Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative

By Michael Staton
Cross posted at

See full size imageI 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 (without access to a keyboard) and there’s some wow factor there that might amuse students for an hour.

2) It enables you to efficiently save content on the whiteboard, though you can do this without a Smartboard in various other ways i.e. screenshot, screencast, use Microsoft OneNote and press “Save” with a projector. Or, you could use an Overhead Projector, a transparency, and a scanner. Or, you could take a picture of the whiteboard with a camera. The reality is 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.
    • With a Smartboard, the teacher usually 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. 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.
    • 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 remediation 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.

Related Posts:

Erase Unnecessary Costs by Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard


  1. I couldn't agree with you more whole heartedly. When ever I am yet to find a salesperson who can show me any genuine advantage of a smartboard.

  2. I seeing what you are saying about how SmartBoards are just doing things differently then what we have done before. However I love used the SmartBoard for two main reasons. 1) It allows you to save all your work and be able to print them off to your students who were absent. 2) It keeps the students engaged in the lesson. However you did present some very good points.

  3. @bdiehl001, thank you so much for responding. I think this is a really interesting topic and I'm interested in the perspective of other innovative educators.

    In response to your points, 1) you don't need a Smartboard to save and print your work. There are endless ways to do that for free. 2) I'm not convinced that using a Smartboard keeps students more engaged then using a Tablet and projector. In fact I believe teachers can be more effective and engaging without the 2K gadget and instead getting off the stage and having contact with a keyboard and their student's eyes.

    1. I would like to add to #2. If you are trying to keep students engaged you are probably lecturing and you should try a different, more innovative teaching practice (project based learning, making, inquiry approach to learning). Try to limit the amount of time you are talking to the class rather than questioning them about what they are doing.

  4. I agree! I've seen money spent on Smartboards to have them just act as very expensive screens. Even if they are used as "interactive" it's only one student at a time.

    I have a Mimio that I use to capture what's on the board. I like the tablet for it better. I also like using my remote control better because I'm not stuck at the board. I can walk the room and talk with my students.

    I also think that Smartboards make more teachers do presentations instead of group work and projects.

  5. @Dave, yes. I agree with you. Mobility is key. Also, students can be equally interactive with a Tablet or a savvy teacher can have students posting work in places where sharing can happen from anywhere...even outside the classroom.

  6. In Defense of SMART Boards-

    I've read quite a lot of Smart Board bashing lately, so here goes...

    I'm the technology specialist in my school, and we're one of those schools that now has a Smart Board in every classroom, and we LOVE them!

    We now have many teachers who did not use ANY technology in their classrooms, now giving it a shot. For a couple of years, every classroom had a new desktop, but they weren't really being used for instructional use. It quickly became the "hands-off teacher's computer," in many classrooms.

    When we hooked these desktops up to Smart Boards, and gave the teachers some in-house Professional Development, their teaching started to change and the students did become more engaged. Why? Because technology wasn't happening at all before in some classrooms.

    Sure, technology folks can easily say, "You could do it for cheaper another way," BUT the problem is the other way was not EASY. Teachers need EASY. Yes, you could "train" teachers to hook up a laptop or desktop to a projector and stuff, but that takes time and setup, and a class of 30-plus students is not going to sit there patiently and wait nicely for that to happen. And the wires (you most likely need a few extension cords and extra-long cables)... Most won't bother after a couple of frustrating attempts. Those projectors will start spending more time in the closets and not see the light of day...

    With the new generation Smart Boards, it's just one button, and that ONE button has brought some of our teachers and students to the 21st Century.

    Overhead transparencies can no longer compete. (I do remember them being cool at one point) Sure, it'll work, but kids love COOL and that overhead transparency can't move words around, can't link to the web, and it's just plain messy. You could try saving it, but it'll probably "magically" disappear.

    I do agree that Smart Boards can easily cause "Sage-on- the-stage-itis," but if that sage is going to be on that stage anyways, you might as well give them something that at least begins connecting our students to the 21st Century!

    So, yes, SMART Boards are not going to cure ineffective teaching, but if used correctly, it could make way for a lot more effective teaching and learning.

  7. @TimeOutDad, thank you for your feedback and I'm thrilled your teachers are enjoying integrating tech into learning. I still feel that folks are being brainwashed into believing they need the Smartboard or that it's easier. Smartboards use projectors, just as new Smartboards may be easier to set up, so are new projectors. Just as Smartboards are mounted, a projector can also be mounted so you eliminate the wire issue while saving a few thousand bucks that could go toward tech in student's or teacher's hands.

    So, while I believe you make a great case for teaching with a projector, I still haven't seen the value add of the Smartboard.

