Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Smart Technologies whiteboard software now requires product keys for installation

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:

Promethean Activstudio software requires a serial number to download:

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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33 responses to “Smart Technologies whiteboard software now requires product keys for installation”

  1. Bob Martin Avatar

    Hi Wes,

    One more post and then I will leave you alone… 😉

    In Missouri,we are heavy on the SMART side of things. I work for Mizzou and my job as a tech trainer sends me out to nearly every school in the state to teach teachers how to use technology. Because of this, I am SMART certified through Notebook 10.

    The reason SMART did this was mostly because their software was so popular that people were downloading it and using it with other types of boards… Not good. So the only way they could figure out to guarantee you really had a board was to force you to provide a product ID off of your board.

    Two things:

    First, you only need one product ID and you can use it as many times as you want.
    Second, you need it to download, not install.

    Yes, it’s a pain.
    Yes, it is an extra step. And even though I wish there was a better way, I guess I understand.

    SMART says techs can distribute product IDs to teachers who want to download the software at home, so as long as a tech has one ID, they should be fine.

    Hope this clears the mud a bit.


  2. Gary Stager Avatar

    I don’t ignore the huge sums of money being spent on whiteboards, I do however completely ignore the whiteboards as anything more than a Pre-Gutenberg technology wrongly reinforcing the dominance of the front of the room.

    Priests chant from the front of the classroom while the monks take dictation on their tablet PCs.

    Before everyone tells me that “interactive” (weakly defined) whiteboards may be used in a more sensible learner-centered fashion it’s worth understanding that this is not the intent of the technology.

    A trumpet may be used for hammering nails too, but I don’t recommend it.

  3. Ben Hazzard Avatar


    In February 08 the product manager came on our podcast to discuss this issue. The Notebook 10 registration requirement was the source of great debate on the podcast, via email, and even in comments on the show notes. Here is the audio: We have been discussing for 2 years the possibilities of a common interactive whiteboard format: It is called the SMARTBoard Lessons Podcast because of the Kleenex effect but all lessons are released in PDF format as well. The focus is having teachers share lessons and stories of classroom interaction and practice in a fun, informal way.

    Mr. Stager and your characterizations of interactive whiteboards may miss the point. The low handing fruit can also be laptops or any technology. Teaching practices are the issue and teacher’s comfort with technology. Maybe these two elements interact in a strange way. Does one lead to the other? Is there an inverse relationship between teacher technology comfort and promoted teaching practices?

    We live in the world of Twitter, Plurk, Drupal, Skype, WordPress, Edublogs, and Voicethread. Do we all listen to the ‘priests chant from’ San Francisco? How do we bring teachers along to use technology with effective pedagogy? Maybe (and just maybe) a classroom computer is being used in the learning environment for the first time, even if it is for instruction. The ability to use a metaphor familiar to teachers, the whiteboard and digital ink, may promote that first use beyond e-mail or report card writing.

    Underlying this whole discussion are a series of assumptions about value: the valued pedagogy, the valued technology, and the valued platform.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    From @benhazzard : @wfryer Not sure if you’re listened but Notebook 10 registration was issue Dec-Feb – SMART talked about it on podcast

  5. GeorgiaC Avatar

    Well said Gary! The IWBs are simply glorified chalk boards!

  6. KM Avatar

    GeorgiaC – If you belielve as you wrote “The IWBs are simply glorified chalk boards!” then you must also believe that computers are nothing but glorified typewriters. If you’ve only seen poor use of the tool then I am sure that is where that statement comes from. BUT, if you’ve been in a classroom with a well-trained and innovative teacher, you’d see the tool used as a very student-centric tool for learning and interacting with content. How much time have you spent exploring the tools available and how to infuse it’s use in the learning process? If it has been minimal, then I can certainly see your feelings about them as being ‘glorified chalk boards’…

