Oh SMARTBoard, where art thou? Part 2- Eric Van Halteren

Sherlock HolmesAs you may recall, I wrote an article on September 25 titled ‘Oh SMART Board, where art thou? Part 1’ In the article, I discussed my experience with SMART Boards and an elementary and middle school level, and wanted to determine how SMART Boards were used in a post-secondary setting. However, I was not able to find one before writing the first entry. In this entry, I will recount my quest to find a SMART Board.

Oh SMART Board, where art thou? This question has been on my mind for the last several months and has driven me to explore more of Waterloo campus than most curious first year students. I don’t consider myself a detective by any means, but as I searched high and low for SMART Boards I couldn’t help but visualize myself akin to Sherlock Holmes, deerstalker perched on my head and pipe in hand. The purpose of my search was simple: to understand how interactive boards can be used in a post-secondary setting. However, the rarity of SMART Boards on campus made this question quite the challenge to answer.

After writing my first blog entry, I was informed of and was able to locate two SMART Boards on campus. One was located in a basement classroom in the east wing of Renison University College (REN), and the other was located in a conference room in Engineering Building 5 (E5). I cannot begin to describe how jubilant I was when I finally laid eyes on these beautiful pieces of technological ingenuity. Both boards were a newer model than what I was accustomed to, with an upgraded projector layout and reduction in the number of physical devices needed to interact with the board. The board in REN was situated at the front of a medium sized classroom that could accommodate ~60 students, while the board in E5 was placed more in the corner of a conference room that could hold ~30 students. What interested me was the fact that, of the two SMART Boards I located, both were being used in very different settings.

Unfortunately, I was never able to sit in on a lecture or sneak into a conference where a SMART Board was being used. However, I was able to question various staff and faculty about their thoughts towards the boards. One professor in REN (whom I have since lost the name of) highlighted that the SMART Board software made it easy to interact with slides, make notes throughout a lecture, along with save and distribute these notes after class ended. She also mentioned that students enjoyed using the SMART Board for their presentations in class. I heard similar feedback from several staff members, who noted that the board made lectures more engaging for students. When I asked about the learning curve for the board software, the professor said the basics of the software for the board were relatively easy to pick up. However, she also admitted that she hasn’t been able to explore many of the software features of the board. I expected to hear this when talking with staff, recalling from my own experience that the learning curve was relatively easy, but also had a high ceiling.

So there you have it. I was able to locate two SMART Boards, and received some feedback regarding their use in a postsecondary setting. Some could say the mystery has been solved, the case abruptly closed. Yet, I argue the contrary. In all my searching, only two SMART Boards were uncovered; less than what most elementary and high schools have. If these boards have been deemed beneficial towards interactive teaching by school boards, as shown in some research, why are they passed off in a post-secondary setting? What makes a post-secondary setting so different that SMART Boards are deemed non-beneficial to student learning? I could see the argument of class size brought forward, but I would simply rebut with possible use for tutorial or labs. Others could argue that these boards are just entertainment tools, but I would rebut that with effective training these boards could be used highly effectively.

To end this blog post, I would like to pose a question that has been on my mind throughout this quest. If SMART Boards, or any interactive whiteboards for that matter, are deemed beneficial in high school, are we doing current and incoming post-secondary students a disservice by not including them as part of our educational pedagogy? I hope the University of Waterloo, an educational institute who prides itself on innovation, looks further into whether SMART Boards hold benefit for our classrooms of tomorrow. Until then, I will continue my search, trying to unravel this tangled mystery. Oh SMART Board, where art thou?

I would like to thank Kyle Scholz and Gordon Stubley for their tips on SMART Board locations.

References: Armstrong, V., Barnes, S., Sutherland, R., Curran, S., Mills, S., & Thompson, I. (2005). Collaborative research methodology for investigating teaching and learning: the use of interactive whiteboard technology. Educational Review, 57(4), 457-469.

Beeland, W.D. (2002). Student engagement, visual learning and technology: can interactive whiteboards help? Action Research Exchange, 1 (1). Retrieved from: http://downloads01.smarttech.com/media/research/international_research/usa/beeland_am.pdf

Glover, D., Miller, D., Averis, D., & Door, V. (2007). The evolution of an effective pedagogy for teachers using the interactive whiteboard in mathematics and modern languages: An empirical analysis from the secondary sector. Learning, Media & Technology, 32(1), 5–20.

Oh SMART Board, where art thou? Part 1 — Eric Van Halteren

SmartboardHaving recently finished my Bachelors of Education degree, I came out of school with a wealth of knowledge and an array of teaching strategies under my belt. During my practicum placements, I gained a variety of experiences working with middle school students and learned about the wonders of SMART Board. To quickly describe, a SMART Board is a digital board where an image is projected onto a large, whiteboard looking touch screen which is connected to your computer. With the appropriate software, the instructor can actively engage in his/her lessons using the touch screen with writing tools, built in manipulatives, and video capabilities.

From a teaching standpoint, I think SMART Boards are wonderful teaching tools that go far beyond that of the ‘glorified whiteboard’ that they were sometimes described as. They are a great interactive tool that I could use in a classroom, and the software was relatively intuitive. With the software for the board, I was able to create lessons that could accommodate multiple learning styles without having to draw upon a vast array of external tools. I found myself experimenting with the software and testing the limits of it, with the goal of enhancing student learning in my classroom.

With this newfound knowledge about SMARTBoards in mind, I was fully expecting to see these tools in many classrooms when recently I arrived at uWaterloo. However, when I arrived on campus and explored some classrooms, I was not able to locate one. I went on a quest to find a SMARTBoard, looking from building to building, but was only able to locate whiteboards, chalkboards and projectors without interactive boards. Although they may be somewhere on campus, I was at a loss as to where they could be. At this point I started to question my view of SMART Boards. Was I wrong? Were they really just glorified whiteboards? But having used them in a classroom, I knew this to not be true. But if this is not the case, than why are they uncommon in a post-secondary classroom?

What I would like to know is what may hold instructors back from using a SMART Board in the classroom. If the university offered these boards, would instructors use them? When I was teaching in an elementary school setting, having a SMART Board often enriched my lessons due to the variety of manipulatives that I could readily have at my disposal. However, classrooms at a university level are often more lecture based and the appeal of manipulatives may be lost on many lecturers. Also, classes in university tend to be much larger than secondary school classes, which may restrict the interactive nature of the board. There are many possible reasons for not having a SMART Board in a post-secondary classroom, but the question is whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for instructors.

At the moment I don’t have an answer as to why SMART Boards are not more common in post-secondary classrooms at uWaterloo. Perhaps they are, but I just haven’t been in the right set of classrooms to find them. Regardless, I plan on unravelling this mystery, or at least further my perspective towards SMART Boards in a post-secondary classroom.

If you happen know of the whereabouts of SMART Boards on campus, or have your own personal experiences using SMART Boards, please share your thoughts and help me unravel this mystery. You can also look forward to Part 2 of this entry, which will be posted on December 11th.  For now, I will end this mystery with to be continued…