  8. As a fervent believer in objective research, here's what i found about interactive whiteboards:
    1. "pedagogic text design for IWBs would benefit from a more nuanced approach to these resources." in other words, teachers need to plan differently when using an IWB
    2. "an evolution of pedagogy" is necessary to make optimal use of IWBs and that "teachers should be offered technologies, not have them imposed upon them." i.e., teach differently (see #1 above) and let teachers choose their tools (duh)
    3. "Pupil manipulation of objects on the IWB was deemed desirable but – along with pedagogical interactivity – was constrained by systemic school and subject cultures, curricular and assessment frameworks." (seem to me this is saying altering one piece of the puzzle does not change the whole puzzle)
    4. "The IWB seems to have a pedagogical and cultural status which makes it different from other new pieces of ICT equipment" (not sure what this means)
    5. "The case studies illustrate that the introduction of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) into the classroom involves much more than the physical installation of the board and software. Teachers are the critical agents in mediating the software, the integration of the software into the subject aims of the lesson and appropriate use of the IWB to promote quality interactions and interactivity." and "As teachers make this transition there is a fundamental requirement to adopt an interactive teaching style" (in other words, the teacher is the most important part of the equation and needs to adopt it and learn it if it is to work well. If not, it's the same old lesson, but on an IWB)
    What this research does not do is compare IWBs to other interactive methodologies (as Michael Staton mentions in this post, and as Lisa Nielsen has mentioned on numerous occasions). My question is, does the research ask the right questions??

  9. oops, i forgot to cite the research - see from 2008

  10. @Jeff, @TimeOutDad, I think that any reason that Smartboards work is that it instigates a change in the way teachers teach. It makes them pay attention to multimedia, it creates virtual tactile activities, it forces them to guide students through analysis, etc.... However, these teacher changes are possible through effective professional development, or, forgive me for saying this: hiring the best teachers......

  11. It's amazing that such an intelligent young man as Michael Staton couldn't figure out to how to have the students interact with the Smartboard. I've heard this carping before about Smartboards and it always arrives from those who are selling competing technologies. Hence, I can't take many of these critiques seriously.

    Everywhere I've been, I've seen students as well as teachers LOVING the Smartbaords.

    As for jeff B's #3 point ... that's simply a citation of variables that teachers have to actually work at to overcome. The description doesn't make them seem insurmountable, just possibly challenging.

  12. Michael, in all honesty, your classroom perceptions are rather narrow, since you spent just 2 1/2 years in an traditionally underperforming urban public school district filled with too many at-risk kids. I know, because I've read education journals that discussed HISD's problems in detail. I note from this blog that the views and perceptions of public education are highly skewed toward that same at-risk demographic. I wonder how many of you would think differently if you spent some considerable time teaching in a school district or private school that doesn't have these dire issues. There's a whole world in the suburbs (and even in most rural areas) that's less threatening and problematic. Like I've said elsewhere, spending money and dumping trendy gadgets in the laps of at-risk kids is not going to help them. It offers a short-term feel-good compromise and that's about it, other than supporting some commercial interest's bottom line profits.

  13. EDIT: Michael, in all honesty, your classroom perceptions are rather narrow, since you spent just 2 1/2 years in a traditionally underperforming urban public school district filled with too many at-risk kids. I know, because I've read education journals that discussed HISD's problems in detail. I note from this blog that the views and perceptions of public education are highly skewed toward that same at-risk demographic. I wonder how many of you would think differently if you spent some considerable time teaching in a school district or private school that didn't have these dire issues. There's a whole world in the suburbs (and even in most rural areas) that's less threatening and problematic. Like I've said elsewhere, spending money and dumping trendy gadgets in the laps of at-risk kids is not going to help them. It offers a short-term feel-good compromise and that's about it, other than supporting some commercial interest's bottom line profits.

  14. @Mark,

    I spent much of that time teaching in a very excellent, nationally recognized school.

    I think that I could do some pretty awesome stuff with a Smartboard. I just think that dollar for dollar other techniques would be more effective.

    I also used to write grants and have seen firsthand the neverending "new computer lab" phenomenon.... It's a spiral that doesn't move the needle on teaching and learning because it can't. The only thing that can is a focus on hiring real talent, having outstanding professional development, and re-imagining how teaching and learning can work through technology. Upgrading your whiteboard - I don't find to be all that imaginative.

    I take a stance because that's what you do on blogs.... I am not out to get Smartboards. I'm out to challenge people in education to be more imaginative than to think that buying stuff you can count is improvement.

  15. @mpstaton, Giving me a Porsche isn't automatically going to make me a better driver, but then, we shouldn't blame the Porsche, right? ;) If I don't know how to drive stick-shift, then I better learn how to, if I want to drive it properly. Then again, if I'm in the middle of the desert, forget the Porsche. I'll take a camel. It all depends...

    When you see young students going up to the SMART Board and writing letters and building words and sentences or working through a math problem with a supportive, captivated audience, you can't tell me that doesn't enhance their learning. When our students are the sages on the stages... PRICELESS.

  16. TimeOutDad, it sounds like in your district you have had a top-notch implementation of IWBs along with effective PD. Kudos! However, I know of far too many places where that isn't the case, and in my own personal case (I teach MS pre-engineering, PLTW-GTT) when asked if I wanted an IWB, I said no. I want the projector of course, but I want wireless slate, document camera, and digital cameras and camcorders. Those have proven to be far more useful to me.

    I think how IWBs get implemented in many cases is a great and glaring example of how many districts don't spend enough on training and ongoing PD, and how we get caught up in the gadgets and gizmos instead of the teaching and learning practices.

  17. @TimeOutDad and @Jeff Yearout

    EXACTLY. A Porsche does not make a better driver. And a great driver can do great things in a Honda but can probably do better with a Porsche.

    However, in public education we keep on hoping for more resources and after seeing enough bumper stickers and now serious budget cuts, my conclusion is that we're not getting them. Public Education needs to learn to do more with less. Not figure out how to give people Porsches.

