Analysis of Smartboards 1
ETEC 533 Technology in the Mathematics
and Science Classroom
An Analysis of Smartboards: Catalysts for Pedagogical Change?
Prepared for Dr. Mary Anne Ramirez
University of British Columbia
Masters of Educational Technology Program
Analysis of Smartboards 2
In 1997, the British government announced it would place smartboards in
classrooms throughout the United Kingdom. Schools would no longer rely on
blackboards, chalk, and overhead projectors as their principle communicative tools. With
the advent of the Internet, information-on-demand has become a reality. Precipitating the
move to smartboards were reports that broadband access correlated with significant
improvements on National Tests of achievement. In a subsequent motion best described
as a “no child left behind” technological strategy, the British government decreed that
every school in the UK would also receive broadband access. Smartboards would act as
digital windows for teachers and students to access incredible volumes of online
resources. Pundits applauded the move, calling it a glorious step forward in education.
Detractors wondered openly if the technology and the Internet were the educational
panacea the government claimed, the means to revolutionize education. Better
educational practices, they mused, were much more likely to stimulate learning than
technology. At a cost of £55 million to install smartboards across the UK, it was a
controversial and costly educational initiative. Was the government on the right track or
should the funding have been targeted on educational programs seasoned with best
practice and proven results? Ironically, both approaches appear to be correct. What
follows is an analysis of the perceived and actual benefits of smartboard technology and
implications of best practice in their use.
I have always believed that technology improves learning. Having used a laptop
and digital projector since 1998, most of my learning materials are digital, including
multimedia slideshows, web links, movies, sound-bytes, web quests, and much more.
Whether teaching Junior Science, Senior Biology, or Information Technology, my
Analysis of Smartboards 3
students have always experienced technology as an educational foundation in the
classroom. In 2006, I was awarded a District Technology Innovation Grant to research
the effects of immersive teaching with smartboards. The premise of the study was to set
a smartboard in each curricular corner of the school: Math, Science, English, and
Technology. One year into the study, the smartboard team reports mixed success. A
recent interview with Mr. Q provides insight into smartboard use, highlighting
advantages teaching graphing, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Without question,
Mr. Q states, students have paid more attention to lessons. They have participated in
whole class and group-based collaborative lessons. The boards help the students
visualize and understand abstract mathematical concepts. Using learning objects such as
flash movies, java applets, and TI-80 graphing calculator software, Mr. Q’s students have
had numerous lessons integrating smartboard use. A key advantage Mr. Q. cites is a
reduction in the volume of note taking. Because smartboard software records and
captures notes, students can write less. Boys, in particular, remark that the move allows
them to pay greater attention, and participate in the smartboard lessons. On days when
the smartboard is used, collaboratively written notes are created collaboratively and
printed for everyone. Saved notes also make an excellent reference point for initiating
new material and reflecting on past concepts. Revisiting learning is as simple as recalling
yesterday’s notebook files. Access is instant and never erased, unlike chalkboards or the
In addition to work done in mathematics, I also use the smartboard in Biology and
Information Technology. In one lesson, it is used to teach DNA structure, function, and
purpose. In other lessons, the smartboard is an interactive, collaborative tool used to
investigate human body systems in senior Biology. “There is always the temptation to use
Analysis of Smartboards 4
the board as a display technology. It’s sometimes hard to take your hands off it and let
the students lead for awhile.”( Bleecker, 2007). With so many learning objects on hand,
smartboard lessons that do not involve actively involve students seem to have lesser
value. “These directive lessons feel much more like stand-and-deliver teaching. Even
with this technology, students tune out unless they are actively involved. They want to
ask questions and have a conversation about the material” (Bleecker, 2007).
These findings echo those of studies in the United Kingdom. Higgins, et al.
(2005) in their presentation to the British government examined the impact of
smartboards in Year 5 and Year 6 classes in eighty schools in six Local Education
Authorities across the UK from 2002 to 2004 (pp. 3). Following the observation of 184
lessons, and extensive interviews with students and teachers, several patterns emerged.
First, smartboards produce no statistically appreciable difference in achievement among
girls and boys. Second, improvement in English is quite pronounced, while there is little
evidence of improvement in Mathematics or Science on national tests of learning (pp. 3).