    As for the product registration key thing – system admins can do network-wide installs and it can be ‘ghosted’ as well into images. They had to protect their intellectual property as people were breaking the EULA left and right. The software is still free as always, with the same caveat as always – that you must own a SMART product. You can distribute the license key to your entire school building for home use (if your school utilizes SMART Boards) – each teacher does not have to get their own individual license key…

  7. Colin Becker Avatar
    Colin Becker

    If you have an older version of the Promethean software and want to upgrade, the Promethean site can detect your product code and then ‘give’ it to you so that you can download the new version.
    Once you have it downloaded, you can put it on any machine. This was the case about 4 months ago when we updated to the latest version.

  8. GeorgiaC Avatar

    In response to KM. You are spot on with your comment also. I have not as yet seen IWBs used in a very student-centric way in a classroom. Even when the teacher has given up the marker to the students I cannot not see how the same results cannot be achieved with just a laptop and a projector at a fraciton of the cost. Is the cost justified? I need more proof.

  9. […] post is a comment that I made on Wes Fryer’s Speaking of Creativity blog in response to his ideas about SMART Notebook now requiring activation. The ideas of fellow […]

  10. KM Avatar

    In response to GeorgiaC – I’ve seen too many teachers create large sheets and have students come up and write into pre-determined spaces/lines… basically a giant ditto on the screen. That is most definitely a worthless use of the technology and just because the students got up from their seat does not make it student-centric.

    But – i have seen excellent uses where teachers have created wonderful activities, scenarios, simulations, and more where the whole class, small groups, or individuals can interact with the content – depends on the overall teaching style and classroom design. Again, the SMART Board doesnt make it teacher-centric, if the teacher runs their class that way, they’ll use their technology that way. A laptop and projector is almost more damaging in the teacher-centric mode because you end up with a teacher face-down in their laptop talking to the screen as they manipulate the content. Typically, the laptop is facing towards a wall on a shelf or it is at a desk facing forward, so the teacher ends up not only talking towards the laptop, but also towards a wall and not in the direction of the students…

    Teacher methodology has to change – the tool does not all of a sudden make the teacher understand the creation of a student-centered learning environment. What we are seeing here is that SMART Boards are being brought into pre-service (college/university) teaching programs so these teachers are learning how to utilize these tools alongside new methodology in instruction. They dont have years of prior experience and education (and habits) to unlearn in that manner..

    With all of that said – i believe on your site you reference that you are going to be do a grant-funded study around the US – maybe you’ll be able to find some schools where teachers are truly creating dynamic content for a student-centered learning experience utilizing the SMART Board.

  11. Larry Avatar

    It is my understanding Forthcoming, Smart will have paid for versions of the software with additional features, hence the reason to start enforcing serials.

    Also, to my knowledge you cannot use the smart software on other manufacturers boards. Promethian has a device which tricks the smart board into thinking it is a prometian board thereby allowing you to use Promethian software on a smart board. But I have never seen Smart software working on another manufactures board. IF anyone has confirmed otherwise please provide names of boards. Thanks and great post Wes.

  12. Elizabeth Christophy Avatar
    Elizabeth Christophy

    I think that your post emphasizes the need for proper teacher training. Too often, administrators buy the technology, then present it to the teachers and leave them alone. It is important to emphasize continuing professional development (not just a one-time lesson) and sharing of best practices. No matter what tool we are discussing, the tools can only do so much. The teachers need time to explore how best to use it. It is only in that way that teaching pedogogy can be improved.

  13. Gary Stager Avatar

    Is it not possible that certain technologies undermine best practices?

    Are we so technocentric that we believe that every technology is equivalent and dependent on either a) “PD” or b) teacher effort?

    I’m sure there are teachers who could do creative things with a chainsaw. Why not buy every teacher a chainsaw?

    What if the technology is just bad or unnecessary? Is that a possibility?

