AQ ePortfolio Artifact: Smartboards

This is one part of a 5 part assignment, highlighting contributions to an AQ course. The assignment asks the student to select 5 – 7 pieces of your work from this course that shows “You”.

The Question: Post your thoughts in a persuasive paragraph stating whether you feel that Smart Boards would be a useful teaching tool for your classroom.

The Answer: The SMARTboard is a dead technology. For years the myth that this teacher-centric tool will somehow convert our classrooms into 21st century learning spaces has been perpetuated on our schools, leading principals to mis-appropriate school funds to purchase the equivalent of a giant trackpad mounted on the wall. Seven years ago, before the advent of superior technology, I will acknowledge that the SMARTboard — populating a far less crowded edu-tech marketplace — found a willing buyer in schools looking to integrate technology into pedagogy. I don’t want you to take this diatribe as a judgement on the teachers who everyday find innovative uses of this technology; everyday teachers spin magic out of popsicle sticks and construction paper: we are an innovative breed, and consistently find ways to do more with less. I argue that the SMARTboard is that “less”.

The SMARTboard is a single touch device. It perpetuates a teacher-centric teaching practice. I will again acknowledge that teachers have found ways to make this a centre, to make it a space for students to collaborate, but in the present day, that collaboration can be had on far more dynamic devices, and in the past, 90% of that collaboration could still be achieved from a projector and laptop, or a bank of desktops. To continue to spend what amounts to about $3500 in each classroom for the requisite board, laptop, projector and installation is certainly not the way that I would want money spent within my classroom. A projector, and a device (laptop or tablet) that could be connected to that projector is worthwhile technology in the classroom, but I would spend the remaining $2500 on devices that could be more easily leveraged in the hands of students. If I was making the purchase today, this could be 7-8 iPad Minis that could put research resources from the internet, and an array of apps that would allow students to create multimedia artifacts to show their learning. I know that these devices are fairly new, but I believe they represent a quantum shift in ed-tech purchases, and in much the same way that we are watching Blackberry (who rested on their laurels far to long) attempt to re-invent themselves in a market that has moved on without them, SMART will need to create something far more innovative, at a price-point far more reasonable than a $5000 table (their latest product) in order for me to renew my faith in their inclusion in classrooms as we move forward.

The Motivation: I felt that the question in this section was rigged to promote a positive answer. The following question in the unit invited the students to explore different Smartboard activities that we might find useful in the classroom, presupposing that we had already decided that the Smartboard was a useful tool. I will certainly admit that there was an element of devil’s advocation in the writing of this post; but it does reflect my current thinking around Smartboards as a current technology. I am an advocate for the effective use of any tool provided in a classroom, and have certainly seen Smartboards used effectively in classrooms, but I think we need to question the continued purchase of these devices moving forward.

Project-Based VS Job-Embedded Learning

We have some “kits” making the rounds in schools around the board. The intent of these are admirable. Too often we knee-jerk to what we know, or what has come before, and has been “tested” and “adopted”. This leads to tunnel vision when decisions are made about properly instrumenting a classroom. The worst example of this (in my humble opinion), is outfitting classrooms with interactive whiteboard (IWB) technology. This “must-have” tool is not without its virtues, and having had one in my classroom, I understand the benefits; but if given the choice of how to spend over $3000 on tools for my learning space (IWB, Projector, Laptop, Mounting Expense), I would opt for a bank of laptops instead (or better yet, six iPads). Given the basis in which schools are funded, adopting a strategy to outfit each classroom with an IWB at the (accelerated) rate of two or three a year,  I can guarantee that by the time you have one in every classroom in your school, this single-touch interface will be completely antiquated in comparison with whatever else “new” has appeared on the horizon.  I could probably argue that this has already happened.

I cannot deny that the IWB companies have attempted to grow with the changing landscape, enabling dual touch split-board interfaces so that two students can use the wildly expensive giant mouse/trackpad simultaneously, but they are looking more and more like the RIM of the educational technology world, resting on the expectation that every classroom should have one, just like every business-person should have access to BBM regardless of how smartphone technology has grown and surpassed the Blackberry interface. Their growth is slow. Their pricing structure (while every other technology gets cheaper every year) is stagnant, and their use as a collaborative tool feels forced: this is a single-touch device, and we shouldn’t need to take turns on a 25+:1 ratio of student to device.

So we have “buy this instead” kits. Kits of laptops, and kits of iPods, and kits of iPads. You can see how they are being utilized on the Going Mobile blog on the HWDSB Commons. It’s great work, but until we indoctrinate the masses, convincing them of the transformative power these devices have on the learning space, will they be anything more than projects: short-lived experiments before reality hits, with the return and re-deployment of the kits into another classroom. Again, the goal is admirable. We are trying to show schools the different options available so that when the money is there to spend, it can be spent wisely, after an inquiry of a month or so that proves the purchase is warranted. (But is the money there?)

