Dap Hartmann had previously written that the smartboard was too small (in Dutch). And at the Faculty of CEG, they decided to keep their blackboards when the smartboards were being introduced. Unfortunately, I give my lectures in the new halls at TNW Zuid. Size matters: one of the didactic tasks of teachers is to provide clarity. The ‘quad’ option, whereby four different pages of the smartboard are projected simultaneously in quadrants, does offer some comfort. Teachers of mathematics in particular use this option. But the total projected surface area is always still smaller than that of the old blackboard. And in smaller lecture halls, this option is not even available. Some teachers, who had previously written up a stream of equations, have also started to show slides containing the formulas. Gone is the didactic concept that the speed of writing on a board paralleled the speed at which students process information.
But I believe that I should only start complaining about the smartboard if I have first explored all the options. Teaching Support TU Delft says that the smartboard has plenty of advantages. One is that you can show different multimedia channels simultaneously. So I eagerly showed four different applications at the same time. But the system crashed as it could not handle the input from so many devices. I could then try writing on the slides during the lectures. But that means that I need to upload my slides onto the smartboard in the short 15 minutes that the hall is empty before the lecture. Nothing may go wrong. And the smartboard Powerpoint drawing tools frankly suck.
Why are primary school teachers happy with the smartboard?
The Covid pandemic was a relief in terms of displaying subject matter during lessons. Finally I could do what I wanted – use an infinite canvas which I could zoom in and out of and show details and the big picture in quick succession. I integrated my slides, a mind map, and wrote out mathematical derivations during the lecture. This is not possible on the smartboard but it does work very intuitively on the Explain Everything app on my tablet. My students and I thought it went well.
It seems that teachers are happy with smartboards at primary schools. Why? The smartboard is the teacher’s computer in the classroom. There is no hassle with constantly uploading documents onto another computer. There are special smartboard programmes for primary schools which the teachers are very enthusiastic about. Furthermore, primary school teachers often add a whiteboard and use the walls of the classroom to continuously display an overview of the lesson material.
I am now giving physical lessons in the same way as I gave online ones. I stream my tablet and write on it in front of the lecture hall. To gesticulate more during classes, I could also write in the same app on the smartboard. Unfortunately the smartboard does not recognise the pen.
All the examples I give here of effective teaching (blackboard, primary school, tablet) allow you to display an overview of the material. The smartboard on its own is unable to do this. It could be that the smartboard would work better with software developed for and by university teachers. But till then, the big blackboards are essential in every lecture hall. And not only in those of CEG.
Monique van der Veen is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, department of Chemical Engineering. You can read about the work of her research team here and follow her on Twitter at @MAvanderVeen