Not Very Smart

I’m sitting on a Virgin Blue 737-800 as I write this, flying home to Sydney after an excellent weekend at the 4th Australian Interactive Whiteboard Conference hosted by IWBnet and Emmanuel College on the Gold Coast. As I mentioned in previous posts it was a thoroughly enjoyable conference. It had “buzz”… a great general ambience and perfect location. I was fortunate to have been asked to present a few sessions at the conference too, since I always enjoy the opportunity to share ideas with other teachers as I find I learn a great deal from the experience myself. The feedback was also fairly positive, so that’s a nice thing. Whether is was just because I got to hang out with great teachers, catch up with old friends, stay in a nice resort, or do canapes and cocktails from the observation deck at Q1on Friday night, I thought it was a top conference.

If you’re interested in hearing a bit about what went on there you might like to keep an ear on The Virtual Staffroom podcast… I recorded a whole lot of audio from the event as I wandered around with my iPod nano and iTalk voice recorder. There are some interviews with the organisers, impromptu chats with some of the delegates and a special interview with Ben Hazzard from the infamous Smartboard Lesson Podcast. Check it out!

As fellow OzTeacher Fiona Banjer pointed out to me, it’s nice to be able to go somewhere where you can talk geek stuff without people looking at you like you’re a geek. 😉 There were lots and lots of sessions over the two days of the conference covering just about every aspect of interactive whiteboards you can think of… from implementation strategies, creative use of the software, linking it to sound pedagogy, and great hands-on practical examples of how teachers are using it in their schools. If you had any doubts about the impact that IWBs are having in schools, attending this conference would quickly dispel them. There is enormous interest in this technology, and the fact that the conference has grown so much in size since last year is testament to this fact. It’s clear that IWBs are not just a passing educational fad but are here to stay, with many schools making large investments into the technology and many claiming some remarkable improvements to student learning outcomes in the process.

However, one question that arose for me was where the hell was Smart? SmartBoards, made by Smart Technology and distributed excusively in Australia by Electroboard, was notable by their absence at this event. The fact that they didn’t turn up to this event (and most every other major IWB event) is starting to worry me. My school is looking at a fairly significant IWB rollout over the next few months – over $100,000 – and we had planned to implement the SmartBoard brand because we really like them. I have done my comparisons between Smart, Promethean, Easiteach, StarBoard, Interwrite and so on – in fact there were 18 different vendors at the conference – but so far I still like Smart the best. I find their software effective and easy to use and overall I am impressed with their products… what I don’t get is their stealth approach to marketing in this country. I don’t know if it’s just a sense of arrogance that they feel they are the major players in the IWB market and therefore don’t need to promote any sort of presence at events like this, or whether they are not planning on staying in the Australian market… I really just don’t get their lack of interest in promoting their product.

There were lots of vendors at the conference, all showing their wares. There is tremendous innovation happening with IWB technology at the moment and delegates came to the conference eager to learn more about the hottest new emerging products. There’s no doubt that Smart is historically a major player in the IWB market, but they were certainly not around to solidify that reputation at Emmanuel. If I were a teacher in the market for IWB technology (and lots of people at the conference were) I might well be having a few nagging doubts about Smart’s ongoing presence in the Australian marketplace. I’ve been watching this technology for a couple of years now, and having taught in Canada at a Smart reference school in Ontario and getting training from the PD team attached to Smart’s Calgary headquarters, I feel I have a reasonable grasp of what Smart offers. But to a casual observer, or someone taking a more recent interest in IWB technology, Smart in Australia is all but invisible.

I’m really disappointed with Electroboard, since they are supposed to be Smart’s Australian distributor. From what I see, Electroboard is doing nothing to promote the brand here… I think Electroboard’s lack of presence at this event sent a hugely negative message about their committment level to this market… to me it screams “we are not interested in the education market”. Just think… there will be 450 people going home from the conference this weekend, many of them all fired up about what this technology offers and eager to start implementing an IWB program. Many are ready to spend their money on what they think is the right technology for their school. These teachers, principals, ICT coordinators, librarians, etc, came to this conference to learn more about what they need and to look at what options they have, and there is little doubt in my mind that this conference will be a catalyst for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of IWB purchases over the next 12 months. To many people who attended the conference this weekend, Smart appears not to even exist, and it’s quite unfortunate to think that so many of them will not even consider Smart when it comes time to purchase. I’ve always been a big SmartBoard fan, but I’m starting to have second thoughts about whether they are at all interested in gaining my school’s business and wondering whether maybe I need to start looking at other brands more seriously.

So come on Electroboard! Get your act together! I don’t know what issue you have with respresenting your product at this sort of event but it’s about time you dealt with it and started convincing us that you really do want to be a player in this game.