    So, while I like to tell people in public education to do more with less, if you're in politics or are Philanthropist, please give more money to public education, it's a matter of sustainable national interest...... Thank you...

  18. @everyone above, I still haven't seen a single thing mentioned that requires a Smartboard. You can do all the above equally or more effectively with a projector and Tablet.

    As far as all the PD that is necessary to use the device...I think if something needs that much PD there's an issue.

    Teacher's know how to use laptops...hopefully. Teachers can adjust pretty well to using a laptop with a pen. Let them use a device they're already using and achieve the same outcomes.

    I am completely perplexed as to the great things people think a Smartboard allows you to do. You can do all those same things without it.

  19. @Jeff, great insight as always and a great question. I think they are indeed asking the wrong questions. The research looks at classes with IWBs vs those without a laptop/projector. My contention is that you can accomplish more and have the same interactivity/engagement without a Smartboard if you have just a laptop or Tablet and projector. I also believe these companies have people confused. They think they need a Smartboard to do the same things that are possible without it. Sounds like a great topic for a post about Interactive Whiteboard myths.

  20. Awesome post. I've been trying to figure out what was bothering me about the "necessity" to have a smartboard. You hit it on the head.

  21. My comments got too lengthy, so I have responded with a blog post, which also got too lengthy:) It can be found here:

    Thanks for the stimulating discussion!

  22. @Emily Starr, I'm glad I inspired a post and appreciate you writing it. I read it. I disagree with most of it. I still think you and others are confused about IWBs. This can all be done more effectively without them. I will explain why over at your blog.

  23. Here's a quick story to refute your point about the value of a SMART Board in differentiation. Last week, my grade 4 class was doing an introductory lesson for our Simple Machines unit. I had about 5 kids who were a bit ahead of the rest of the class, so i sent them our computer lab to work independently. I kept the rest of the class to work with me in the classroom as I demonstrated the activity to everyone. After a quick introduction, I asked for everyone who felt comfortable with working on their own to head to the lab to work independently. I had 5 kids left in class and called them to the SMART Board. I invited them to work together on the assignment and was incredibly happy to watch them work together, take turns and collaborate because they had the opportunity to work on the SMART Board. I have seen this degree of collaboration and enthusiasm in a variety of activities, from practicing spelling to editing writing. Used properly, a SMARTBoard can be an incredibly valuable tool

  24. @Ted Hutchings, you're not refuting my point. You're explaining something that was done with a smartboard that could also be done with a laptop and projector just as effectively. If you ditched the smartboard and used the Tablet/projector you could have used all the extra money to put tech in students hands.

    The person who refutes my point will explain how a smartboard helps students learn better than a teacher with a tablet/projector.

    This does not mean saying...teachers loved it. Students loved it. It means saying why a Smartboard is necessary.

    I still contend you could accomplish this more effectively without the gadget.

  25. There is no possible way a smartboard can help students learn better than with a Tablet PC and wireless projector capabilities. I have been using the Tablet since its inception. We were the fist tablet school where every student in 5th grade through 12th grade has a tablet. Prior to the tablet, we used Smartboards. Smartboards are obsolete and terribly expensive for simply giving the functionality of a large touch screen. When it was introduced, it was quite a phenomena. In tech years that was eons ago. Nothing drives me more crazy than a teacher giving a lesson on how to use the Smartboard.
    Smartboards are obsolete and serve no special functionality.
    They are so yesterday.

  26. To the "Innovative Educator"
    I would like to see you take your students on a virtual tour of the pyramids or Amazon River using your overhead projector. Can you do 20 pages of math problems on your overhead then post them to your website for your students to review?
    If you hd the money that you believe is wasted on SMART boards what type of technology would you put in the hands of students?
    My job involves traveling to a different school in a different town each day and providing instuction (professional development) on classroom technology to teachers. I'm constantly amazed at how many teachers out there are deathly afraid of any kind of technology. I wish I had a dime for every time I've been asked how to save a computer file - and where it goes! By and large the teachers who refer to technology as "gadgets" are generally intimidated by it and not willing to invest the time and energy to put away their coal and shovel.

    1. Yes, you can take students on a virtual tour of the Amazon River using your projector and a tablet, using desktop sharing programs, using Google Earth, videos designed specifically for the purpose.

  27. You definitely struck a cord in this community!

    As an educator and trainer I support and encourage the implementation of SmartBoards. There are obviously better options for tech-savvy educators that include using multiple devices at a smaller cost, but there is nothing better than IWBs to introduce tech-weary teachers to the power of edtech and to create a community of educators united by common tools.

    I am also a big fan of Smart Notebook, too bad it is no longer a free product.

  28. ...oh and all tech initiatives are dumb if they are not supported with sufficient PD!

  29. A blog to a blog to another blog led me to your blog, and it sure is a thought-provoking, opinion-driven blog.

    I shall subscribe.

    Seems that IWBs are really expensive "warning notices"...the type of notice a student would receive if failing or about to fail a course. Except this 'notice', pricey as it is, is letting teachers know that maybe, just maybe, their own practice is suspect.

    You mention throughout your post and comments that there are other means to do similar things just as effectively without the use of an IWB.


    But are the other, less expensive strategies really being used 'effectively' by a dynamic teaching force?

