Thursday, September 30, 2010

Promethean Board: Hot or Not?

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently, it has been tough to Google “education” and avoid getting some sort of link that raves on the achievements of the Promethean Board. But is this amazing tool so amazing? Or are the owners and CEOs of the Promethean Boards just well-connected and know how to market their product?

The idea of a Promethean Board sounds great on paper. An interactive computer screen projected onto a touch screen which allows students to edit, highlight and write on documents with the use of a magical little pen. As a recent high school graduate, I have had hours of experience with the “Chalk Board of the Future.” The first time I used the board, it was amazing; however, that may have been the only time it was amazing. It seemed to lose its sashay after the first ten minutes. One of the flaws I found right away was that the pen doesn’t have an erase function directly on it, causing you to reach across to the onscreen tool box to get the eraser style pen, then erase, the go back to the tool box, to get the pen tool you were using before so you can continue writing. The pen itself is also faulty. When writing, there is a stall before the computer recognizes something has been written. Therefore, writers will over compensate different shapes and sizes of their letters due to the lack of visual feedback. This results in the most legible kindergarten teacher to have the handwriting of a raging alcoholic.

Another flaw is that the image is projected onto the board from a ceiling mounted projector. This means every time the teacher turns on the screen it must be recalibrated because a stray paper airplane might have set the projector off by a centimeter, causing the entire smart board to be altered. This recalibration only takes a minute, but a minute at the beginning of each lesson gets old fast. Plus it is inefficient when you consider all the other forms of technology in the market that practically finish your sentences. Also, since the image is projected, if a writer steps in front of the board while writing, the image will be projected onto their back and the writer will continue to copy notes blindly onto their shadow. At first it doesn’t bother anyone, but when you get up to the board it feels like you are bending over backwards to copy your algebra homework onto the board. The projector also limits the surface area of the board to a specific size. This is problematic when you are taking a lot of notes and you have to wait for everybody in the class to finish the notes, then erase it all, then continue on the same small space. With a typical whiteboard, you can just walk down to the other wall of blank chalkboard and leave the old material up for the slower note takers to finish copying. The price of this smart board is about $1,200 each, which isn’t bad for what you get, yet four walls covered in whiteboards will sell for about half of that. With the white boards, you can increase the total writing area ten-fold and still have $600 in markers to use for the decade

A real smart board should be similar to a giant iPad on the wall. It would be completely touch screen so you can write with your finger, then brush away any mistake with the back of your hand. Plus, it wouldn’t project. This allows schools to fit each board to the dimensions in their rooms, whether it is 3 feet by 4 feet or 3 feet by 10 feet. This kind of board would be much more expensive than the Promethean Board, mostly because a few square inches of Apple’s touch screen goes for $200 and a whole board would cost a lot more. The best idea would be to wait until technology improves before putting down any large sum of money to improve your school’s blackboard or whiteboard.


Unknown said...

As a teacher who has been lucky enough to use Promethean technology for the past few years, I have to disagree with you on many points.

First of all, I have not experienced a "stall" when writing on the board. It sounds like that is an issue with the computer that is connected and not the Promethean hardware or software. I also find the pen to be extremely accurate, which is one of the reasons that I prefer Promethean over other products. My handwriting looks just as clear on an ActivBoard as it does on a piece of paper. Once again, it sounds like you experienced issues that are not the norm.

As for having to "click" on the eraser takes all of a second to do so and has little impact on the flow of my lessons. Furthermore, you seem to dwell on issues you experienced with writing, which makes it nothing more than a "glorified whiteboard". I use the ActivBoard for more than just writing by creating interactive lessons that engage my students beyond simply note taking.

Also, I do not have a ceiling mounted projector. I have an ActivBoard+2, which has a short throw projector attached. This is one of Promethean's best selling products and is in classrooms all over the country. I rarely have to recalibrate and have no issues with shadowing thanks to the attached short throw projector.

I've been an educator for eight years and have watched districts spend money on all sorts of teaching tools that really don't have much of an impact in the classroom. I can say, without a doubt, that this is the best money my district has spent on any teaching tool in all my years of teaching. When used in an interactive and engaging fashion, it can transform the teaching and learning process.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Chris. The original blog entry is rife with inaccuracies.

The lag in writing is almost certainly caused by an issue with an older, slower computer, not the Promethean board.

Secondly, the ceiling mounted projector is an outdated mounting position that some schools still choose to select. Promethean offers short throw AND extreme short throw projector options that substantially reduce shadowing to nearly nothing.

Finally, if re-writing notes on a whiteboard and running out of space are the biggest problems with an interactive whiteboard, then you fail to recognize the advantages that it gives over traditional dry erase boards. 1) you can save your work, so a teacher doesn't have to spend precious time re-writing notes on a board for every class period 2) there are "interactive" lessons available where students can come up to the board and work and get involved 3) the use of Learner Response Systems that work with the board and computer which also helps engage students and assists teachers in accurately and quickly evaluating their students learning.

Finally, Promethean is releasing a dual pen/touch board next month for those so inclined to use their finger instead of a pen - although I happen to believe that learning to use a pen is an important function of education...people don't write on paper with a finger. You can check it out here (also shows the extreme short throw):

Anonymous said...

Nice style. I would love to write that way.