  14. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Gary: I have seen teachers use electronic whiteboards in engaging ways with students, where they are coming up to the board and participating, doing things they could not do with a chalkboard or overhead. I expect that iPhone/iTouch multi-touch technologies will eventually come to electronic whiteboards as well, allowing more than one student to be at the front at the same time.

    No one is arguing that we should all buy a piece of technology with minimal relevance to the teaching and learning experience. I know you are strongly opposed to teacher-centered instruction, but even in a constructivist classroom I would argue there are short periods of time during which whole-class instruction takes place. My position is that we need to have far less teacher-directed instruction in many classrooms today than we see presently, and I think the point that electronic whiteboards are too often used within the age-old teacher directed model is certainly true. (Sylvia Martinez aptly called this the “division of labor” model where teachers organize learning and students “do” the learning in her presentation on PD for K12Online07).

    Your point is “certain technologies undermine best practices.” I don’t think electronic whiteboards are undermining best practices, I think in cases where they are not being used for student-centered learning they are simply maintaining the pre-existing instructionist model. This is why I advocated for schools to spend money on 1:1 learning initiatives and student laptops rather than more whiteboards. I think it is MUCH harder to remain purely instructionist in a 1:1 setting than it is in a classroom equipped with a whiteboard.

    It is a HUGE deal and gift for many, many teachers to receive a whiteboard in their room because in 99% of cases I know of here in Oklahoma, it’s the first time the teacher has had an LCD projector in his/her classroom that gets to STAY there. Yes, LCD projectors get used for teacher-directed PowerPoints at times, but they can be used for so much more… and we STILL have many, many classrooms in our state without projectors.

    So, I disagree with the point that electronic whiteboards by their very nature “undermine best practice.” As with other teaching tools and resources I think they can be used poorly or well. That’s up to the teacher, and DOES support what Elizabeth said above in her comment about needing to address instructional use issues through PD and not just through giving teachers the hardware. I would argue that similar to what Sylvia said in the aforementioned K12Online07 preso about PD, we do NOT need more pull-out PD for teachers. An orientation session to the whiteboard is OK, but what teachers really need is situated opportunities to learn about using their whiteboard in THEIR classroom with THEIR students.

  15. Gary Stager Avatar


    Are you suggesting that wasting extra money to get a classroom projector is an acceptable rationale for a white board purchase? If so, why not write about what a bad idea that is and educate school districts? Surely white boards are a most egregious case of top-down implementation. Few technologies are purchased willy-nilly for every classroom in a district, state or even country without any local input. Where are the demands for “evidence” that this electronic raises test scores? Millions are being spent without any oversight or critical thought.

    With all due respect, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue for less full-frontal instruction and simultaneously support the investment and installation of an expensive technology that even by your own admission is often used to increase and sustain bad practices.

    BTW: I often teach quite nicely without a classroom projector. I do so by working WITH and ALONGSIDE children.

    It seems that you insist on hanging on to the old canard that the impact of any technology use is dependent on the quality of the teacher. So, is there any technology you are not euphoric about?

    Should districts buy Math Blaster? Quarter Mile Math? Clickers? How about a half million dollar integrated learning system that drills poor children for hours each day? By your buy a white board, get a projector logic, kids could use the integrated learning system headphones to listen to their ipods, right?

    Your citation of Ms. Martinez is a caricature and represents a gross misunderstanding of her work. First of all, handing a kid the white board pen is not a division of labor. It is asking a student to “play teacher” for a few moments. Asking kids to pass out worksheets or call the roll is not constructivism.

    More importantly, putting a student in the role of teacher only substitutes the teacher, not the form of Instruction (with a capital I). Ms. Martinez’ K12Online session was about helping teachers overcome their fears of Web 2.0 technologies by employing the Generation YES philosophy of student leadership supporting school improvement. She was not addressing constructivism.

