I learned today from Josh Pearce that Smart Technologies has changed their whiteboard software installation requirements. For the past few years I’ve been using electronic whiteboard technologies and collecting sources of free as well as commercial digital curriculum sources for teachers appropriate for digital whiteboards, Smart Technologies has been permitting downloads of their Smartboard technology software, and NOT requiring a registration code or product serial number to install and activate the software. This has been a HUGE benefit to many schools, particularly those which “image” large numbers of computer hard drives for teachers. Not requiring a licensing code had many other benefits as well. If a teacher had a computer at home and one in his/her classroom, it was possible to easily download and install versions of the software in both places so Smartboard lessons could be developed at home and used at school. In professional development contexts, I ran into the situation more than once where the computer I needed to use for a workshop didn’t have Smartboard software installed and configured on it. After downloading the software on the spot, I was able to quickly get it installed and configured. Apparently those days are over.
According to the “How to Download and Install Notebook Software 10 for Mac Computers from the smarttech Website” online document:
To successfully install the complete version of Notebook software 10, you must complete the following steps:
1. Obtain a product key.
2. Uninstall older versions of SMART Board™ software and Notebook software.
3. Download and install Notebook software 10.
4. Activate Notebook software 10.
Why did SMART Technologies make this decision to start requiring a product key to install its software? The fact that their software did NOT require a product key was one of the reasons I’ve heard several technology directors cite in explaining why they had standardized on Smartboards instead of Promethean boards. Note it is still possible to DOWNLOAD Smart’s whiteboard software without a serial number or product key, but you cannot install the latest version (10) without one.
I had heard a rumor that Promethean has STOPPED requiring serial numbers for new whiteboard software installations, but the current Activstudio Version 3 download page requires “a valid serial number for your existing version of Activstudio or Activprimary software at the bottom of this page.” Without the serial number, you can’t even download the Promethean software:
It is not clear whether this serial number is only required to download the software, but NOT to install the software. If the serial number is NOT required for installation, that would be good news for school districts imaging large numbers of computers, and would be a change from Promethean’s past procedures. In February when I presented at NCCE in Seattle I used a Promethean board for my workshop, and had to get both the software and an installation key to put it on the Macbook I was using at the time.
What do you think about this change in software installation requirements for Smartboard software? As a frequent presenter in school districts and at technology conferences, I’ve found it a hassle at times to have to download and install the software drivers for a different electronic whiteboard after I arrive at the conference. I do like and enjoy using electronic whiteboards at times, but I wish all the “stuff” the installation programs put on a computer system could be easily and completely disabled when it is not needed so it doesn’t consume system resources and slow things down.
I’ve noticed some teachers can become quite adamant about the superiority they perceive for either the Smart and Promethean electronic whiteboard. These conversations can be quite similar to the “Mac or PC” arguments which flare up from time time time. As I’ve observed previously and continue to maintain, when comparing platforms the most credible people to ask for their opinions are THOSE WHO INTIMATELY KNOW BOTH PLATFORMS. Quite often when it comes to electronic whiteboards, those arguing the loudest only know one platform well. (Sadly this is also often the case with computer operating systems.) The only school district I know about in Oklahoma which supports both Smart or Promethean boards is Tulsa Public Schools. Generally, most school districts I’ve seen choose to standardize on one or the other. I actually think the technology leaders of TPS have been smart (no pun intended) to permit schools to make the platform decision on whiteboards locally. By letting different schools try different boards, they’ve been able to obtain firsthand, in-district knowledge about different options. It is still rare, however, to find a teacher with extensive experience using more than one whiteboard platform, however.
Whatever electronic whiteboard platform you think is better (eInstruction is also a big player too, of course) it’s impossible to ignore the HUGE sums of money schools continue to spend on these devices. Unfortunately, IMHO, electronic whiteboards are not a technology which inherently encourages pedagogic shifts in instructional practices. Like most of the lessons on Thinkfinity (sadly) electronic whiteboards continue to be used in very teacher-directed, didactic learning settings. It certainly IS vital that 21st century educators have access to a functional LCD projector as well as Internet-connected computer, but rather than pour millions of dollars into yet MORE technology which supports teacher-centered instruction, I’d like to see all our schools proactively plan and implement sustainable one-to-one laptop learning initiatives. (The Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) is one of the best organizations to join and partner with on this front, btw.) Only when we put the technologies in the HANDS OF THE STUDENTS and intentionally seek to facilitate student creation, communication, and collaboration with those tools ON A REGULAR BASIS will we be appropriately utilizing taxpayer dollars for educational technologies in our schools. That’s a strong statement I know, but I am quite tired of seeing so many teachers continue to persist in 19th century styles of teaching using 21st century tools. As Marco Torres says, if teachers are still just asking kids to read pages 1 – 20 and answer questions 1 – 10 from the textbook, but now doing it with a flashy electronic whiteboard instead of a chalkboard or overhead projector, technology dollars have just been WASTED.
Smartboards are fun to use and often represent “low hanging fruit” for school board members as well as administrators who want to find visible ways to show the public “we support technology use in our schools” but at the same time minimize the potentially disruptive impact of those technologies on the traditional teaching and learning paradigm. As much smaller and more power efficient computer processors like the Atom from Intel come onto the scene, I anticipate (and hope) we’ll continue to see laptop computer prices go down as processing power goes up. Certainly Moore’s Law suggests these trends should continue, but we didn’t see laptop prices fall precipitously until the OLPC/XO laptop came onto the scene. Moore’s Law apparently doesn’t apply to videoconferencing codecs for some reason either, and that is unfortunate. As consumers as well as educators, we should be paying far less for far more processing power when it comes to all our computer equipment these days.
Check your local electronics store advertisements in the upcoming weeks to see the amazingly low prices you can now pay for gigabytes of data storage. I saw an ad yesterday for a 2 GB flash drive for $15. A 350 GB external hard drive was less than $100. It was only about a year ago that we had to pay at least $1 per gigabyte of external hard drive storage. Technology advances continue to accelerate, but as David Thornburg observed at NECC 2008, our pedagogies have not caught up. That is OUR FAULT, and we need to continue to work on remedying that divide separating learning potential from the realities in our classrooms.
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