When I left the teaching profession in 2000 to become an administrator, SmartBoards were just prototypes slated to enter the market in the near future. Education was the target market. As a technology mentor for my school, I had the opportunity to sit in on a sales pitch from the company peddling these SmartBoards. Impressive.
At first blush, a SmartBoard looks like any other white board. But then you can’t help but notice the big projector over head, the “markers” which each have its own place in a separate tray, and the panel with all the buttons. In many ways, it works like a white board, you can write on it with the special markers and erase. However, the SmartBoard has so much more capability, hence the given name.
The SmartBoard is also a touch screen similar to the iPads and tablet PCs we have today. Teachers can hook up their computer to the SmartBoard and with a whole host of SmartBoard-ready teaching tools, it can really raise the bar for teaching. There is also a clicker system that a teacher can use for instant assessment feedback. The teacher can put a question up on the SmartBoard, and each student can respond with an electronic clicker. The SmartBoard returns the data from that question immediately thus allowing the teacher to see if students understand a concept or if it needs further exploration.
With respect to technology, my concern is that many schools have an “if-we-build-it-they-will-come” Field of Dreams sort of approach. In other words, schools continue to invest in technology, hardware and products, but do not spend enough time or funding on properly training teachers and staff how to integrate it into their day-to-day teaching. Teachers and staff are also not given enough time to prepare SmartBoard lessons. Yet, schools allocate a great deal of funds on technology year after year.
Why do schools do this? I have found that technology has the wow factor that leaves an instant impression. In this regard, it’s a great visual marketing tool. “Look how 21st century our school is.” “We have a SmartBoard in every classroom!” “Every kid gets an iPad.” “We have 5 computers in each classroom.” Etc… It’s a feel good. Who wouldn’t want to walk into a classroom that looks state of the art? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in technology as it is essential for the kids of today to master the various technologies that are available to them.
Here are some thoughts on technology in schools:
1) Students need to learn how to use technology in order to be successful in the modern-day, global society in which we live. They need to know how to keyboard, do research on the internet and hash out the reliable sources from the unreliable ones, know how to use Microsoft Office Suite, know how to use email, use a digital camera and manipulate images, and know the basic components of a computer. These are basic skills.
2) Teachers and staff need to know how to use the available technology to enhance, improve, and make efficient their teaching and student learning. Students should do projects that involve technology as one of the means to an end.
3) Teachers and staff must embrace the technologies. Period. Teachers tend to have a reputation as not being tech savvy. I can attest to that. This has to change. I’ve been in one too many schools where teachers want to continue doing things the way they’ve always done things and often times, that involves paper and pencil. I remember one teacher lamenting about how much she missed chalk boards and another teacher complaining that she just learned how to use voicemail and now had to learn how to use email. Wow.
4) Teachers and staff need time–for training, for implementation, for collaboration. This is the key. Without this, I don’t care if the walls of the school have a SmartBoard every 10 feet. All that technology might as well be expensive Ansel Adams photographs. Pretty to look at but not much practical use.
5) As a parent, don’t be fooled by all the pretty things your child’s school is buying. Ask how it’s going to be used and what the plans are to support teachers in learning how to use and integrate all the technology.
Lastly, there is one piece of technology (aside from a laptop) that I believe every teacher should have—a document camera. It requires a projector, which most schools already have on rolling carts. A document projector projects any image you place under it–the pages of a children’s picture book, a clock for teaching time, a timer, a work of art created by a student, your hand, etc… In my opinion, it’s a classroom teacher’s necessity and every classroom should have one.