  16. Wesley Fryer Avatar


    With regard to LCD projectors, I’m saying that I think every classroom needs one and should have one. I think there is a time for whole group instruction and a time for group work as well as independent work. A time for online learning. A time for face to face instruction. (I’m definitely hearing a song coming here. 🙂

    I don’t think I am contradicting myself when I advocate for LCD projectors for each classroom, and also advocate for pedagogic changes which place less emphasis on direct instruction. If we don’t provide every teacher with a LCD projector, what are teachers left with to present with when they need to write and show pictures to students? The overhead. The chalkboard. I have used overheads and chalkboards to teach, and I still use them at times– but I don’t think that’s enough.

    I assure you I’m not trying to caricaturize Sylvia’s K12Online07 PD presentation– On one hand I’m linking to it because I want to amplify it, I think the ideas she shared about traditional PD where we separate teachers out from students is both thought provoking and worth sharing with others– I hadn’t heard the “division of labor” idea as it relates to teacher and student learning roles before. I know she wasn’t advocating constructivism in that presentation, but she did summarize it nicely, and I thought that “division of labor” image was helpful (at least it is to me) in thinking about changing the role of the teacher from predominantly delivering instruction, to a shared model where teachers and students are co-learners.

    I completely agree that using an interactive whiteboard well or poorly does not equate to modeling constructivist learning. I agree whiteboards don’t promote pedagogic change. That was one of the original points in my post… I’m disagreeing with the prevalent mentality that everyone should have a whiteboard and that is how we should spend our technology dollars in schools. I guess I can see where you think I’m contradicting myself, but what I’m struggling with is what should constitute “standard classroom equipment” today in 2008. At the college where I used to work, for the first four years I was there we struggled to convert all the “standard classrooms” to “multimedia classrooms” which at a minimum had a projector and speakers available for a computer. So many of our classrooms today in Oklahoma lack that level of infrastructure– What I’m trying to say is that all of our classroom learning spaces should be “multimedia capable” and ready. They should not be used to just deliver instruction, however. We DO need broad-based pedagogic change.

    Is that any more clear? I am sorry if I am not communicating my ideas well in this thread.

  17. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Gary: I neglected to answer your question on technologies about which I’m not enthusiastic. I don’t have a comprehensive list at hand, but several you mentioned– clickers and ILS systems, would make my list. I would put Accelerated Reader on the list. While I don’t support ILS systems for everyone, I do think alternative education programs which use online curriculum and tests can be beneficial for some students.

    I certainly DO believe the quality of the teacher is the most important factor in influencing student learning. I am pretty confident that belief is supported by research as well as my own teaching and parenting experiences. (Isn’t this one of the main findings of Linda Darling-Hammond’s research?) Tools don’t determine teacher quality, a much more complex set of ideas, beliefs, dispositions, and behaviors do.

    We’re living in a 21st century world with most of our classrooms still equipped for the 19th century, however. They DO need an upgrade. The most important upgrade we can give them, however, isn’t a projector or a whiteboard, it’s a laptop in the hands of every student. I know in some 1:1 environments the administrators have decided that LCD projectors are not necessary. I disagree. I think every classroom needs one. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this?

  18. Elizabeth Christophy Avatar
    Elizabeth Christophy


    You said: “It seems that you insist on hanging on to the old canard that the impact of any technology use is dependent on the quality of the teacher.”

    Are you saying here that some technologies automatically make a bad teacher into a good one? Or that Smartboards turn good teachers into bad ones? I submit that the quality of the teacher is certainly a big factor in the impact of any tool in the classroom. There is no tool that cannot be misused.

    You say also that the best way for students to learn is for teachers to work “with and alongside children.” I think that Smartboards certainly lend themselves to this kind of interaction. I think it is only the inexperienced teacher that insists on using the Smartboard as a glorified whiteboard. This is where continuing professional development comes in. No teacher can be expected to suddenly integrate a new tool into any pedagogy without training. There needs to be regular encouragement and exchanges of ideas among professionals.

