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Naveen Albert

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Are there SMART-Boards in your school?

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Are there SMART-Boards or other interactive whiteboards at your school? If so, let me ask you a question? Do you use them? Does anyone use them? How often are they used? Do teachers actually use the SMART-Board in their room, or do they just use it as a white canvas for their projector? These are some of the questions that I have been forced to ask myself as changing practices at many schools in the School District of Waukesha have started to render these little marvels fruitless. Once the center of attention and the focal point of the room, many don't even realize that these SMART-Boards are more than just a blank canvas and an interactive whiteboard — if they're not being used, they're a extremely large wasted asset.

Now the School District of Waukesha is not known for their ability to allocate a budget properly. Still, not many people can manage to screw up this badly when trying to balance a budget. SMART-Boards were well recieved at the School District of Waukesha to begin with. Back in the day, (the good old days), every classroom had a printer and a desktop computer. Today, many still do, but then again, many have since been stripped of these necessities. In their prime, teachers prepared an interactive lesson using SMART Notebook on their desktop computer which was connected via a VGA splitter to a ceiling-mounted projector, which in turn, would project onto the SMART-Board. Be careful not to get the two mixed up — there is a huge difference between a SMART-Board and a projector; projectors are used to "amplify" the computer's video output, which is usually split with a splitter unless the computer came with duplicate video ports already. You can then project whatever you see on your computer screen to the projector, simply because they are the same thing. Once cable is going to the projector, and one to your monitor. Projectors have very much become a staple of classroom instruction.

SMART-Boards, while at the time the coolest thing that a school could probably buy, are now going the way of the dodo bird. What some people don't realize is that you the projector and SMART-Board work completely independently of each other. The SMART-Board is connected the computer with a USB cable, which provides power to the SMART-Board as long as the computer is on. This means that regardless of whether your projector is on, if your SMART-Board is plugged into a computer that is turned on, then the SMART-Board is still on. The only way to turn it off is to turn off the computer or unplug the SMART-Board from the computer. I strongly caution you against leaving your SMART-Board plugged in all the time. One time, I had a teacher who logged onto her computer, and several students were standing next to the SMART-Board in that room. The projector wasn't on, so the students couldn't see what was being done on the computer. Not being smart enough to know that the SMART-Board was on, they leaned onto the SMART-Board and began moving around, sending various signals to the computer in the process. Next thing the teacher knew, the computer began shutting down on her. Her students had coincidentally leaned onto the "Start" button and then hit "Shut Down". Unless you use your SMART-Board all the time, unplug it when not in use. Your SMART-Board is no different from your computer's keyboard or mouse — it is an input device into the computer. Projectors, on the other hand, are output devices. Again, two completely different things. I can't tell you how many times people have given presentations and used the "Freeze" function on a projector and lost their head when students began pressing random points on the SMART-Board. Yes, the projector is frozen. But the SMART-Board doesn't know that. It's an input device — you really only see it work as expected to when the projector and SMART-Board are working in sync. This is why your SMART-Board needs to be calibrated; to attempt to realign the projector and the interactive whiteboard.

Hopefully you understand about what the purpose of both a SMART-Board and a projector in the classroom are now. The trend lately has been to discontinue use of the SMART-Board in the classroom. The first reason for this is the removal of desktop computers from some rooms. SMART-Boards must be physically connected with a USB cable to the computer that they control. While you can use a laptop with a SMART-Board, it's a pain to have to unplug and plug in cables every time you want to use the interactive whiteboard — so many teachers have simply stopped and abandoned their use of the interactive whiteboard. The other primary reason is the move away from interactive activities in the classroom. Even teachers who still have their desktop computers have largely moved away from having students come up to the board and drag things around on it because many students now have computer access of their own in the classroom. Rather than run an interactive activity with the SMART-Board and the projector, the teacher can simply copy it to a shared network drive and allow students to open it on their own computers and play with it themselves. In hindsight this doesn't seem too bad, but it's a big financial burden on the school. How bad is this problem? Let's do a little a math here.

SMART-Boards usually sell for around $2,000 to $5,000, each. The average of that is $3,500 so let's say each SMART-Board in the School District of Waukesha costs $3,500. The School District of Waukesha has 14 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, and 3 high schools. There are other programs as well available, but let's just use these numbers for now. Let's say that each elementary school has 20 classrooms with a SMART-Board, each middle school has 30 classrooms with a SMART-Board, and each high school has 75 classrooms with a SMART-Board.

  • 14 elementary schools with 20 SMART-Boards each — 280
  • 4 middle schools with 30 SMART-Boards each — 120
  • 3 high schools with 75 SMART-Boards each — 216

This adds up to 616 SMART-Boards total in the School District of Waukesha, a number probably well under the actual amount. Now, we said that each SMART-Board costs $3,500, right? If none of these SMART-Boards are being used, how much money is being lost?

The answer: $2,156,000! And given that there are probably more SMART-Boards in some places than others, the actual cost is much higher than that. So, what does this number mean?

Well, it represents the total purchase cost of every SMART-Board in the district. If none of the interactive whiteboards were being used, it would be safe to say that a $2 million investment is being wasted, because it is. But you have to remember that the district likely recieved a discount on such a large bulk order and because many of them have been used, their resale value is no longer that high. Factoring in inflation, depreciation, and the actual number of SMART-Boards in the district, an investment of $1 million on the SMART-Boards is being wasted.

The unfortunate thing is not much can be done about this. It doesn't pay to remove every SMART-Board installed in every school and then put it up for resale for whatever they might still be worth. But, if you do you have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, please use it! Encourage other teachers to do the same. The investment has already been made so there isn't much else you can do. But you don't have to let it just go to waste. Use your whiteboard. Engage your students. Bring back the fun and creativity that you sparked and instilled in your students so many years ago. And if one day, SMART-Boards truly do go the way of the dodo bird, you can tell your grandchildren that you once saved your school district a million dollars or more. Now that's something to be proud of!

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