    I recently read that teaching is a "complex organism" and that's why it's so difficult to quick fix. Because I agree with that, I have a tough time carping about IWBs, as if they are the pervasive 'problem' in classrooms.

    Anyhow, I haven't commented on a blog in a while and your posts have me thinking. Thanks for providing food for thought.

  30. lisa, are you a teacher? have you ever been a teacher? how many years? what grade level?


  31. you are a phony, lisa.

    you are a dangerous person lisa.

    you are full of shit, lisa.

    what do you know about education, lisa?


    1. You sound like the proverbial school bully.

  32. @Lisa – Thanks so much for this forum! You made me think a lot, and that’s good! ;)

    By calling Smart Boards a “dumb initiative” or saying we’ve been “brainwashed” is insulting because it implies that anyone who has bought this technology didn’t do any thinking before spending the money. This may be true for some (maybe many), but it’s not constructive. If a student buys a Kindle that I might not think is “the best” for him (because he could easily just buy a book and save hundreds), I’m not going to tell him/her that it was a “dumb purchase” and that Amazon brainwashed him, especially if he enjoys using it and starts reading way more than he had before.

    One thing I’m definitely learning. You better have “BUY-IN” before you start BUYIN’! If a school or a teacher is not committed or convinced of the technology as an effective tool in teaching, don’t even bother bringing the technology in. That’s when I agree that you shouldn’t spend the thousands on ANY technology.

    At my school, we didn’t buy all the Smart Boards at once. Teachers who wanted it, applied for it to show that they were committed to learning it and using it. After learning it and using it, they did the “convincing” by showing the other teachers how they were using the Smart Boards with their students. That’s when we had more apply and more Smart Boards brought in. Eventually, everyone signed up for PD (before getting one), and our principal found enough funding for every classroom.

    If we have effective teachers using Smart Boards effectively, then I don’t believe Smart Boards are such a “dumb initiative.” With a Smart Board in every classroom at my school, I feel the teachers are now equipped with a powerful 21st Century tool that has enabled them to better connect our students to many things that they weren’t so familiar with before. (We have a large population of English Language Learners) It has transformed their teaching, but most of all, the students’ learning.

  33. Cost of Smart Board is about 5 grand, depending on the size and all.

    Cost of the alternative…

    First, if you don’t have a projector, you’re going to have to spend about a thousand for a good one. Smart Boards have the projector mounted in place overhead, and this is huge. I’ve seen that if you have to roll/carry that projector around with all the wires and connections, many teachers will just not bother. So, if you get a projector and want it mounted, that’s also going to cost hundreds, because you would need a licensed contractor with insurance and approved by your school or school system. (One lawsuit could erase all the savings.) This is another big cost factor.

    Next, a tablet PC with a projector is very different from a regular laptop with a projector. Unless you have the Tablet PC, which most schools don’t, you’re going to have to spend over a thousand dollars for one. Using a Tablet is not an easy/comfortable jump for everyone.

    If you decide to go the portable route, you might have to consider getting one of those rolling cabinets to secure everything. Those cabinets are not cheap, especially if they come with the electric wiring and speaker system (about $1150).
    I think we’ve already spent about 3 grand (or more), without the labor costs?

    Most classrooms don’t have whiteboards. Most still have blackboards. You’re going to have to buy a huge whiteboard, and you’re going to have to get someone to install that, too. Another cost for labor.

    Smart Boards come with a nice set of speakers, and when you’re using multimedia, you need that quality sound. These speakers come mounted on, wires all in the back. Unless you have a nice set of speakers or the secure/multimedia cart (as mentioned above), which most classrooms don’t, you’re spending another hundred or so? Plus you’re going to want that mounted/installed, too. More labor.

    Some argue for the mobility. Unless you have a good wireless connection, which again, most schools don’t, you’re going to have to wire that laptop/tablet up to the internet in order to move around. Plus, to make it wireless to the projector, you need to buy more equipment for that. Some schools can only hook up a desktop, because they might not have laptops. Again, constantly hooking up that laptop to the projector is not a desirable task for everyone.

    Finally, the 5 grand comes with the software with interactive tools, a two or three year warranty (which is definitely needed if anything goes wrong), a couple of hours of PD, and a relationship with a vendor that is an e-mail or phone call away for support.

    At the end of the day, you probably still do save some, but not as much as some might believe. This is where administration (with teacher input) has to decide whether the benefits outweigh the extra costs. In my experience, it’s much easier to deal with one vendor who will take care of it all. As a technology specialist, I have found this relationship to be crucial, because I need that support in order to better support the teachers in my school. If they have a question or problem that I can’t answer or handle, I have someone to run to. ;)

    - Renny, NYC

  34. I hear 2 big arguments against Smart Boards here:
    1) You could replicate the experience with a tablet and projector.
    2) You could save thousands that could be spent elsewhere.

    I’d like to address these 2 points.
    1) Touching a big screen with your hands/fingers is a very different experience compared to using a pen on a tablet, especially for younger students. I call it the “Vanna White” phenomenon. When you’re up on the board touching the letters and the words and dragging them to form words or sentences, it’s very different from a student using a digital pen on a small screen. It’s different for the user and different for the audience of learners.