  19. sylvia martinez Avatar

    I wish I could claim that quote, but I was quoting Etienne Wenger, who wrote (and is still writing) some of the most influential books about community of practice.

    Here’s the quote that I used in my K12online presentation – [Learning in a community…] “…cannot be based on a division of labor between learners and nonlearners, between those who organize learning and those who realize it, or between those who create meaning and those who execute.” (Wenger 1998)

    This can apply to both PD and the classroom.

    To your points about whiteboard use, however, I see very little evidence that they are being used well in MOST classrooms. I just don’t think that the handful of teachers using them in “engaging” ways would justify the millions that have been spent on them. Most of the schools I work with are busy “looking for things to do with whiteboards”. Really, I wish I didn’t hear that phrase time and time again. In reality, People are looking for ways to justify the money they spent.

    I think we have to acknowledge that although IWBs MIGHT be used well, they aren’t. The next question is whether “good” PD can fix this.

    To answer that, I think you have to question the primary model and design intent of any technology, because that’s how it will mostly be used. Just because a few excellent teachers make something more out of it doesn’t justify it. The primary model and design intent of IWBs reinforces instructionist teaching practice. That they are being primarily used this way should surprise no one.

    In my opinion, no amount of PD will fix this. And in fact, it’s likely that millions more dollars will be poured into PD to try to get teachers to use IWBs, and the result will by and large be in an instructionist, front of the classroom mode. I don’t think PD about IWBs, classroom embedded or not, will be able to overcome the basic nature of IWBs – that their primary function is to allow a teacher to control a presentation in the front of the classroom.

    So, to me, the news that PD isn’t overcoming this basic nature of the IWB should surprise no one either.

  20. Kim Vance Avatar
    Kim Vance

    One of the most exciting things I saw in my computer lab last year was groups of students gathered around the smart board working to create a script and story board for a movie they were making. Certainly this work could have been done with paper and pencil, but as with many tasks, it was much easier to handle in digital form. Nor would it have worked as well on a desktop or laptop. As far as I can tell, the real strength of smart boards (and probably other IWB’s) is that they allow students to work together easily.

  21. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks for the additional clarifications and insights, Sylvia.

    I agree most interactive whiteboards don’t seem to be used effectively in our schools. Some are though, and stories like Kim’s above indicate that the impact of the boards being available CAN be positive in some ways.

    Is the answer to campaign against the purchase and use of interactive whiteboards though? A great deal of my professional attention and efforts are aimed at encouraging teachers to embrace digital technologies as they can help them and their students learn, communicate, create and collaborate more effectively. I think a classroom projector and a whiteboard CAN be used well to advance those goals.

    We can probably have this same discussion about laptops. I had conversations before, during and after NECC this year with Kansas educators familiar with schools that have 1:1 learning environments, but traditional school just continues as usual. Should we take those stories as a reason to campaign against laptops in our schools? I think not. Rather, we need to continue campaigning and working to promote truly learner-centered pedagogies in our classrooms.

    Ultimately I think we have to change the education laws in our nation. I’ve been thinking seriously about the idea of running for elective office in several years. Maybe this is a fruitless idea, but I am inclined to believe we need to have elected officials who are informed about desirable educational practices and current realities– AND understand the destructive impact NCLB, the accountability movement, and the standards movement generally has had on education and learning. I don’t think we can hope to see broad-based changes in pedagogy until we have political leaders that can advance a real educational change agenda. Of course, that change agenda needs to be articulated and communicated well, which is also another task I continue to think about a great deal.

