What are SMART boards used for?

Smartboards and interactive displays for schools - the way out of the Cretaceous Period

Everyone knows it, the good old chalk board. The sound of chalk scratching has given generations of students goose bumps. This educational institution is said to have existed since roughly 1650, for a long time. The surface has changed a little since then, and has now been partially replaced by whiteboards. But on the whole little has changed in this basic form of presentation in class since 1650. After roughly 400 years without any significant change in the table system, I thought to myself, something must have happened nowadays. It's not that the good, long-serving blackboard doesn't have a ton of advantages: the contrast is bombastic, it is stable and can withstand even the worst treading by students, it is large and easy to read, most of them can even be opened and closed. Nonetheless, in my consultancy days I rarely found blackboards in offices. The economy has been relying on projectors and touch displays for a long time. So I thought to myself: “There must be something like that for schools too”. A touch display, imagine what possibilities that could bring. Teacher Dora Digital loads her lesson quickly from her Dropbox, can draw notes with the students on the touchscreen, students can read the content on the digital "blackboard" from their tablet, and even make notes themselves from their tablet. The “blackboard letters” could be sent directly to the students without much effort. And with one set of microphone, every lesson could be digitized and shared freely and comprehensibly for everyone in the world. A paradise such a digital board.
In short, I plunged into the land of digital boards, interactive displays and smartboards.
Here maybe a manufacturer video as an introduction. No commission or surreptitious advertising, just found the possibilities presented very appealing.
This article aims to provide a brief outline of smartboards and interactive whiteboards. The possibilities, the opportunities and the pitfalls.

Smartboard - what is it anyway?

A smartboard is an area on which you can write, draw, play videos or display Excel tables as you like. It is usually completely flexible to choose whether you write by hand, with special pens or with a connected keyboard. In all cases, the computer generates the image and shows it immediately either on the projector or on the display. A good smartboard should be height-adjustable like a blackboard. Only the inclined sponge fetishist no longer has a chance, erasure is done digitally: with the ball of the hand, special pens or the keyboard.
There are basically two types of smartboards:

Beamer smartboards

This is a combination of a whiteboard and a projector. The whiteboard recognizes pen inputs and then displays them on the projector. The projector then shows text and images on the whiteboard. There are basically two well-known manufacturers here: Promethean and Smart Technologies.
The technology is relatively common, but has its pitfalls: Handwriting recognition runs relatively problem-free with both named manufacturers.
Disadvantage of these short distance projector solutions: You have to maintain a whiteboard and a projector. Furthermore, such a solution is relatively static and in most cases can only be transported with greater effort.
On the didactic side, both manufacturers offer versatile solutions for teaching material. By establishing teacher communities, both try to collect teaching and learning material and make it available to other teachers.

Interactive displays and flat screens

Pictures from https://education.smarttech.com/de-de/products/7000-series

Huge "televisions" that have a touch-sensitive surface. Large televisions (and for blackboard replacement you need fairly large displays, i.e. at least 65 inches, rather larger) have become cheaper and cheaper in recent years. Nevertheless, large displays with a touch function are still not cheap fun, but increasingly affordable. So why do without good contrast, 4k resolution and thus a razor-sharp image? There are then entire blackboard installations for these displays. Two whiteboards mounted to the sides of the display. The display itself is adjustable in height like a good old blackboard and so on. Displays also offer the advantage of being mobile, provided they are mounted directly on a mobile frame. (There is also the good old wall mounting, which of course stands in the way of mobility). Probably the most popular flat screen and interactive whiteboards at the moment are from the well-known board manufacturer VS or from SMART

Materials for smartboards

Smartboards only really come into their own with didactically well-thought-out material. A trip through ancient Rome where you can examine the Coliseum in 3D, name the parts of a gladiator's armor using a built-in quiz, etc. These are contents that are unfortunately mostly not yet available. School book publishers are in demand here. So far, however, these have mostly been content with digital versions of their old school books, so-called "enhanced PDFs". However, these usually only make limited use of the potential of smartboards. The manufacturers try to share materials and courses directly between the teachers using their learning suite by building up communities such as SMART. Again, the OER approach would be helpful here. A platform for smartboard material on which teaching material can be shared regardless of manufacturer.

Opportunities for interaction

Let's imagine every student has a smartphone, laptop or tablet. With smartboards and flat screens, the content can be distributed directly to the displays of all students and vice versa. As in the good old computer room, a student's screen can also be shared with the class. Students can interact with content on the board directly from their devices. For example, student Max can name the components of a cell directly from his chair. The entire course of the lesson, including questions and answers that were noted by students during the lesson, can be distributed directly to the students afterwards, thus enabling the teaching material to be repeated from home. If a microphone is also added (already common at universities due to the size of the lecture halls), the entire lesson is digitized and could be shared with the world.


Smartboards and interactive whiteboards can be a real asset to digital teaching. Always provided Teachers are enthusiastic and like to create digital teaching materials themselves. Because so far there is still a lack of really didactically meaningful material. Even so, a digital board has almost nothing to do with it. They encompass the complete range of functions of a normal old-fashioned table and expand it with plenty of exciting options. The purchase is not cheap, but even with the purchase of a solid blackboard system, schools have to dig deep into their wallets. In general, you should inquire in detail again before purchasing and maybe. have also tested one or the other model live to rule out usability deficiencies. Especially with the projector models, the contrast is often rather poor and the service life of the projector lamps is short, which leads to frequent maintenance. In the long run, the interactive displays will prevail. (always assuming that the price decline for large displays continues).
As is often the case: A didactic concept and motivated teachers are the most important things, but then smartboards can be a very exciting opportunity for digital education.