I have written about interactive whiteboards before, and I plan on writing about them in the future. My enthusiasm for the SMARTboard is unbreakable.
In a comment I received last week, someone brought up the idea of using a tablet (like the iPad, but more on that later) hooked up to a projector as a lower-cost SMARTboard alternative. I think that any technology in the classroom is better than nothing, and a projector hooked up to the Internet is the single-best first step you can make when it comes to instruction.
I have used tablets before. In fact, I’ve had just that setup, a tablet connected to a projector. It allowed me to “write” with digital ink on lessons that I had scanned in and to project PowerPoint slides, but there were things that just didn’t work for me.
The tablet was a teacher-only device. I invited students to come up and write on it, but holding the pen, writing something on that small screen that seemed awkward, it was easier as a teacher for me to do it, and as a result, it became the teacher’s presentation computer.
The interactive whiteboard does something else. It invites the teacher to be in front of the room instead of hunched over the tablet. It is easy enough to use that students feel free to walk up to it and add their answers. In short, students interact with a board; with that interaction, they are engaged in learning.
For example, my class was reviewing what we know about proper nouns and common nouns. Using the Smart Marketplace (a site that lets people share lessons made on the SMARTboard) I downloaded a set of lessons on the topic. The students were soon coming up to the board, sorting the words into categories and getting their answers automatically corrected as if they were on a game show. If I had done this on a personal tablet, I would have been playing the game, I would have been demonstrating, and the students would have been lectured to. If we look at the learning pyramid, a tablet with a projector tends to be in the low-retention category of “demonstration” a SMARTboard lesson is several notches higher, in the realm of interaction or teaching others.
I think tablets are great, but coming up to the board is more natural and, in my opinion, makes a better lesson where students are active participants in their own learning process.