Jan 17, 2007

Smartboards vs. Computers

So far, the responses to the question, "If you had the choice between 5-6 new computers or an interactive whiteboard and projector for your classroom, which would you choose and why?" have been very interesting! I must admit, I have been a little surprised - I expected a bit more diversity. Barring the, "I don't have the space" issue, most of the focus, up to now has been on the teaching side, rather than an argument for learning. I think the big question is, "which would affect learning in a greater way?"

Based on the responses, it would seem that the projector is a slam dunk - everyone thinks that would be a huge benefit. But the argument for the boards is a little less clear cut. I'm curious about the lasting impact. Once the "wow" factor has worn off, do they truly offer enough benefit over a projector alone to outweigh the cost? What if the question choices were 6 computers vs. 3-4 and a projector vs. projector and board?

Getting back to my prior assertion about learning, I think it's safe to say everyone agrees that explorative, project based learning is the most effective. In fact, there are schools whose curricular focus is almost entirely project based popping up all over the country, with parents scrambling to get their kids enrolled in them. Learning resources are becoming more individualized and interactive, and more and more products becoming web based (think Renaissance Learning and Scholastic, for example.) Textbooks are getting thinner, leaning more heavily on media and individualized tracks. In short, the focus is growing on the learner more than the learners.

I understand that this represents somewhat of a philosophical shift from traditional test focused, lesson based instruction, but I believe it is an inevitable evolution of the modern classroom. Considering all this, wouldn't more computers offer a better environment for learning projects, and the development of 21st century skills?

Comments? Opinions?


Post a Comment
  1. Computers are an excellent tool for exploration and self guided learning, but if they were so fantastic, why not push for federal funds to put one computer in each home for each child? There's something to be said for guidance. But as teachers, we want flexibility. The smartboard is definitely a wow device, but so too was the whiteboard. The smartboard allows posting the same notes from the board to an internet site for reference which has a greater potential than even the white board. Building visuals on a computer can still be very cumbersome. Writing the notes on a smartboard and saving them will remove that difficulty.

    Finally, let's consider the cost and durability. I don't think the world is too far from discarding text books altogether, but that's not going to happen until a few imporant technological advances occur. 1. Computers need to be smaller and more versatile... like tablet PC's. 2. They need to be more durable, which is happening, but not to the point where it can survive a year in a classroom, much less a backpack. 3. They need to do it for less, per student, than the cost of a set of textbooks.

    If you offered me a set of these computers, I'd be all over them. But, for now, I'll take the device that allows me to share and save more efficiently moving me closer to a paperless world.

  2. Hi Jim,

    At this point, I would rather have the additional computers and a projection system. I think students need to use the internet and computer technology rather that "watch" it to gain the most from it. Using the smart board engages just a limited number of students as they come to the front of the room to use it.

    Additionally, I think that very shortly a device, like the cell phone will become the next "personal" computer. I see kids thumb texting all the time, they input data faster than they type.

    They watch videos on their ipod and the tiny screens don't seem to bother them. I see the cell phone or a like device becoming the next tool in the class room for research and computation.

    The students could keep this device in their desk, much like a calculator.

    The technology just has to evolve to the point where virtual access to popular word processing, presentation and other application software programs, that way these programs need not reside on the local device and memory will not be an issue. I envision a pluggable card storage for data only, which can then be inserted into a pc or printer.

    In the meantime, more computers please....

  3. I've been following this discussion and still struggle with what my choice would be. Jim mentions Project based learning and I feel very strongly about a movement in teaching that lends itself to helping student become problem solvers which PBL does.
    We also have to address how we, as teachers, need to move away from the direct teaching and allow for more exploration by student.
    Marc Prensky coined the terms Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Our students are the Digital Natives who have grown up in a world filled with amazing technology devices and have changed the way they learn and access information. Teachers, as Digital Immigrants, need to work on learning and adapting to this new type of learning. This like all our ELL students is not easy or fast.
    Only time will tell which would be the better choice.
    Give me a ceiling mounted LCD projector and a laptop and I can take students all over the world.

  4. As a student teacher who has to choose which item to ask for through grants, my choice is solidly with a smartboard. I have witnessed classrooms where computers are present for individual use and I am not impressed, neither are the teachers I have observed. The computers separate the students from the teachers and each other. They do not promote group learning any more than smartboards do.Smartboards last longer than computers and are more economical. The learning content is created by a teacher who has all the diversity of the internet to choose from and should be a life long learner constantly looking for imporvment to meet differentiated needs and multiple learning styles. Try to get that out of a canned computer program. The computers require expensive software to try to meet someone's needs and interests. And the computers quickly go out of date at great expense. Computer programs do have big success stories like the Read 180 programs in our schools. Here the application is very specific and uniform, but the cost per child is prohibitive and puts the cost of education further and further under the control of educational sales companies. The cost of a smartboard, projector, and computer for the teacher is minimal when divided by 150 (approximate number of students per life of equipment).More than anything I hear from teachers using computers and smartboards is the statement something like my ability to engage the class and keep them engaged is much better with a smartboard. The students with diverse backgrounds living on the edge of poverty do not respond well to freedom in the classroom. They respond well to structure and consistancy. Lastly, smartboards give the teacher the best opportunity to enhance instruction for all efficiently. This is the only tool I have seen that looks to be able to allow teachers to do something better in less time with more student attentiveness. Keeping them engaged in the process is more important than anything.

