Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Are smartboards and tablet PC's the only option?

Many teachers today are looking at getting a smart board or tablet PC for their classroom so that they can "teach more effectively." We are coming back around again in the learning cycles. First there was the black board, then the overhead, then the white board, now the smart board, what next.

I have used a chalk board, white board, overhead transparencies, computer projector, smart board, and a wireless tablet for teaching and would like to share my view of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Chalk board:
    • Advantages:
      • Cheap
      • Large writing area.
      • Students can participate at the board.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Messy, back to the students when writing on it.
      • Once information is off the board it is gone.
      • Chalk breaks.
  • White Board
    • Advantages
      • Cheap
      • Large writing area
      • Easy to clean
      • Students can participate at the board.
    • Disadvantages
      • Messy but not as messy as chalk
      • Markers run out
      • Back to students/audience
  • Overhead transparencies:
    • Advantages:
      • You can face the students while lecturing.
      • Material can be prepared before hand.
      • Information can be shown again if using separate transparencies.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Can be messy.
      • You need to make sure you have spare transparencies.
      • Limited visual area.
  • Computer Projector:
    • Advantages:
      • Can prepare material before hand.
      • Demonstrate ideas interactively
      • Can manipulate material while lecturing.
      • Wide variety of media types: PowerPoint, web pages, video, etc....
    • Disadvantages:
      • Difficult to annotate with a mouse.
      • Technical issues such as computer crashes, bulbs burning out,
      • Price
      • Irrelevant information can distract students from learning.
      • Limited visual area.
      • Provide notes to students when class is finished.
  • Smart Board & a projector:
    • Advantages:
      • Can prepare material before hand.
      • Easily annotate & manipulate material while lecturing.
      • Students can participate at the board.
      • Wide variety of media types: PowerPoint, web pages, video, etc....
      • Provide notes to students when class is finished.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Back to the students/audience.
      • Unless you use a rear projector what you are doing is in the shadow of the projector making it difficult to execute precision movements.
      • Expensive
      • Irrelevant information can distract students from learning.
      • Limited visual area.
      • Alignment issues if it gets moved or drifts over time.
      • Price
  • Wireless tablet & a projector (not tablet PC):
    • Advantages:
      • Students can draw on the board from their desk.
      • Can prepare material before hand.
      • Easily annotate & manipulate material while lecturing.
      • Wide variety of media types: PowerPoint, web pages, video, etc....
      • Write on the board from anywhere in the classroom
      • Price
      • Provide notes to students when class is finished.
      • Battery life versus laptop or tablet PC.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Battery life versus pen.
      • Learning curve.
      • Irrelevant information can distract students from learning.
      • Limited visual area.
  • Tablet PC & Projector
    • Advantages
      • Easier to learn how to use than a tablet
      • See tablets advantags
    • Disadvantages
      • Battery life
      • No mobility around the classroom unless you purchase an expensive wireless connection.
It seems like the current trend today is to move away from white boards towards smart boards. The question though is that really what is best for the students? The white boards is typically a larger area which can allow the student more time to write down information, process all of what they see, and encourage them to write it down because they know it will soon be erased. While white boards also have the disadvantage for those that are slower and unable to keep up. This is the band wagon that the electronic notes group are advocating for, but what about the rest of the students that can keep up and will be come lazy? Research shows that the most learning happens when notes are taken and the lecturer's notes are then studied for the test.

In my math class I have found that teaching with a tablet and a white board is the affordable best option. The projector points toward a side wall in the front of the classroom and the white board is in the front of the classroom. The students are looking to the side of the classroom and I'm looking at the students while lecturing. If there are technical issues I can simply transition to the white board. If I run out of white board space or the markers run out I can transition to the tablet. If I want the information to be available to the students later or I believe that I will receive multiple questions of the same problem then I will use the tablet. I can pass the tablet around the classroom and let the students participate. I've found that it takes less time for the tablet to move than the students, plus the tablet is still a novelty at this point in time. If I need multiple students to write at once I'll use the white board. The tablet also has the advantage that you can copy and paste information, move it around, and insert new information between old information. The projector has the advantage of beign is simply more interactive. Take graphing for example. I've created a slick little flash application that I use to quickly graph lines and inequalities.