Third, there was a tendency in the second year of the study to use the boards more
frequently with whole class instruction to speed lesson delivery. This may account for
decreased results in achievement observed in that year.
Intriguingly, smartboard results vary considerably. Thompson et al. (2003)
conducted a study of sixteen Year 5 students in Northern England. Admittedly a small
sample, the group consisted of ten girls and six boys living in a northern Unitarian district
experiencing high poverty, unemployment, with many single parent families, in a region
needing considerable housing repair. Employing the Easiteach Maths Program with
smartboards, the students’ progress was tracked over two years. Easiteach Maths
Analysis of Smartboards 5
software provides a full line of resources for teachers, including grids, geometric shapes,
and ready-made activities for lessons such as geometry. Emphasizing increased
interactivity using a collaborative approach with student involvement in whole class and
group activities, students experienced an increase of 14% in the first year, and 22% in the
second (pp. 31). Intriguingly, the report notes that extensive use of the smartboard was
detrimental, increasing boredom, particularly among boys, leading to disruptive behavior.
Overall, a more conservative use of the board was recommended.
Balanskat, Blamire, and Kefala (2006), in presentation of the ICT Impact Report,
seem to contradict findings by Higgins et al. Presented to the University of Newcastle,
the two-year study found that students at schools using smartboards showed greater
improvement on national literacy, mathematics, and science tests compared to control
schools not using smartboard technology (pp. 27). There was also evidence indicating
the boards improved scores of low-achieving students in English, particularly in writing.
But most intriguingly, the report found that information communication technology (ICT)
impacts education most when there is fertile ground in schools to make the most of
Underlying the two studies is evidence that the introduction of smartboards
produces an initial excitatory phase, whereby students and teachers appear to use
educational best practices quite often. Initially, students use the boards often, but
gradually, use migrates solely to the teacher. What results is a lapse to whole class
instruction, more frequent lecturing, while student use of the smartboard rarely occurs on
a pupil-to-pupil basis (Higgins et al. 2006). The authors further suggest that regardless of
the ICT used, a lack of fundamental change in pedagogical strategy is the likely reason
Analysis of Smartboards 6
for a decrease in achievement in second and third years studies of smartboard use. “You
have to give up some control of the classroom to the students. Some teachers have a hard
time with this” (Bjorklund, 2000, pp. 42-46). Bjorklund believes technology projects
must have specific reading, writing, critical thinking, and analytical content in mind
before classroom use. Then, the technology must be made available to students in a way
that emphasizes collaborative groups, projects, and problem-based learning, managed by
Given the results outlined in each study above, what impedes improvements in
learning using smartboards? As with any new teaching tool, there is an inclination to use
the tools in familiar ways. Stale pedagogical techniques appear to be the culprit:
lecturing, lack of collaboration, busy work, rote learning, a lack of active learning, and
rushed teaching (to cover large curricula) appear to be the cause. Given that 97% of
teachers involved in smartboard research believe there should be a smartboard in every
classroom, 85% assert that their use improves student learning and 100% agreement that
smartboards help teachers achieve their teaching goals, it is difficult to believe
smartboard technology cannot improve learning (Higgins et. al, 2005, pp. 43).
Smartboards also seem to provide a foundation for the use of digital
manipulatives. Manipulatives help with conceptualization at a level appropriate to the
learner. Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), the first proponent of learning through
kinesthetic activity asserted that manipulatives provide a concrete reference for learners.
This increases confidence in providing ways to test, assert, and confirm reasoning using
useful problem solving tools, while stimulating interest (Resnick et al, 1998). With the
range of learning objects available to classrooms, such as flash, java, shockwave
Analysis of Smartboards 7
applications, smart lessons, web quests, etc., there seems no limit to the kinesthetic tools
available for smartboard use. Teachers, it seems, are gradually accepting smartboards as
teaching tools. For those new to the technology, a period of adaptation is necessary. It is
an ideal time for mentoring and networking with more experienced users to discuss
pedagogical strategies and means to integrate best practices when using the board.
