SMART boards, also called interactive whiteboards, are found increasingly in the classroom, and the elementary school which I visited was no exception. In fact, the use of technology in the classroom is not part of a federal directive regarding education (Davidson et. al 2014). SMART boards are replacing the traditional blackboard with a touch sensitive interactive display that can be used in the classroom in many ways. This allows for the use of video supplements to lectures, meetings and real time research to answer questions as a class. The teacher can control the board through touching the screen with a finger, stylus, pen or mouse, and any software or application that can run on a computer can typically be used on the SMART board, with the added benefit of being able to highlight any part, write notes and illustrate ideas with and on the images and information.
Studies have found that most teachers in training find the use of technology in instructional delivery to be a potential tool to engage students and enable group activities, but most are also concerned about having the appropriate training and support (Park 2014). The time needed for training before use was found inadequate, and little time was given for the integration of the technology in the classroom in terms of lesson preparation (Ibid.). The usability of both the hardware and software, and the need for very rapid IT support deployment was also underscored as a need that teachers felt in the classroom (Park 2014). Teachers who do not have support in acquiring the technical skills to use the SMART boards confidently in the classroom are less likely to use the technology effectively.
In Florida, training for K-12 teachers in the use of interactive whiteboards was initially organized and provided by the school district level (Ochoa et. al. 2012). Benefits were found however by providing a library as a base for training teachers’ education in instructional technology. The program offers regular professional development workshops for the state’s elementary and high school teachers, and this has increased teacher satisfaction with the technology as well as use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom (Ibid.).
There are two aspects to the competencies which a teacher must have in order to effectively integrate the SMART board into their teaching. The first is to understand how to use the hardware, and deal with minor troubleshooting. The second is more complex, and requires for than a technological solution, and that is finding the materials such as software applications, videos or other educational sources that will be engaging and appropriate to the curriculum. This is where the concept of an academic library to support teachers in using technology can build capacity across classrooms. A study by Korkmaz and Cakil (2013) found that even if teachers are taught how to use the hardware, without support in finding the appropriate materials the SMART boards were not being used effectively.
One qualitative study sought to better understand teachers who chose to never use technology in the classroom (Davidson et. al 2014). The research findings were that a lack of access to equipment, lack of capacity to troubleshoot minor difficulties and a lack of training in how to integrate technology into teaching plans were correlated with non-use of technology (Ibid). In many cases the schools do not have the capacity to provide the hardware, let alone training and support, and this further complicated a so called digital divide between have and have-not school districts (Ibid.).
In my visit to the classroom I was able to see the SMART board used with confidence by a teacher, and I was able to see for myself the transformative power of the shared interactive screen. The lesson plan was with regard to the world’s oceans, geography, ecology and challenges. The children were as transfixed as if they were watching television. There was significant engagement with the topics and a willingness to simply explore the topic. The teacher noted several times that students should write down anything that they want to research further, and much to my surprise many of them did. The use of sound and imagery to underscore the realities of the ocean and scientific understandings seemed to create a very emotional connection in the students. Later I had a chance to talk to the class’s instructor. She admitted that it could be difficult initially, but once lesson plans included interactive and engaging content, it became more organized and less work. She asked me if I had noted the behavior of the students, and she admitted that she had refined a technique of showmanship while using a SMART board based lesson plan; she said that helping students to connect with the material takes more than just technology; it takes someone who is excited and passionate about teaching the subject. I could see her point; however the technology was better able to capture the teacher’s energy and enthusiasm, where it spread among her students.
While SMART board have been around for several years now, and more teachers are gaining comfort with them, it continues to be essential that teachers have preparation time and training in the use of such technology in the classroom, and support while using them in the classroom. Without this, many teachers conclude that it is not worth wasting the classroom when minor technical problems derail the lesson or the time is not there to properly integrate the use of the technology with the lesson plan. On the other hand, with appropriate training followed by IT and other supports, SMART boards can become a favorite tool of teachers and students, and it can provide a more engaging and organized way to use external and interactive materials in instruction.
- Davidson, L. Y. J., Richardson, M., & Jones, D. (2014). Teachers’ perspective on using technology as an instructional tool. Research in Higher Education Journal Vol. 24, August.
- Korkmaz, O., & Cakil, I. (2013). Teachers’ difficulties about using smart boards. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 83, 595-599.
- Ochoa, M., Walker, B., Barrett, A. & Hines, A. (2012). Developing A New Librarian Role: A Plan to Prepare Teacher Education Students for Using SMART Technologies. In P. Resta (Ed.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012 (pp. 4168-4171). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
- Park, J. (2014). Pre-Service and In-Service Teachers’ Perceptions toward White Board System Prior to Actual Experience. Universal Journal of Educational Research 2(3): 262-270, 2014