Friday, April 6, 2012

SMART Boards in Higher Education

The Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department invited an alumna, Erin, to train them on the use of smart boards for Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) and they opened up the training so others, like me, could attend. Erin is an SLP in an elementary school and she frequently uses the smart board in her teaching. I learned what almost all of the buttons in the smart notebook software do and seeing Erin navigate on the smart board was helpful and interesting.

Most smart board images on google have kids in them like the one above, because they are most commonly used in the K-12 setting. Kids get excited about technology, enjoy interacting with the smart boards, and are not afraid to try using technology (or so I've heard!). The lessons Erin showed us were perfect for the population of kids she worked with; exercises that would have been done individually are modified for a group and integrate technology to make them more kinesthetic and interesting. The kids get immediate feedback on most of them and they usually got opportunities to try again if they got the answer wrong. She had tons of specific examples.

So how can smart boards be used in teaching college students? That is a little more difficult, because the students might feel as if they are being treated like children even if the content is relevant. With the hipster trend in full force, college students are significantly less likely to be excited about anything, so you lose one of the main draws of using smart boards in K-12. But we have smart boards and students in some disciplines should have experience with them for their future profession, so let's use them!

One faculty member mentioned that her students were reluctant to get up in front of the class and try the smart board activities. That makes sense - think about how people are more likely to speak from where they are sitting rather than physically come to the front of the class. One idea mentioned was to have the students do the smart board activity as they are coming in to class or during a break, so they don't have to get up in front of a group of people and be put on the spot to do it. You could also have discussion time/smart board time, where they are discussing in groups and taking turns at the smart board. That way, they can all try the smart activity while everyone else is discussing.

Example activities could be determining what to keep and what to get rid of about a theory (a grad student in the room offered this idea) or having them sort or match items/terms. There are probably lots of anatomy applications. It could be a simple multiple choice question where they drag the answer over.

Students in disciplines like education and CSD where they will be using smart board in their profession should understand the importance of gaining experience with smart products, both on the student and instructor side, for marketability. It is possible to download the smart notebook software here free for 30 days, so they could do that and create practice lessons and then other students could do the lesson as practice K-12 students. They could be actual lessons they'd use in their teaching, so the college students completing the activity for practice would definitely know the answers, reducing that possible area of reluctance to try it.

But what if the faculty aren't preparing future teachers or SLPs and don't want to create lessons and learn all of the ins and outs of the smart software? They could use the smart board as a glorified whiteboard or chalkboard and write on it, with the added benefit of being able to record whatever they write on slides and share/keep them. This is an extremely limited use of a very expensive technology though. I'm talking very expensive. In these cases, I'd recommend other products such as Mimio that are a fraction of the cost. The drawback to Mimio is that it is projection-based, meaning you write on a whiteboard that has an image from your computer projected on it, so you do end up blocking a bit of the image when you stand in front of it or write on it. You also have to use a stylus (vs your finger), but the Mimio software is pretty comparable based on what I know. I will have to explore more. I've heard that Mimio is becoming more popular in K-12 schools. You can also use a Wiimote with free Smoothboard software to create a similar effect to Mimio for under $70. We are going to try this soon

On a related note, if annotation is your primary need (like if you are writing out math problems), there are a few options which have the added benefit of being projectable so larger classes can see what you are doing. For instance, smart has a podium which is basically a monitor you can annotate on (unfortunately it's also very expensive), there are tablet PCs by Lenovo and Fujitsu to name a few, and the iPad has some nice annotation apps.

Bottom line: What do I think of smart board use in higher ed? 
  • Students in some disciplines should be familiar with smart boards for their future jobs. In those disciplines, looking for ways faculty can use them in their teaching of those students is justified. 
  • I would also recommend for the students to learn to create lessons themselves for the smart board using the smart notebook software. 
  • In every other situation, the need should drive the technology. Think about what you need to do, and use the best (and preferably most affordable) solution. My job is to help figure that out. 
  • Smart boards are simply not the best way to teach large classes because the image is not projectable (at least last I checked) and it will be difficult for students to see. 
  • If faculty aren't going to learn the smart software to create lessons/activities, it doesn't make sense for them to use the smart board as a glorified whiteboard or chalkboard for the cost. It's a big waste to use it only to show PowerPoint slides or whatever would be projected onto a screen in a typical classroom. 
  • Overall, I don't think that using smart lessons/activities to engage or teach college students is the best modality. I'd usually recommend clickers, an online polling service, or Twitter so that each student can answer individually and the faculty can go over the results. This is mostly because I don't see that much benefit for the cost and class sizes in higher ed can be quite large. 
  • Smart boards in K-12, especially for students with disabilities, are totally different and justifiable, mostly because of that excitement factor. I was really interested to hear Erin's stories of how it was going over with the kids. 
What do you think?

Note that the brand SMART is usually written in uppercase. I was being lazy. 
The image is from the SMART website. 

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