Smart Board Technology in the Classroom: a Lesson Learned?

Ian McNamara writes:

I’d like to ask about technology in schools. Right now, schools are spending a ton of money on Smart Boards. My school has done this and almost every classroom has one, yet the computers hooked up to these devices are dumbing them down by using Windows XP. The computers are at least 10 years old. Why should we expect great technology to be great if we’re using old technology with it? It also doesn’t make sense when you spend $2,000 on a device that the teachers don’t understand. Proper training isn’t even in place! It doesn’t make sense that schools don’t prioritize technology if it’s a daily driver in the workplace. If schools were to provide every student with a device like the Nexus 7, or even make it a requirement, they’d be able to save money and make life easier. If the teachers’ computers were newer and running a current version of Ubuntu, these Smart Boards would actually be smart!

When do you think schools will actually prioritize one of the most important aspects of life?

There are two tendencies in life that we need to consider to answer your question. The first is your mental growth. Most active people go through at least three careers in their lifetimes. For instance, a student might train as an engineer and take a first job using skills learned at school. After a few years, that young engineer might have a chance to move into management, a whole new career. Maybe after some time, the manager takes night classes and passes the bar to become a patent attorney. The point is that by the time a person has significant life experience, the details of what was learned in school are not as important as the fact that the person learned how to learn and continued to learn throughout life. I have senior friends who have never taken a theoretical computation class, but hold patents in novel computer design. They taught themselves what they need to know and had fun doing it. So while your school needs some basic, minimum-level technology to be competitive, the goal of a good school is to provide a learning environment — not to be in the lead in technology — since whatever they buy will be obsolete by the time you graduate, anyway.

Smart Board Technology in the Classroom: a Lesson Learned?That brings us to the second tendency to consider. Some day, the rate of change in available technology will start to slow. If history is any guide, we might even forget how to build computers! In the meanwhile, students graduating today enter a different world than their parents did, and most likely not the same world their children will enter. Smartphones, tablets, Facebook, and Twitter are probably so much of your life that you do not even think about them any more than you would notice the sign on a bus bench. That is normal for you, but was not normal for any previous generation. More important, it will likely not be normal for following generations. A good education should prepare students to adapt to change and be able to understand the ramifications of change.

Obviously I do not know how your school uses Smart Boards, but I find them a useful tool for some types of presentations. XP might be ancient, but it does get the job done in terms of being able to provide information for discussions and lectures. You might not want XP for gaming, but so what?

The saddest part of your question is that teachers are not prepared to use the newer tools. I have seen this many times. A person spends 20 years mastering a subject and knowing how to present it. Then the situation changes and a teacher suddenly must adapt to a whole new paradigm. Frankly, I love it. Give me a new challenge any day and I am happier than I would be sitting in a chair and being boring doing the same things over and over in the same way. Spoiler alert! Not everyone feels that way. That does not mean the others are bad people. It just means that those of us on the geekier side of life welcome — even look for — changes. Some changes are improvements. We keep them. Some are failures. We move on. But we always have fun.

Finally, we do not know the budget or plans for your school. You see some manifestations of planning, but that does not mean you understand all the issues that went into the decisions. Do more research before condemning them. They might have good reasons.

“When do you think schools will actually prioritize one of the most important aspects of life?”

Well, Ian, if your school has made a priority of making an environment in which you can learn how to learn and develop a love to keep on learning, then it has its priorities right. The technology you use will change. Do not get wedded to the immediate manifestation of commercial technology. It will change. Learn how to learn about technology.

By the way, I agree that Ubuntu is rather cool. Spend some time seeing how the kernel works and what that means for other distros. Maybe when you get good enough, you can talk a teacher (or IT) into letting you set up a dual-boot system, and then you can present it to your school — maybe start a club of like-minded students. The world is yours once you learn how to learn — and it is fun.

Image: Daniel Goleman en Expomanagement 2011 by DubsarPR (via Flickr)