continue to plummet for larger and larger screens it is worth a look.
Does every classroom need a large display? YES.  The large display needs to be for consumption of whole group information.
Does it need to be an IWB? MAYBE, but only if it is developmentally appropriate and the students will actually interact with the IWB, otherwise  NO.

Who gets Which Type of Display?
Vrasidas and Glass suggest three ingredients that must be present for classroom learning to become meaningful: student directed learning, socially constructed, and continuous.   This supports the difference between Type I and Type II educational technologies.  Technology should be student centered; it is not instructional technology unless students are using it to direct their learning.  It should not be a one-at-a-time technology, but have some element of collaboration.

The way students are grouped across K-12 is not accidental; it is socially constructed in fact.  Schlechty points out that students in early elementary are less averse to academic risk-taking behavior than secondary students.  Partially due to this, teachers design instruction in a whole/small group setting.  Students are more focused on the approval of the teacher than of his/her peers.  This outlook on academic risk-taking behavior shifts in the secondary grades; students now care more about what one another think than what the teacher thinks.  The chance of a pre/teenager taking an academic risk in front of peers diminishes, making and IWB not student centered, non-collaborative, not interactive, and not as effective in the upper grades.

Schlechty also suggests that teachers overestimate levels of engagement.  Students are sure to look at the new, shiny IWB, but are they engaged?  How deeply?  And if this is used in a HS classroom for the “engagement” are those teachers trivializing the material?  Schlechty wonders if educators attempting to make content more interesting are trivializing it; valuing entertainment over educational value?  Good points, points that make me suggest a large display in the form of a flat screen TV.

Developmentally appropriate technology development assures future classroom/technology funding.  Technology only costs us money if we do not apply what we know about teaching to the circumstances of when to use which technology.  Do not give away your credibility as an educator just because it seems fair that everyone get the same technology, insist on the appropriate technology.

I propose that the younger the better when it comes to IWBs.  Realistically, I recommend K – 1 always, and older on an as-needed basis.  Another suspicion I have is that the lower the SES of the student complicates that recommendation; students with lower SES grow up faster, the sooner a student makes the transition from seeking approval of the teacher to seeking approval of peers.

If all staff get an IWB the message is that this is not something to be tailored to your student audience.  It also does not compel any action on the part of these teachers.  Since the IWB are standard issue there is not a perceived need to rise to any challenge, to take your teaching to the next level; everyone must be doing a fine job and will be encouraged to keep doing the same job now with this tool.  Better for educational leaders to be brave and try out pilot groups within schools or grade levels.

Do we judge on what they do or what they should do?  It is a belief of mine that with the proper distributed training over a good span of time teachers can be trained to use any tool efficiently (if they can’t that becomes an administrators job to relieve them of their position).   However, I deal with the reality of limited resources daily.  Training in technology is doubly important in managing a district’s limited resources.  If the district has purchased a substantial amount of technology and is providing training and/or professional development to its teachers then students in class must be impacted proportionally to the amount of resources used. So, the question that I do not know the answer to is, should only teachers that are already proving themselves receive these IWBs or should the offer be extended to teachers that “could” do it with the proper dedication and training?

Return on Investment?
While eBeam or Mimio (not truly IWBs) start at under $1,000 most IWB range $3,000-4,000.   Large flat screen televisions continue to dip in price (CNN Money, lower right).  If teachers can use a large screen TV they should do so.  I suggest the cost of an IWB is not justifiable unless the case for student centered creation, collaboration can be made.  Consider also the recurring cost of replaced bulbs, the comparison of hours on a bulb versus a TV, the cumbersome size of  the IWB for the teacher that is only using it his/herself.  I think you begin to see the IWB should be used in isolated instances.

Large TV Displays continue to Decline in Price

Johnson, D. L., & Maddux, C. D. (2006). Type II Uses of Technology in Education: Projects, Case Studies, and Software Applications. New York: Routledge

Schlechty, P.C. (2001) Shaking up the Schoolhouse. San Francisco: Jossey-Baas

Vrasidas, C., & Glass, G.V. (2005). Preparing teachers to teach with technology.
Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.