Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Smart are SMARTBoards?

I occasionally get emails or phones calls from friends who are administrators or other school leaders in smaller, private schools. They may not be able to have a full-time tech coordinator (or even a part-time tech coordinator! Sometimes the principal is "the guy" for their school...) so they come to me in search of advice on their tech needs and concerns.

Since I've served as a tech coordinator in a larger (but not "large") Christian school, I understand at least some of the challenges they are facing, so I'm always willing to help out if I can. And...I have opinions...

I recently got this email from a principal friend:


Currently, we have SMART boards in about half of our classrooms. As we contemplate moving forward, I’m wondering if you can give some input to help us make a decision moving forward. We have 6 classrooms that do not have smart boards in them. I’m wondering about the future. Are SMART boards still the best tool to use in a classroom or is there something better out there? Are smart boards on their way out? 

Being a small school, I don’t have a technology director so am left to fend for myself when it comes to making decisions regarding the implementation of technology. Any input you can give would be much appreciated. 

This was a great question, I thought. I am honestly sort of wondering the same thing. Here is what I wrote back to him:

This is a great question. My initial gut reaction is that SMARTBoards are not (quite) “on their way out” just yet, but I’m also not sure that they are worth the investment. Honestly, one of the things that haunts me from my time as Tech Coordinator is the huge chunk of money we plunked down to put a SMARTBoard in every single classroom in the school. The reason it haunts me is that most teachers really only used the things as very expensive overhead projectors. I mean, the technology is great, and interactive, and all that, but it really is a single-user device, and a pricey one at that. And most of the teachers at our school were using it to do things that they could literally do with a $300 overhead projector, instead of the $3000ish we spent per SMARTBoard. 
In retrospect, I think I should have pushed for getting each classroom 5-6 iPads (or some other device) where the technology is closer to the students. It’s not that kids can’t (or don’t) use the SMARTBoards; they can, and they do. But more often than not in my experience, it’s the teachers using the boards rather than the students. Again, in and of itself, that isn’t a bad thing…but I wonder if it’s truly going to be transformative for students’ learning? I guess I’m suspicious. I’m generalizing, of course, but it seems that the teachers I’ve seen use the SMARTBoards the best with the kids are primary teachers, grades K-2. In the 3-8 classrooms, it tended to be just the teachers using the tech. I will say that I think having a video projector is a fantastic tool in the classroom with lots of possibilities. But does it need to be attached to an interactive whiteboard? 
I had some board members and the administrator from another Christian school get in touch with me a year or so ago to ask tech questions too, and as a result of our conversation, I wound up writing a blog post giving my advice for schools developing a technology plan. You can read it here, if you might find it beneficial:   
I’m not sure if that’s the kind of answer you were looking for, so please ask more questions if there are things I can clarify. I certainly won’t claim to have all the answers! :-) But I’m happy to play consultant if I can help. 
Peace to you,

What do you think? Did I give him the right advice here? Or are interactive whiteboards still the way to go? Just how smart are SMARTBoards for schools in 2015?

Image by Rebecca Morrison [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]


  1. Dave, I think that is good advice. We never did get smart boards ("Are you smarter than the board?"), instead investing in projectors and iPads for teachers and students. If a smart board is used well, it can have a huge impact, but I think you're insightful in your analysis that too often they are not used to their full advantage. I had an administrator question an investment recently and asked about the same thing, after he visited a nearby school that had one, and they showed off "what it could do", but could not demonstrate any of those features in actual use in the classroom. Aside from that, I have some objections... you have to install them at a height within teacher reach, which creates a problem for students in the back row. Also, the teacher stands in front of it, another obstruction. I'd rather install a screen as high as possible, in some of our classrooms the teacher can be directly in front of the screen and not obstruct the view. It also really depends on training and the teacher's comfort and accountability in using the tool, whatever it is.

  2. I really don't see the value of investing in iPads as they too are seen as individualistic devices and does not promote a true collaborative learning environment. Furthermore, how can a teacher manage or know what a student is doing on the iPad when there are no monitoring agent tools that supercede the IOS software? Kids are quite tech saavy today, so you've essentially allowed them to potentially iMessage each other during classroom sessions.

    1. Anonymous,

      I'd encourage you to explore the use of iPads in the classroom. Your statement that iPads "are seen as individualistic devices and does not promote a true collaborative learning environment" may have been true three years ago, but that has changes significantly. Apple's free iPad configurator allows for devices to be placed in supervision mode which can restrict several apps and components of the iPad (iMessage and many more) that may be challenging for teachers to monitor.

  3. I have the best Smart boards for my classrooms

    Using smart boards in your classroom can help you stay ahead with technology..