  5. Hmm. I have a problem with "I have witnessed classrooms where computers are present for individual use and I am not impressed, neither are the teachers I have observed. The computers separate the students from the teachers and each other. They do not promote group learning any more than smartboards do." The majority of your argument seems to be focused around delivery, or teacher centered learning, with pretty strong evidence that the only computer activity you have witnessed/considered in a classroom being drilling, surfing the web, and individualized work. In a sense, you are viewing computers as simply a replacement for paper, pencil, and book. If that is all computers are good for, then I am in complete agreement with you - the smartboard is a better choice.If, however, you take the student centered, constructivist approach to learning, in which the teacher guides their students through their learning experience through collaborative projects, experiential discovery, and reflective content creation (ie results,) then the computers become a vehicle for the development of skills, rather than merely a mechanism for delivery of content. I would suggest, if you have the opportunity, that you visit a classroom like Mr. Chris Bague's 6th grade class here at Saugus, where students work together to develop science podcasts discussing topics outside the curriculum. Or Ms. Sharon Wagner's 2nd grade class, where students collaborate in groups to develop and create stories for her Reader's Theatre (complete with sound effects!) Or perhaps Mrs. Paulette Oculam's 5th grade class, where students develop the New Colony News, a newscast from the dawn of our great nation. Or even, Mrs. Covert-Hein's 6th grade class, where students are exercising their creative writing skills in a public forum. And how about some of the great work outside of Saugus, such as Vicky Davis's Flat Classroom Project, where students interact internationally. These are not solo projects that isolate students and remove them from the learning environment, these are students and teachers actively engaged in the learning process. I can understand, given today's emphasis on testing, how one might come to the conclusion that school is to be a place where facts are merely delivered, in the hope that students will be able to regurgitate them accurately on a bubble-in test. But if we step back for a minute, and focus on creating students who are thinkers instead of memorizers, I think we'll find that they not only perform well on the tests, but also thrive in all aspects of their lives. I think the focus on student engagement through enhanced delivery is misplaced, for there is nothing quite so powerful as an engaged teacher leading his/her students down a transcendent path of experiential discovery.

  6. yes i am a student my class has a smartboard and we all like it very much but they are really alot of money!$

  7. Formerly being a Special Eduaction teacher for eight years, I have watched through those years the vast number of students that were being referred to me. The point being that if even one-fourth of your classroom, no matter the situation, are being referred than how the students are being taught should be questioned. We are a global world but that does not mean that putting a SMART board into a classroom should even replace anything else. We are in a society that we will spend alot of money for the one answer-the tool that will do the teaching, incorporate critical thinking skills, and have all our kids be world powers by age 12. SMART boards are a better solution if you are looking for whole class learning but ask yourself this how is it any different from the chalk boards and dry erase boards we all learned on, didn't the teacher spend more time with her/his back facing us. So in essence except that technology has found a way to make an interactive chalkboard but don't think for a minute that teaching has been made easier or learning more efficient, students still need tangible items for the lower order thinking skills and create the ability for comprehension.

  8. Having fooled around now for a bit with my improvised semi-smart-board, I have come to the conclusion (for myself at any rate), that for upper-grade students who can operate a computer, it seems to make very little difference how they interface with a computer during a lesson. For a lesson that involves student participation with an application or document that is projected at the front of the classroom, I've tried the following: students come to the front of the class and use the computer there to interact; wireless mouse where students interact at their desk, and direct interaction with the projected image.To summarize my observations, the more novel the interaction, the more focused on the interaction style the students are. In other words, the more unfamiliar the input method, the more the students are focused on that and the less they focus on the cognitive task. The direct interaction with the image is the most novel, so kids seem to pay the least attention to the lesson and instead focus on how fun it is to move stuff around on the projection. Obviously, this probably means nothing since whatever you tend to do in your classroom will quickly become less novel the more you do it. So if there's a conclusion to be made here, if you have a novel and new approach, give it time. Don't judge it prematurely because you will probably be disappointed at first.Another observation that I made was, that the interactivity of the application was what had the biggest effect on student motivation, participation, and achievement. When I designed a good lesson that had interactivity built into it, the students were engaged. That should be expected- any lesson that involves the students, will be more successful. It is for this reason that I think some educators prefer their Smartboards. The Smartboards come with a suite of interactive programs.For me, it stands to reason then that there is no silver bullet technology that will make or break achievement. In the end, it is the quality of our lesson design and in this case design of the technology component that is most important. With limited resources available to buy these kinds of interactive programs (and I'm not sure what exists- they're hard to find) it would be great if we could leverage the power of this community to create and share technology pieces to go with our lessons.

  9. The bigger question is - what is more useful for teaching students computer technology skills -- having a computer class with a certified computer teacher where specific computer skills are taught (word processing, spreadsheets, databases, Internet Safety, Information Literacy, webpages, typing, etc) OR just saying "we'll cut the few computer classes the students get and just give an ELA teacher, etc a Smartboard and then hope that students are learning computer skills. This is what some schools are doing to save money on teachers. But lets be clear - a Smartboard does NOT teach kids any computer skills - its like a big mouse pad that the teacher/students touch. This does not teach any computer skills and yet schools are claiming smartboards make them compliant with 21st Century computer skills.... baloney!

  10. Kathy, my school here in Adelaide, Australia have had six ActivBoards inltslaed and have budgeted for six more in 2006. To help with our own learning journey I administrate a blog called where we share experiences, post useful links and resources. We would welcome any comments or traffic that comes our way.

Post a Comment