    To get back more specifically to your points, I think the case can be made (and I think I’ve heard you make it too) that educational technology expenditures have largely failed to change instructional practices in US classrooms. Whether we’re talking about desktop PCs or electronic whiteboards, this is the “no significant difference” phenomenon as well as a lack of broad pedagogic change that we see in most schools. I don’t think the answer is to throw out the technology and stop advocating for its effective use. I agree with you (I think, if I hear you correctly) that we need to change our models of professional development in schools in basic ways. On the specific issue of IWBs, I agree millions of dollars have been and continue to be wasted if we look at the often immediate lack of change in classroom learning environments as a result of the boards being placed in the room. I still maintain a LCD projector should be a staple in every classroom, however, and before IWBs become the “technology de jure” we didn’t see many schools buying projectors for teachers to keep in their rooms. The mentality was in many places, “We’ll buy one and put it on a cart so you can share it.” That is not good enough, and because I want to see all our classrooms equipped with 21st century learning tools part of me is glad to see the projectors and the IWBs going into classrooms.

    I guess we’d call this “mixed feelings?”

  22. sylvia martinez Avatar

    I think everyone has to decide what they are willing to advocate for – and be clear that not everything lumped under the “technology” banner is equally worth fighting for.

    In my mind, IWBs are designed primarily to support traditional teaching. A few teachers who transcend that doesn’t change that fact. So therefore, when I advocate for “technology”, IWBs aren’t high on my list, and in fact, I think they are primarily a waste of the money. Look, if they cost $200 instead of $2000 it wouldn’t be as big a deal.

    Laptops are not equivalent to IWBs. The potential of the laptop to literally “put power in student hands” far outweighs IWBs. However, in some cases even the potential of laptops can be subverted by poor implementation and bad software choices.

    So, no, potentially poor implementation would not stop me from advocating for technology. But with limited time and money, everything is a tradeoff. When districts buy IWBs, something else gets cut. I can’t advocate for everything that happens to plug in, I have to advocate MOST strongly for the technologies I believe have the MOST potential to give students opportunities to construct personal meaning.

  23. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Sylvia: I think you’re right about deciding what to advocate for. This thread has certainly given me more to think about… The point of IWB’s mainly supporting traditional teaching is something I’ve understood and tried to point out to others.

    Perhaps it is sad that IWBs have been an agent for change in our classrooms with regard to the use of digital curriculum, the Internet and software programs– but I guess I see the opportunities which IWBs provide and don’t just see them as a waste of money. There is so much that a teacher and students can do in a classroom WITH access to a projector and a IWB that they couldn’t do before when they just had one computer in the classroom: The teacher’s. Everyone’s context is different, but we have LOTS of classrooms in Oklahoma where the only computer available is the teacher’s, and the instructional use time it sees is minimal. Getting an IWB in a traditional classroom like this is a VERY big deal. I’m seeing a continuum here:

    1. Traditionally equipped classroom (no digital technology)
    2. Classroom with 1 teacher computer
    3. Classroom with 1 teacher computer and an IAW
    4. and then….

    Lots of our classrooms in Oklahoma are at level 2. After level 3 there are many places to go: Labs available for teachers to reserve, mobile carts to bring into the classroom, gardens of computers in the classroom, mobile devices like Neos, and 1:1 learning environments. Of all the choices which can come after phase 2 or 3, I am definitely an advocate for 1:1 learning. I’ve heard some people talk about “ubiquitous computing” as a goal instead of 1:1 computing. I think 1:1 is the most potentially transformative technology setting for learners of all ages, and that is exactly why many schools / school leaders resist it. We have a private school here in Oklahoma I’ve worked with that I think fits that description. They’ve opted to go with mobile carts this year instead of giving laptops to kids, which they had previously committed to do. It’s easier and less disruptive on the entire learning environment to just make some laptop carts available, rather than provide everyone with their own laptop.

    We all are in different contexts, and many of the classroom teachers and librarians I’ve worked with in the past 2 years here in Oklahoma are at level 2 in the above continuum. In that situation, an IAW represents a big step forward in terms of what is possible with teaching and learning in that classroom. We’re here complaining that IAW’s are used to support traditional teaching, but didn’t ACOT find that teachers almost ALWAYS use technology in accomodating ways to first replicate existing teaching and learning tasks? That’s stage 1. So it should really not come as a surprise to anyone that IAW’s are being used in these non-transformative ways.

