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…

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Eric Van Halteren

As Program Coordinator, Eric Van Halteren works with the Graduate and Postdoctoral Programs at the Centre for Teaching Excellence. Eric has a BMath in Mathematical Studies from the University of Waterloo, along with a B.Ed in Junior/Intermediate division teaching from the University of Ottawa. Between degrees, he spent a year in South Korea teaching English to middle school students, which further inspired his interests in teaching.

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