I’d be interested in your comments…

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Not Very Smart by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

0 Replies to “Not Very Smart”

  1. Hi Brett… I didn’t know you were there, wish I had so we could have said G’day in person. I read you blog post and certainly agree with much of what you say. I was the world’s biggest sceptic when I first saw IWBs and for a long time saw most of the value they offered as being in the data projector far more than the board, and in many ways I still do think that. However, after having taught with them for a while, I do agree that they change the classroom dynamic in a positive way. Sure, they are not a panacea for every problem even though they are sometimes marketed as such. One of the problems with them, as I noted in one of my sessions on the weekend, is that if your only tool is a hammer then everything looks like a nail. It bothers me sometimes that the IWB is often touted as the solution to everything. It’s not. It makes some things better, some things it doesn’t really change, and others it probably makes worse. Ultimately it comes down to the skill and insight of the teacher to use this (or any) technology in a meaningful way. Give an IWB to a good teacher and she will do wonderful things with it, give it to a lousy teacher and he will completely balls it up. Like any technology, it’s use is generally quite neutral until someone applies it.
    There is still, IMHO, a place for teachers who teach. I’m greatly into a constructivist approach to learning, but I think there are still times when the quickest way from A to B is for a teacher to show/explain it. Obviously we still have too many teachers for whom this is the only way to teach, and that’s a shame.
    Good posts though… thought provoking and well worth reading. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Chris,

    I understand your interest in these devices and can see that you both use them in what seems to be interesting ways. I agree that we can get students using the boards and interacting with them… However, one central device means one student at a time… If budget was never a question I would certainly have one simply for some of the activities you mentioned. However, budget is always an issue and the value for money on learning is what we need to have some serious discussion about…. I will write more about this in a later post…. Personally for $8000 I would much prefer 4 – 6 laptops that I could disperse to groups of students. The laptop and “connected” devices are much better learning tools than an IWB. The IWB is a great tool for the thoughts you have shared but I don’t see why a school would spend $100,000 on IWB’s?!?! I am assuming that is the money you are spending on just the hardware – not including PD? If so I would be screaming for the money to be spent on a well thought through 1 to 1 program. The research is certainly out there that shows how a 1 to 1 program can improve learning (NOT test scores – well they might – real teachers just don’t convince themselves that good test scores = learning) and I fail to see any credible research that can match up for IWB’s. If I was in a position to launch a technology integration program that would make a difference to learning, I would spend it on a 1 to 1 program with a huge amount of PD for staff.

    More in a further post I think as this is getting far to long….

  3. Hi Chris,
    There are a few other people that I would have loved to catch up with on the weekend to but missed out. Maybe we need to take a leaf out of the folk who went to NECC in the states early in this year and try and arrange a meeting on the side of conferences such as IWBnet. A breakout room would be neat though we might need to advertise if through our prospective blogs and oz-teachers and the like. Powerup??? etc
    Cheers John P

  4. Great idea John… a “bloggers cafe”, a-la NECC, sounds like a great idea. PowerUp sounds like a plan. I might have a chat to the organisers are see if we can do something along those lines. I was thinking of recording a Virtual Staffroom there too, maybe as an actual session to show how to do it. Perhaps the two ideas could be combined?

    PS, I think this comment is the tipping point! This blog has 152 posts and this, I think, is the 152nd comment! Yay! (Pity it was me who made it!)

  5. Possibly. Although if Smart were a bit more forthcoming about being involved, perhaps it may not have ended up being a Promethean sponsored event… It may have been a Smart sponsored event. I’m sure they would have been given the opportunity if they wanted it. Guess we’ll never know.
    I suppose I’m just a bit annoyed that I have been a big Smartboard fan for a long time now, and I felt like I needed to apologise for them all weekend because they weren’t there.

  6. Hi Chris, I just had two weeks experience using easiteach. YUCK. I just didn’t ‘gel’ with it, it felt clumsy and awkward, and often had technical difficulties (yet to be determined if they were user error…).
    I much prefer my limited experience with smartboard.

  7. G’day, yes I had a little play with Easiteach recently. First impression was that I couldn’t get over how awful it looked considering it is trying to compete in a very competitive market. It played for a while, but didn’t really bother persevering with it once I saw their proprietary looking interface. I like the concept of a generic IWB software app that will run on any board, but you’re right… yuck!
    Also, it didn’t appear to come in a Mac version, which is certainly a deal-breaker for me.
    Still I should probably go back and spend some more time playing with it, because I’m sure I will eventually need to know about it to assist others.

  8. Interesting thoughts on the whole Smart presence at the IWB event. I am at a Smart school with 60 odd SmartBoards in K-12 classrooms. I have seen these IWB events align themselves clearly with Promethean, whilst Smart (ie Electroboard in this context) clearly shy away from anything to do with IWBnet. I wish the politics between these two groups would cease because it is people like you and me Chris, and our teachers and students, that are definitely starting to lose out.
    Let’s face it, there is no one board that is better than the other. If you get fooled by this argument you should give up. What users want to see is support and communication. This gives them confidence in what they are doing.
    I have no beef against IWBnet – they seem a great team, with the one goal in mind, to make better use of this technology in classrooms. I agree with you that Electroboard are shooting themselves in the foot by not having a presence at these events. Okay for me – I am aware of the politics. What about the 450 odd others who aren’t? – end result – they will choose another board. Meanwhile the potential support and collaboration around the product suffers.
    If Electroboard is fair dinkum about their product and its potential for learning, they should be embracing the competition and realise the win-win opportunity that exists.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?