Friday, January 27, 2006

Will Smartboards Live Up To Their Full Potential

Here at the University, we belong to a technology buying consortium to enable us to purchase products based on an overall economy of scale. In the consortium's newsletter this month was an article about the integration of Smartboards in various educational settings. I was surprised to read that the devices are so popular in the Overland Park, Kansas school district that Bob Moore, executive director of IT for the district says they are adopting a policy of installing nothing but Smartboards, like those produced by Smart Technologies, in any new schools slated for construction.

Five years ago when I attended one of the last Comdexes I evaluated and was impressed by a Smartboard adapter device called Mimio. It had the capability to convert any exisiting Whiteboard into a Smartboard for around $500. I thought it would be a good addition to the Dean's conference room equipment since the dean was always scribbling on large paper pads then tearing them off, folding them up, then stashing them in various corners of his office. With the Mimio device, he could use the special pens to write on one of our existing whiteboards then capture his notes to a file on the connected laptop computer. The file could then be retrieved for future viewing, sent by e-mail to interested people, or included in other presentations at a later date. I excitedly brought one back to the office. I found the setup to be relatively easy and the product performed as promised. However, because the product required connection each time it was used (a relatively easy task as well), I found that, despite my efforts at familiarizing the dean's executive staff with the device and configuring the presentation laptop with the drivers so it would be automatically detected when it was connected, no one seemed to remember to (or to want to) check out the equipment and connect it if no technology assistant was available. So, a powerful piece of equipment has sat virtually unused for the last five years.

A few months ago, one of our professors with grant money decided to purchase a regular portable Smartboard to provide it to faculty wanting to integrate technology into their classes. I commented at the time that I hoped he was planning some type of introductory training for faculty wishing to use the device since I had my doubts of their willingness to use it after my experience. Unfortunately, it appears that it, too, is collecting dust. Yesterday, I spoke with the director of the Center for Educational Technology for the university and asked if he had any inquiries about Smartboard use. He said he didn't but didn't know we had one available for demo purposes either. He said he would like to demonstrate the product at a Teaching Effectiveness program later this year. I told him I was sure it would be okay to borrow ours since it wasn't getting much (and when I checked the reservation log - any) use.

It really is an excellent technology but I'm afraid it will take replacement of the blackboards before the faculty will invest their time in learning to use the new device.
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