The problem is making that job-embedded. Embedding pencil and paper tasks is easy(er). I can put new wine in those old skins without much required on the part of the school or its coffers (although changing practice is always hard, regardless of the medium). There are numerous high yield strategies that can effectively be implemented using paper. Every one of those strategies can likely be enriched through technology. Example: Exit cards are great. Electronic exit cards can be shared, data-mined, and sorted in myriad ways, and the thinking of the students is more easily made transparent to the other members of the class to lead dialogue and drive inquiry. With these kits, we are giving teachers and students more than just a glimpse of that technicolour learning experience, before we return them to earth, and the reality of their small school, and its small budget. What needs to change in order for technology at the point of learning to become a job-embeddable opportunity?

If I were to return to the classroom tomorrow, the first order of business would be to locate and install a bank of computers (a minimum of six) to create a centre for my classroom, by whatever means necessary. I’ve taught with technology, and I refuse to take this vital component out of my learning environment regardless of the state and availability of technology in the school I may return to. And yet every month we do this. We make available through these kits — through month-long inquiry projects — the revelation that these types of devices can change practice, can make rich tasks richer, and can enable otherwise impossible connections with co-learners, a global audience and expertise from around the world. Then we take them away.

The hope of course is that conversations around how these purchases can be facilitated begins. Thoughts about curtailed photocopying, and better resource sharing are raised. Unfortunately, the small school is still the victim. They are funded based on enrollment, and we have yet to change the definition of what bare-minimum resources a classroom requires in order to operate, and found the funding to perpetuate that new definition. It’s still chalk and blackboards and pencils in a world that has far surpassed those tools as standard operating items in lieu of projectors and laptops and mobile devices.

Some days it’s a hard role advocating for the optional necessity.

What’s up with Doc Cameras

I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries regarding Document Cameras. The SMART version of this product sells for around $700 dollars. There is some great functionality that this $700 provides, but the cost of admission is pretty steep.

What is a document camera really, other than a webcam-on-a-stick.

Buy this instead: Ipevo P2v, or build your own with cups, straws and a $20 webcam.

Here’s mine. Height adjustable (extra cups sold separately).


Apple Learning Tour Event

The event started out with that video, along with a reference to the the new National Technology Plan released in the US.

That was followed by a reference to the blended learning environment as a multi-device environment. One step further than I think most schools would be. This definition of “Blended Learning” assumes that everyone has tech, but now the tech is different (mobile), as opposed to a have and have not world, which would still be our current reality.

They present Bootcamp as a strategy for school boards unwilling to “Go Mac”: Waterloo runs dual boot labs running Mac hardware with both Windows and Mac available on separate partitions of the drive. From an IT standpoint this type of image can be deployed as one.

Another alternative is Virtual Machines: Parallels, VMware, or VirtualBox. All of these assume that you have Apple hardware.

Podcast Producer running on Mac OS X Server looks like a fantastic way to make podcasting software available to students, although again precludes the PC boards. A quick google search reveals this Sharepoint alternative

Now showing a school where every classroom has a wiki. This gives stakeholders (teachers, parents, admin) a window into the diversity of learning taking place in the classroom, and in the board. This aligns with my hopes for a Learning Commons platform, only utilizing Blogs instead of Wikis as the publishing platform.

From there: iOS4 (the operating system utilized on iPods, iPhones, and iPads). A new addition to the iOS is ePub support in ibooks. This file format seems to make a lot of sense if we were to embark on a e-library platform. The format is quite powerful, allowing for video and audio players to be built/embed directly in the text. APP ALERT: Printopia allows airprint to iOS (currently native printing on the platform is limited to a small handful of HP printers).


The new iOS Supports:
Exchange server 2010
ssl VPN support
Multiple Exchange accounts.
Enhanced Data protection
Mobile Device Management
Wireless in-house app distribution

An Enterprise Development Account allows for inhouse deployment of inhouse-created apps.

Other Apps worth investigating:

iPad vSphere Management App
Parallels mobile App

App Store Volume Purchase Program is not yet available in Canada; but the US model would allow for App Codes to be supplied to the end user of the app (board/school/dept buys a number of licenses that are then unlocked with a serial number.)

iTunes: Enterprise Controls: through the iPhone Configuration Utility allows for a number of different controls. Basically allows for the ability to “disable” access and purchasing functionality. The Config Utility is a free tool.

One last note concerning resources: Apply for an Apple Learning Experience Kit: ALEKits. Your proposal must link to curriculum. A successful proposal would result in a kit appearing at your classroom step with tools that you could investigate (for a month I believe) within the learning environment.

Notable Link:

Apple Education

Online Videos
Apple Tech Series
Tune-in Webinars
Apple Training and Certification

Apple Distinguished Educators get together and put curriculum content together and share on the Apple for Education site.