So heres what I'm advocating. Use a white board, projector, and wireless tablet. The advantages of a smart board over a wireless tablet are minimal if any and can be limiting depending on how you teach. Any digital solution is going to need a projector so the price difference is going to be the biggest factor and the software that comes with your choice.
  • Tablet PC: more expensive than an a laptop with equivalent performance. You can't roam around the classroom, less you purchase an expensive wireless projector connection. Usually no educational software comes with it.
  • Smart Board: expensive. Sometimes only prepare information on that computer due to licensing. Usually comes with educational software.
  • Wireless tablet: Least expensive interactive option. Educational versions are available but more expensive because of the software.
Those are my views and I would love to hear yours. Please share your views on the topic and what effective ways you have found to use a tablet, tablet PC, or smart board in your classroom.

6 comments:

Matthew said...

I've been teaching for 14 years and I just transitioned this past year from an overhead with white boards to a Tablet PC (Motion Computing LE1600) with projector and whiteboards.

I love the Tablet PC and will never go back to the overhead. I would never buy a smartboard/Prometheus because I like to face the students. I lecture using OneNote 2007 and at the end of each day I post the notes to my website so students can follow a link to them. here's a link to my notes:

http://www.photosbydavis.com/on/webview.html

or you can find a link at:

Anonymous said...

Its interesting that the tablet PC requires and "expensive wireless connection" but the whiteboard doesnt. I wonder what you are doing wandering around the classroom that much?

Aaron said...

Replying to the anonymous comment about expensive wireless connection and wandering. The expense (at this point in time) as I understand it is getting the 802.11 connection from the tablet PC to the projector. The whiteboards that I have used so far use either Serial, USB, or Bluetooth to communicate the actions on the board to the computer and you still have to worry about the connection to the projector.
As for walking around the room I am helping students with their questions and managing the classroom, since I have had the privilege of having classrooms with less than 25 students. If I were simply lecturing then I agree this may not be the best solution.

Matthew said...

Also, one can either use the wireless connection and be anywhere in the room, or use a VGA cable and be at the end of that cable. Many Projectors do come with a wireless feature that can be used instead of the PC2TV connection also, which works pretty well except for when the computer has to run the CPU to do the video.

Curiously, I've recently found that in my TI-90 emulator, which I use at the front of the class up on the projector screen, when I set it to not be limited by the acutal speed of the calculator, it uses whatever processing power is left on the CPU, maxing out the CPU processes and bringing the ccomputer to a crawl. As I result, I limit the software calculator to the actual speed of the calculator.

Sandee said...

Our math department is currently looking at the benefits of using tablets in class. We are not familiar with what's available in the market that's appropriate for math classes. Which tablet models and software do you recommend?

Aaron said...

Sandee,
I prefer Wacom because they work on Windows, Mac, and Linux, their pen's do not use batteries, and their are likely to work with future systems. For software I've used EverNote which came with my Graphire Bluetooth tablet and is also freely available. Another piece of software that I use is Xournal, under the Linux. Journal is also freely available Java implementation. The advantage of the latter two is that they are open source and you can annotate PDF files. EverNote has a nice feel or had when I used it a couple of years ago, along with a handy organizing system. I've also use a paint program such as Photoshop or Gimp. The paint programs I've usually used for making screen-casts. It all depends on what your needs are. I currently use Xournal with a Wacom Bamboo tablet to annotate PDF files but in the past for algebra classes I have use EverNote as a white board replacement. One advantage of the tablet over the white board is that you can prepare problems before hand and review problems from the last class. Sometimes I know I get an example that I've already answered, I can then just scroll back to my work and explain it again.
Some people prefer a tablet computer because they need to see on the screen under the pen what they write. I don't mind drawing on the screen in front of me without looking at the pen.
What grade level are you looking at?