    I bet if we conducted a survey with teachers and students who have tried both, comparing the two, most would say the two experiences are different. As for which one they would like better, or which one is more effective, I can’t say. I would compare this “touch factor” to using an iPod Touch, an iPhone, or an iPad as opposed to a “non-touch” device. If a teacher enjoys using it (and learning it) and the students enjoy using it (and learning with it), then it’s not “dumb.”

    2) When you first think about it, it seems plain and clear that you are saving thousands. That’s definitely true if you don’t buy it at all. But, if you do believe in the use of technology and are planning to use it, when you cost out everything, I’m not sure if thousands of dollars are saved.

    You have to have a lot of things already in place at your school in order to save the thousands and I don’t think most schools have all those things in place. So, in terms of saving, you really have to take inventory at your school. If you find that your school does have projectors tablet PCs available, it’s definitely true that it might not be cost efficient to buy IWBs. But, if you’re starting with zero, and you believe in the technology, then consider this…

  35. @Ted Hutchings, I was in a class yesterday where instead of four kids around one IWB, there were five groups of four very engaged kids working collaboratively around a laptop. Later two of the groups shared their work using a projector. This classroom cost the same amount of money as the one with just an IWB, yet had four more laptops so more kids could interact with technology.

  36. @Ted, yes, I am a teacher today and have been since 1997. I have served in various capacities as a literacy and technology teacher, coach, library media specialist etc. I've had the pleasure since my first year in 1997 to teach students, teachers, coaches, and leaders and I love this work very much.

  37. @TimeOutDad, no insult meant when I use the word brainwash but many folks know that big companies spend big bucks trying to convince people they need their products when their may be better or less costly alternatives. I called it brainwashing, others call it advertising. Either way, Americans often fall victim to it. No insult intended, but we must acknowledge that we're not always getting the whole picture when the picture is presented or funded by a company.

    I think it's important for folks to know all their options and these companies are spending a lot of money pushing the ones that make them the most profit.

  38. @mulleema For you and your school, they may so yesterday, but Smart Technologies alone is grossing around $400 million annually. (Lisa is 100% right in saying they are BIG business) They are also making their way into the corporate sector, so they may, in fact, be so tomorrow... ;)

  39. @Ted Nellen, you are right. I am dangerous when it comes to people who are not giving kids great educational experiences. I will speak out against that for sure and the motivation is doing what's right for kids, not what's right for companies trying to make a buck.

    Full of shit? Hmmm...not sure where that's coming from, but I'm sure depending on the lens you're coming from that might be one viewpoint, but a kid who'd like an exciting education would disagree.

    As far as what I know about education...well, I know a bit and you can read all about in the more than 300 articles posted here on my blog, in the magazines I write for, or in the press outlets who have covered me for speaking out in support of students and educators.

  40. Our school is on the verge of buying almost 50 smartboards as they think this will motivate the teachers to use tech into classrooms and also it will engage our students in a class . Wow , i must show this blog to them ....

  41. I think any type of technology will enhance instruction. I do think it's very important to use it in the classroom. Remember our children of today are very tech savvy and they are also the digital age. My third grader learns any type of technology tool faster than I do and I'm a technology person. I believe you have to use whatever works best for the students because they are the ones that should be benefiting.

  42. I'd have to disagree with this post, as it seems the person wrote as if they never researched into what a SmartBoard can actually do.

    Sure his points seem valid, if you buy a SmartBoard and don't use any of the software. I've seen SmartBoards used not only in K-12 classrooms, but also universities and even businesses. There's a Forest Protection business where I live that rather enjoys using the Smartboard for embedding videos onto the Notebook software, and watching them with all the pilots of water bombers. When he sees a poor drop he pauses the video with the pen and marks where the drop should of been, and where it landed and why (weather, altitude, etc.)

    Now, with just a board and the Notebook software, you are somewhat limited. However, if you manage to have a budget for Senteos, it makes quizzing easier for the classrooms. It provides instant results, and saves paper. There is other software and other products that can be used with the Smartboard to enhance not only learning in classrooms, but learning in universities, businesses, and the interactive aspect really does help those children with special needs.

  43. Great Point...I use Johnny Chung Lee's genius to build my $65 Wii White Board...does about 80% of what a Smartboard does for about 5% of the cost.

  44. Lisa: getting back to what Ted Nellen said, I'd like to know what your qualifications are as well, as far as valid state teaching certifications and degrees. I note that your LinkedIn profile is rather sketchy in that regard. It just lists an undescribed bachelor's from UNLV, at least it did the last time I checked. I like to know who I'm dealing with.

  45. @marksrightbrain, I haven't found LinkedIn to be a service that meets my needs. A link to my resume is in the right hand side of this blog.

  46. I prefer LinkedIn because it's not "Friends" oriented and it keeps out there the information that I want without too many frills. Too many people involved in social media collect "friends" like baseball cards. I have a more traditional view of what constitutes friendship. I certainly couldn't call someone a "friend" if I didn't know them personally via concrete vis-a-vis contact over a period of time.

    Thanks for the link to your credentials. It's a shame you forsook the calling of the everyday classroom teacher to be an administrator. I could never be an administrator in a K-12 environment because that would mean I would have to associate with and likely embrace the Roland Fryers and Geoffrey Canadas of the world. Please don't suggest that their advocacy, which I know your parent agency is connected to, doesn't have their hooks in corporate America. Who would have been footing the bill for all those cell phones Fryer wanted to put in the hands of kids?