What does social learning theory suggest about smartboard use? Vygotsky
explains that tools mediate human action and learning. These tools expand what a person
acting with them can do. Teachers and students relate to previous cultures of learning
tool use when faced with new technology and make sense of it in terms of those previous
experiences and in terms of earlier technologies, such as the blackboard. What ensues is
the view of smartboards as glorified projectors, or new screens on which to display
PowerPoint presentations. Along this train of thought persists an emphasis on
transmitting learning in a passive, lecture-style format instead of a collaborative, active-
learning, problem-based approach. Deeper learning is therefore difficult to attain,
perhaps explaining why the introduction of smartboards has not yielded more pronounced
academic success. Cognitive theory supports this argument. Brunner (Driscoll, 2005)
explains that regardless of age, learning occurs in enactive, symbolic, and iconic phases.
Students learn by doing, using pictorial/visual representations, and accessing written text.
Smartboards provide a medium for each phase noted above. Recent studies, such as the
Wireless Writing Program involving manipulation of text using laptops, smartboards, etc.
have produced significant improvements in learning, particularly among boys. These
tools provide a forum for the manipulation of text to create meaning within the context of
Analysis of Smartboards 8
Local smartboard projects affirm the importance of smartboards in the classroom.
Bleecker and Q (2007) cite that smartboards provide a pivotal opportunity to employ
digital manipulatives in the science and mathematics classroom. However, they note that
smartboards require greater use by students in collaborative groups where teachers act in
faciliatory roles. Teaching this way utilizes a more explorative, spontaneous approach
with students. It is important to recognize that teachers and students need time to adjust
to this new technology and the collaborative approaches for its use in education.
Bleecker and Q further assert that smartboards provide a key opportunity to store and
access shared learning in the classroom. Notes and materials created with students over
time using the boards represent shared learning, and the collaborative social footprint
appears to increase student interest and motivation. To illustrate examples of student
smartboard projects from Bleecker’s 2007 Information and Communication Technology
(ICTC) class are available here (e.g. 1, e.g. 2). “The effective use of smartboards must go
beyond the manipulation of colorful, dynamic images to involve the learning in ways that
might not readily have arisen from elsewhere (Tanner et al. 2007, pp. 41). Smartboards
provide an opportunity to modify lesson content dynamically to suite and recognize
current events. This adds to their meaning.
Are smartboards here to stay, or the next expensive fad in education? To pass the
litmus test, smartboards must support student learning and quantifiably stimulate
academic achievement. Several studies outlined in this report indicate smartboards
accomplish these goals, but not to the extent predicted. Greater achievement requires a
multifaceted approach integrating technology within the context of best educational
practices. Passive, instructor-centered teaching technologies will not suffice and do not
Analysis of Smartboards 9
improve learning. Perhaps the greatest misconception of technology such as smartboards
is the expectation that they can speed educational transfer, allowing teachers to
accomplish greater curricular delivery. Excessive lecturing using PowerPoint is often
accused of this misgiving. Used in this fashion, technology achieves less with more at
great educational and financial cost.
Analysis of Smartboards 10
Bates, A., Poole, G. (2003). Effective teaching with technology in higher education.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bjorklund, A.L. (2000). One more for the toolbox: Technology and the English class.
The English Journal, 90 (2), pp. 42-46, from
European Schoolnet. (2006). The ICT Impact Report: A review of studies of ICT impact
on schools in Europe. European Schoolnet, December 2006, from
Higgins, S., Falzon, C., Hall, I., Moseley, D., Smith, F., Smith, H., & Wall, K. (2005).
Embedding ICT In The Literacy And Numeracy Strategies: Final Report to the
University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Peace River North School District #60. (2006). Research Report: The Wireless
Writing Program 2004-2006. Peace River North School District #60, November
2006, from http://www.prn.bc.ca/WWP-Report2006.pdf
Resnick, R. Technologies for lifelong kindergarten. 1998. Educational Technology
Research & Development, 46( 4), from
Smith, F., Hardman, F. & Higgins, S. (2006). The impact of interactive whiteboards on
teacher–pupil interaction in the national literacy and numeracy strategies.
British Educational Research Journal. 32(3), June 2006, pp. 443–457.
Tanner, H. & Jones, S. (2007). How interactive is your whiteboard? Mathematics
Teaching 200, January 2007, pp. 37-41.
Thompson, J. & Flecknow, M. (2003). Raising attainment using interactive
whiteboards. Management in Education, 17(3), pp. 29-33.