    That being said, I think the key is that many of these uses ARE at “stage 1” and we need to help teachers move further along that ACOT continuum which eventually goes to the invention level and much more student-centered / directed learning. The point is not that once a teacher has an IAW in their classroom they’ve arrived and now have everything they need to digitally present content– It’s that they have a powerful new tool which CAN be used in pedagogically transformative ways to improve learning.

    We do need that focus on pedagogy. But I am remiss to lament the purchase of IAW’s in classrooms which have been level 1 and level 2 learning environments (referencing the continuum I gave above) and now AT LAST have moved to level 3.

  24. KM Avatar

    I like where Wes took his last comments – that it is a continuum and where most are starting from many of these things are all GIANT LEAPS…

    One thing in regards to laptop programs… although the theoretical concept of how it empowers individuals can become a reality… what is even more real are the explosive costs related to those programs. People who are stating that the $2,000 for a whiteboard is a waste, how about the insane amount of maintenance, time, support, repairs, replacements for stolen equipment, etc etc etc that pile on to a 1:1 program. Everyone forgets the REAL costs of that beyond just the laptop. To go with the stuff mentioned above, you typically need electrical upgrades to handle all of the power draw, you need an excellent wireless network, you need the people and resources to support that wireless network. The list goes on and on when you decide to give a student a laptop…

    I know there are programs like Gen Yes and MOUSE and more for ‘student support’ of these programs, but just like we say the implementation of IWBs for teachers is lacking because of skill, because of PD, because of time, because of creativity, because of pedagogy, etc… these student led programs are severely lacking in implementation as well. I have seen MANY a gen yes, techknow, mouse, tech corps, and more just be glorified student squads who learn to write down ‘teacher said printer wasnt working’ or ‘laptop wouldnt connect to internet’ – they become glorified notetakers and the ‘issues’ with the technology do not get solved…

    I have seen 1 or 2 locations where it is successful, but they were actually places that had the basics in place before they had money to participate in a paid program like gen yes or mouse… or before their principal and/or district made the ‘top down’ decision to implement a program that they didnt even recognize was already occuring at a grass roots level.

    No matter what ‘product’ or ‘service’ we place in the equation, the comment chain here would almost certainly be about the same. We are all advocates for ed tech, we all have opinions about what ed tech solutions/services are effective, etc… we all have strong feelings about what things are a waste of money, we all have all these strong feelings because we are passionate about the concepts and possibilities. We all just see the possibilities thru different paths with different tools… just like real life.

  25. sylvia martinez Avatar

    I’ll definitely agree that things never quite go the way any one person thinks is THE right way. However, my point is still that I like to bet on things that have the highest potential, and fight like crazy to get whatever happens the best it can be. I hate settling.

    Wes, in your last comment, I think I would be more specific in making the distinction between a continuum of “how much” hardware and a continuum of how it’s used. Stages and levels are tricky to define.

    You sort of mushed together talking about “levels” based on how much technology vs. your ACOT example where you started to talk about “stages” which focuses on use. I’m pretty sure that you are not really making the case that just getting more hardware moves a classroom along a continuum of more transformative use.

  26. Mike Mansour Avatar

    I am not a fan of IWBs and it’s nice to see some others feel this way too. There is nothing wrong with the boards themselves, they just don’t offer much bang for the buck. While many teachers struggle to use them for anything more than a projector, even the most IWB savvy teachers aren’t suddenly having dramatic shifts in student achievement. I don’t think there would be significant improvement in overall outcomes, even if every teacher used them to their full potential.

    While student outcomes might not dramatically increase, an LCD projector or IWB in the room can enhance instruction greatly by providing instant access to most anything in the world. Ultimately though, the content that we teach is not as important as the skills we teach. Our students should be able to use any technology we use and create new mediums in which to use it. As our students move out into the “real world” they will have to learn new tasks that they were never taught in school. To excel in those new jobs they’ll need great problem solving and communication skills.