    I would hope you don't think paying kids to achieve in school is the solution to a better educated America.

    Another thing, Lisa, it's rather disingenuous of you to avoid being labeled a shill for Silicon Valley when you freely list "Certified Google Educator" on your C.V.

    I'll say it again, you and everyone else in at-risk urban school districts are fooling yourselves if you think spending more money is going to improve the lives of your students.

  47. @marksrightbrain, I understand and respect the appeal of Linkedin for you and others, however, for me my learning network, Twitter, and Facebook work best right now. Perhaps I'll change my mind down the road.

    I don't find it a shame that after ten years on a teacher line I moved to administration. I enjoy working with administrators, teachers, and their students. I love sharing ideas and helping others do the same on a larger scale. I think what teachers do everyday is phenomenal and I enjoy being able to support this work. I support what I believe is right for students, teachers, and administrators, and I love having the opportunity to share these ideas and positively influence others.

    Fryer...I agree with you. I didn't like the approach, but I was interested in helping the program discover how to use cells for learning.
    My parent company...I write as an individual. I have no parent company.
    Google Certified...I like Google because they have some fabulous and free tools for educators and I enjoy helping schools embrace them.

  48. " I have no parent company. "

    Google "lisa nielsen" + "nycdoe" and you get over 5,000 hits

  49. @marksrightbrain, while I am very passionate about the work I do on behalf of the NYC DOE, as I write in my disclaimer, the opinions expressed in The Innovative Educator are strictly those of the author and contributors and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of the NYC DOE, the AVP or any other entity.

    I write as an individual, not as an endorsement of, or because of, the NYC DOE or anyone else. In fact I have often wrote on topics unfavorable to my employer that you may have found in your search. Such as in this UPI news story and this story covered in a local paper

    My motivation is sharing ideas about educating innovatively, not to support any particular entity.

  50. You are forgetting one part of the equation -- the student. The students needs to be part of the interaction and should be at the board most of the time not the teacher. If the teacher uses the interactive software to set up lesson it then becomes a resource for the students to use not the teacher to lead the class. If you bring in the Student Response systems and portable pad for students to use from the class it is changing the way we teach.

  51. I agree with the article. Smart Boards are CHEAP compared to real innovation: giving every kid an ipad, laptop, etc. Can you imagine if we loaded ipads with all the texts a kid would need that year? Put in the 3G capability (this would avoid overloading the already stressed out infrastructure) and one has a doable 1-1 solution. But the administroni have tried everything to avoid this! They'd rather put Smartboards in the classroom because even a cheap 1-1 for a classroom is going to run 35,0000 per class, as opposed to a 2-8,000 SmartBoard....

  52. There are some very compelling arguments here. Let me say that I've been using a Smart Board for years, and I find it to be just one of many excellent technology tools.

    I do agree with our host blogger that the expense may not justify the benefit. I disagree with most of the brainstormed ways to replace the Smart Board.

    As a few have noted here, people who use the Smart Board as a glorified overhead projector have probably not had enough training on its use.

    And, with all due respect to The Innovative Educator, a properly used Smart Board can be one of the most interactive tools available, not to mention a solid tool for differentiating instruction. @austx7306 bears this out, I believe.

    Finally, I would gladly trade my Smart Board for 30 ipads, if my district could affort it. Since funds are short, I'm happy the district has decided to work toward putting Smart Boards all around our school.

    Thanks for starting this excellent discussion.

  53. Oh my goodness, it's amazing to me that people on here who haven't spent any significant time teaching in a classroom w/ a IWB would dare to declare how "useful" & "financially responsible" it is for districts to spend tax dollars on them - I've spent the last 3 yrs. teaching elem. music w/ a SMARTBoard, & here's the deal:

    1. The SmtBrd is a LARGE MUSCLE ACTIVITY - uh, can you say "Kindergarten"?! How well can your average 5 yr. old write 1/2 inch tall letters w/ paper & pencil on a straight line? I'll tell you - not nearly as well as they can use their finger (!) to draw letters a foot tall! (which they can then re-size, change color, turn upside down, all w/ large muscle activity, NOT a little bitty arrow-pointer thingy). Using a mousepad on a laptop isn't remotely comparable to using a Smt Brd when it comes to ease & APPROPRIATENESS of use for young children. This applies to older elem. children also, their need & desire to use large muscle skills is still dominant for many years after Kind. - ask your P.E. teacher (or your music teacher!).

    2. Two kids working together on a laptop usually works great, it's what we almost always do in my class. Three on a laptop, not so well. Four (?!) on a laptop? I guarantee you, two of the four in that group aren't doing anything. Four on a SmtBrd? They have to take turns, but it's easier, & more meaningful, because they can all easily see what's going on - four kids crouching around & squinting at a 13 in. dimly lit screen is bad for their eyesight, & in my experience, tends to lead to arguments.

    3. Just because a Smt Brd can only be touched by one person at a time, it doesn't mean there can't be collaboration - my classes have created dozens of collaborative projects that everyone contributed to - yes, we all have to wait our turn, but so would the whole class if you were using just a projected image from a computer. We use dozens of websites that have movable Flash & Shockwave objects that cue sounds, actions, etc. - sure, you can do this w/ a mouse, but it doesn't have the same effect upon students as when they can actually TOUCH what they're creating.

