While leading a college IT team at a private college in Wisconsin I painfully learned Smartboards are just plain dumb. Our Provost was interested to explore funding Smartboards in eight classrooms. In securing a full “kick-the-tires” evaluation over two weeks from Smart Technologies’ regional reseller — our college took a full, no-holes barred test drive. The reseller delivered the smartboards right to our doorstep.
Smart Technologies a Canadian company manufactures a series of interactive whiteboards targeted for the education and healthcare markets. They have a large marketshare in K12 school districts yet a very small share in Higher Education.
SMART Technologies has a simple marketing message: SMART Boards represent the latest advanced in high-tech classrooms. And by the looks of sales in K12 they believe they get access to state-of-the-art technology to teach more effectively. Students “feel” more engaged with high-tech gadgets. Parents believe their children are recieving a better, quality education because their school has expensive smart boards installed.
Their products like other manufacturers permit anyone (holding a custom pen with touch recognition) to control/interact with an application’s software menus and windows. This will enable some level of handwriting recognition. Depending upon the type of camera configured, projection can be front or rear facing. The important feature is the ability to capture digital ink — or handwriting recognition. It’s the “smart” part of their product — as their trademark would imply. But for the prices that range from ($3,000 to $12,000) you should be getting 110% of your school’s investment. Right?
I have witnessed shifts towards “smartclassrooms” in K12 and Higher Education around the Midwest for almost 20 years. If you have not personally configured and kicked the tires of a SMART Board PLEASE make sure someone on your IT Staff has this experience. The results should fundamentally change your view of smartboards and ’emerging’ technologies in the classroom.
Just one very important observation before jumping into my experience: In today’s branded world of smartphones, smartcars and even smart appliances, SMART Technologies holds the trademark to the word “Smart” and believe me …. there is marketing power when holding this trademark when selling technology products.
Okay….call them whatever you want: smartboard, digital whiteboards or even toss in the term “interactive” into the mix. What should shock you is the degree of software compatibility for the price schools pay for these boards.
My goal was simple: obtain a solid understanding of this technology to justify our Provost’s initiative. I kept a close eye on the purchase, installation, design and (most importantly) delivering empowering training to faculty and staff. In order for me to meet these objectives the following three tasks were outlined for the Provost:
1. Tour a successful university installation with a team from our college
2. Confirm reseller demo on campus in-front of key decision makers
3. Successfully test drive all campus site licensed software
I was fortunate to secure a tour of Marquette University’s SmartClassrooms with their Associate Vice President for Educational Technology. Joining me was our Director of Instructional Technology, Dean of Continuing Education and two members of my IT support team.
Several installations around Marquette’s campus successfully demonstrate a range interactive smart boards. Marquette’s total costs for installing a “smartclassroom” cost about $40,000 per classroom. The highlight of our visit was a behind the scenes tour of their smartclassroom in the new Raynor Library.
However SMART Technologies was not well liked by staff responsible for maintaing classroom technology. As a result our group walked away realizing Smart’s products were not the right solution. Their reputation was poor, the total cost of ownership and training were much higher than anticipated and most importantly their product did not work as advertised.
In order to fully utilize a SMART board’s touch pen you must install or program custom code for ALL applications to be used on their SMART boards. Yes, your school needs special code-modified versions of EVERY software application installed on every machine that will be connect to their SMART board. Our college provides faculty with laptops and have laptops on mobile carts. Our existing fresh out-of-the-box site licensed software from Adobe, Apple, Microsoft and every other vendor on the planet DOES NOT recognize SMART’s pen! That’s a big problem.
Continue reading “Smartboards are just plain dumb”