    As others have pointed out, students won’t learn these skills by watching. They’ll learn them by doing – and messing up a bunch along the way. Ultimately, we want our students to have as many opportunities as possible to learn by doing. To provide these opportunities our students need tools. A tool that only allows 1-2 students to “do” at one time is not the most helpful. Instead of buying IWBs for the whole school, why not buy a set of rolling laptops and an LCD projector for each room. This would impact far more students and cost about the same.

  27. Elaine Talbert Avatar

    In discussing this tool, the hardware in the first instance, it is wise to use the term IWB.
    All other terms are proprietary.
    This tool will be useful if teachers understand and implement quality teaching practice. Without, TPL it could just be a costly chalkboard.
    As far as the various proprietary software goes, in my state NSW our education department has very skilfully negotiated contracts that have procured IWBs independent of the proprietary software.
    Intelligent planning, I believe.

  28. Paul McMahon Avatar

    Great discussion but I wonder if the argument would still be there
    if the technology were more affordable?
    We have had teachers and schools in the past rejecting a 1:1 technology
    model based on the fact that laptops would never be affordable and that has been removed by
    the XO and its followers. Looks like we now have a war between 2 models of IWB suggesting
    that you are shortchanging kids unless you have the features of version 10 or 3 which are far
    superior to anything that has ever come before this.
    Wonder if we will ever wake up to the IWB manufacturers like Negraponte did with the laptop
    vendors and realise that most students and teachers will use web apps and other apps on the
    board and thus they just need good, reliable hardware.
    Here in Hong Kong there are a huge number of hard boards for less than US$1000 and a great
    many alternative technologies that allow full IWB functionality for around US$500.
    At this price, get the IWB technology and the laptops.
    I have to say that I have never seen a more effective technology for just getting reluctant
    teachers to try using ICT in the classroom.

  29. Nicole Avatar

    Our district uses tons of SmartBoards, Airliners, Notebook 10, and other Smart Technologies. When used in the best manner, SmartBoards can be a very effective learning tool. I use mine in my computer lab on a daily basis. We have also downloaded the Notebook 10 for our students to use on their computers. They can use it to do retellings, graphic organizers, create lessons to teach their peers, then they can become the teacher when presenting their interactive lessons.

    As with all technology, it isn’t the technology that makes or breaks the lesson, it is the teacher and how effectively they have chosen to integrate it. Many districts are in the habit of handing teachers a technology tool and saying “Here, use this.” Many teachers don’t have the experience or confidence to just use it, and even more lack the knowledge of how to use it to its potential.

  30. Scott Meech Avatar

    Well well… My push for Wes to run for office has begun! My vote is waiting in the wings.

  31. […] points to the ongoing, somewhat emotional, discussion on SpeedofCreativity about the […]

  32. Justin Medved Avatar

    Having lived overseas in Asia for two years I can give you one main reason why SMART moved in this direction. Bootleg boards. So many companies are jumping into IWB market and flooding it with cheaper products. These boards can run any software. For SMART their software is their only competitive advantage and is what resonates with so many educators. I would love to see it free as well but I can understand the change as well.

  33. Paul McMahon Avatar

    That brings us to the whole argument of open-source versus proprietary software. I doubt whether there would be anything like the sharing on the blogosphere if wordpress and others were not free.
    It has always been the way that the Asian companies have tried to adapt things to make them more affordable. I am not sure what argument should be advanced to make IWBs an exception to this?
    I know that there are a lot of local schools in Hong Kong that can’t afford the price of a Smartboard. The OLPC project was also premised on technology being affordable to the masses.
    I personally think that making tech affordable for schools destroys a lot of the argument from teachers and administrators against the use in classrooms.
    Like I said, this is a whole new arguement.