    Until districts either start supplying classrooms w/ a laptop or an iPad for every student, IWBs are the best way to give ALL students in a school access to technology on a continual basis, & (in an elem. school) in a way that matches their skills & abilities.

  54. It just depends on what kind of smartboard you buy. Check out They sell shareable smartboards that work on any flat surface. That way, you can buy one and use in a bunch of classrooms. They're affordable too.

  55. I am a student and i hate smartboards...
    Half the teachers are clue less on how to use it and waste half the class time trying to figure it out. In a recession like this we shouldn't be wasting our money on smartboards while the kids are having to print out there own homework at home.

  56. @Anonymous student, thank you for your insightful feedback. If you're interested I'd love to publish your thoughts in a post here on this blog where you share your experience as a student in a class(es) with a smartboard. If you're interested please email me at

  57. Wonderfully said!!! I never did see what the use of smartboards was! I couldn't agree more. :)

  58. As a student who went to school when these first came out, they we're excuses to spend more money on teacher's who couldn't engage students. The only two teachers I remember having with the smart boards used it for english and science. The english teacher used it for sentence structure stuff ie 'correct this sentence' 'label the preposition' which could have been done for $10,000 less with equipment already available. The actual use of smart boards lasted about a week in english when the teacher's 'awe' wore off.

    The science teacher basically used it to show us web pages, but he already had a projector so that was another $10k waste.

    I'm thinking the major 'draw' of smart boards is the same kind kids have for new cellphones or Apple merchandise. It's just a gimmick that has all a few bells and whistles that stand as a testament to a mismanagement of resources. Students were stuck with 20 year old text books that literally still considered the Soviet Union a country and teachers had $10,000 drawing pads.

    Only reason I happened upon this is my friend's child goes to a school that has one in every class room, multiple computer labs with new computers in everyone, patios etc... And it's a little ridiculous. The schools so out of budget they've got school issued credit cards, Market Day, Box Tops, Fund Raisers and are constantly sending home letters asking for more donations.

    I mean schools with little to no budget can manage to teach essentially the same thing and receive high marks for it. There's nothing wrong with supplementing learning with technology, but it seems technology comes before learning now with this new generation of 'innovative' teachers.

    Definitely not saying don't fund schools or anything close to it. What I am hinting on though, is that you don't need to spend a 100 grand to raise test scores or teach students. What's more important is learning to engage students, and there are hundreds of thousands of books and psychology articles on that exact subject.

  59. I am a parent of a 3rd and 5th grader, attending a public elementary school on the south shore of Long Island, NY (not a wealthy North Shore district). Our elementary school now has IWBs in every classroom and I still don't know quite what they use them for in the classroom other than a glorified blackboard. I enjoyed reading this post and the comments to see what the IWBs can be capable of - in the right hands.
    Both my children have iPads and iTouches because I insisted on it. Both of them use their iPad as e-readers as well, create study cards and are starting to research on them. My 5th grader brings his iPad every day to school and reads his book on it during free reading time. He attempted to use his iPad to look up word meanings, during a vocabulary word exercise, when his teacher stopped him. She told him "there is no skill in looking up word meanings on that" and insisted he look instead in the physical dictionary. This is what we are dealing with.
    I will not have my children technology-stunted so we integrate their learning with technology at home. I don't really have much choice.

  60. Wow. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this post, serious case of the Emperor's new clothing in my opinion. I am a music teacher with 8 years of electronic music production experience. In Australia they gave all these students laptops (should I also mention they keep failing to update that freeware for that one thing everyone needed which was to write percussion scores).

    I wish they had spent all the money for Smartboards for better laptops, USBs, faster internet connection, video cameras.

    In my current school, all we had to do was change our methodology, now all our kids can read music, thanks to a few simple $30 tom drums and cheap drum sticks we bought in bulk.

    Can I also point out, more students can draw on a whiteboard then at the same time on a Smartboard?

  61. Great blog. I agree that interactive whiteboards can be an effective tool but not sold on having schools over-spend on having them installed in each classroom. With the rapidly changing technology IWB are becomming outdated and unnecessary for the costs incurred.
    I think the main argument is 'Are Smartboards from SMART Technologies worth purchasing?' Their boards are one of the few that recognize touch with and without a pen - quite handy for primary school children and those with special needs. Aside from this there are so many other IWB on the market all doing the same function at different costs.
    I'm against schools rushing out to buy IWB just for the sake of intergrating technology in teaching for a number of reasons:
    - this large board is hardware which is not easily upgradeable. If you ever have one of the earlier boards (or even 1 yr old) you can see it doesn't compare to the latest ones with works on different firmware and incorporates new functions like multi-touch. What do you do with all those wall mounted boards when they become obsolete in less than a year?
    - none of these boards are multi-function except to display your computer screen. None are intended/recomended to use with white board makers or post anything adhesive (posters) on them. It takes up prime wall space and forces your teaching in a lecture style manner - not real everyday teaching.
    - the best (and probably most important) feature of most IWBs may be the software - SMART Notebook is the best I've seen. However these companies don't want to lose money on the costs of the IWB that they tie your hand against using their software on other devices. They know if you use it with a tablet and projector (preferably the interactive projectors like the BenQ MX810ST) there is no need for a teacher to rely on a special board.
    - I also don't like the fact of students learning to use technology that they don't have access to outside the classroom or later in their career choice. Just bringing back memories of Apple's first introduction in education.
    Schools are probably better off spending money on professional development on classroom management and effective teaching than wasting money on IWBs. There's always going to be something newer and better. I personally would advise to spend tech money on tablets - this is the direction for the consumer market in the computer world and more beneficial for the teacher AND students.

  62. Gonna throw my 2 cents in here, and it mirrors some of the above, since I'm forced to support these rickety low rent junk boards:

    The author is spot on that its a dumb initiative, but only focusing on the teaching aspect which is subject to interpretation. Valid points however...

    Look at it from an IT perspective. The board takes up the blackboard (green or white, whatever) Teachers are forced to use it at this point. How much life do you get out of a projector bulb? 2000 Hours? A year or two at best, with the latter portion of its life span in a dimmed state where the teacher has to shut out all the lights in order for them to just see them. The Bulbs can cost 250 bucks a pop (and they contain mercury, you kooky environmentalists). The projectors themselves tend to die within 3 - 5 years. 700 bucks? Time to replace? Assuming you pre-plan and sneak enough replacements into the budget, how much does that take off your replacement cycle which schools are notorious for screwing up.

    Second, the boards themselves and the controller cards are subject to failure at an alarming rate. One batch even had bad pen trays. Often half the board will cease to orient and track correctly resulting in the board needing to be replaced.

    Third, and this is my experience with a particular company that sells the boards...their product cycle is terrible, especially for a school system. If you're staggering models for an entire district, you have many different projector/board setups that make it a royal pain to maintain.

    Lastly, why are you using Notebook software? Aren't you supposed to be teaching kids and preparing them for the future? Do you think Notebook is going to supplant Office when they get out of school? Notebook software is notoriously bad. Newer versions can't open your older documents, etc. It is not IT friendly as its design is mostly single user (and the morons keep changing the location of the executeables making mid-year upgrades a complete mess for delivered icons).

    Want a better alternative? You can get an LED TV mounted for much less and use a heavy duty Wacom tablet. No bulbs to replace, little downtime longer lifespan. I know teachers think its neato, but it is not necessary to be in every classroom. Board rooms that use projectors are usually not used 8 hours a day, and they are definitely more environmentally sound then an un-airconditioned dusty class room.

  63. Actually, an even cheaper alternative, and one that actually helps the students to interact with each other better are creating your own whiteboards.

    A real interactive white board for just $5.00

    I've written about them here, on my school blog.


  64. Having seen SmartBoards transform our district, I can't agree with this view. Review this post for our experience:

  65. This sure seems like a lot of sound and fury over the best way to bypass young children's natural learning and developmental needs and get them used to serving the Great God TECHNOLOGY. Go cheap, spend big, it doesn't matter if all you're doing is feeding their souls and bodies to the Machine.

    I'm sure these things are cool, and if I were teaching middle or high school I'd probably use one for certain lessons. I'm also sure that many young children perk up and shine when the IWB is introduced, because manipulating things on screens is fascinating. (We will Leave Behind those children with physical or visual impairments for whom this technology holds no particular joy.) I would hope, however, not to be misled by my enthusiasm for the technology, or the students', into believing that this was a more relevant way of educating them.

    For the sake of analogy: If we have decided to feed our children thin gruel, let's not debate whether to thin it with bottled water or tap water. We'll oppress them well enough either way.

  66. I agree! I just wrote on this subject.

  67. We are currently at the Smart Board crossroads...however, for 1.5 years we have had a useful alternative already in our high school. Each classroom has a large flat panel hooked up to a computer, with an HDMI cable already installed. Each faculty also has a laptop, so all they have to do is plug the HDMI cable in to connect. It has gotten to the point that most faculty are preparing lesson plans and visuals on their laptops, then hooking up to the classroom flat panel, and not even using the computer, except to play DVDs.

    Right now, admin wants to purchase Smart Boards, but we are going to try the Smart Board overlays so that we don't use the utility of the flat panel screens.

    Classrooms are small (15-20 students) so the flat panels work well, and there really is no room for a separate Smart Board. Will let you know how it goes.

  68. Smartboard seems to have its benefits for elementary grades. However, it seems worthless for high school subjects. It seems to have some benefits with the math teachers as they can write in problem solving and save their work so they do not have to keep writing it over and over for each class. (But you could do that with overhead transparencies as far as I am concerned). There is nothing on the exchange for my subjects so I spent a whole Saturday trying the activity builder to create one simple activity for my class. I do not have time to spend hours making one simple (not so appealing) game/ activity for my kids. The game templates on the exchange are too elementary for high school kids.

  69. I feel smart boards are a modern or 21st century blackboards. Having a technology is important but if the same work is done by a transparency, scanner or projector etc why spend money on that expensive tool may use the same expense to get something that would really help the student and their learnings.

  70. Hi Innovative Educator

    We as an organization firmly believes that learning through technology happens in three ways :

    Summation of : ( Teacher:Student)+ (Student : Student) + ( Student : Material)

    Using smart board only serves first part of learning where as actual learning among the students can happen mainly through collaborations and participatory interactions.

    Today's generation need a technology tool which can keep them engaged i.e learning should be their under their control and teachers to act as a facilitator.
    Smart board as a technology tool simply becomes teacher centric education which is as old as ages of education we all have bee studying.