Blackboard to Blackout
Friday, April 20, 2012 at 11:32AM
Eularee in Google, Smart Boards, Wikopedia, Wise, blackboards, cell phones, chalk, classrooms, education, whiteboards

After teaching for the past 35 years, I have seen and used many innovative technologies. This week was an opportunity to put old school and new school to the test. 

Admittedly, I come from an age of chalk dust flying, erasers clapping and writing endless lines on blackboards. Detention assignments ranged from cleaning chalkboards and clapping erasers, filling chalk trays and writing 100 times about something you would NOT do again. All lessons were written out in perfect penmanship by the teacher on the blackboard and hopefully didn't vanish in an over enthusiastic swipe of the long eraser bar before you had a chance to write it down in your notebook.

Then came the whiteboard. A variation on a blackboard theme introduced in the 1990's, the white glossy surface similar came in a variety of sizes and colorful markers are used as the writing medium. Dry erasers replaced chalk board erasers with less dust being inhaled by students. The assignments were written in a less than perfect penmanship, since that particular art was left behind for "cursive".

This teaching assignment introduced me to the Smart Board. Used as an interactive whiteboard, the Smart Board uses touch for user input, such as scrolling, clicking or typing on a keyboard. A projector is connected to a computer for a visual display and serves as a large touch screen. 

The Smart Board comes with color pen tools that use digital ink, which means they do not have electronic components or ink. It's all in the pen tray, along with the eraser. Some have control panels that can change the color of the ink or change the pen tools to colored highlighters. Once the pen is taken from the slot in the tray, the user can write with the selected color or a finger. When the eraser is removed from the tray, any erasing action even if with a finger is disappears from the screen. To change colors, the pen must be removed or replaced back to the corresponding slot in the tray.

Cool! Images can be brought up from the internet and displayed as the teacher circles, highlights or writes on the interactive board. Unfortunately, like the enthusiastic swipe of the chalk eraser or dry eraser, sometimes these intelligent technologies have a tendency to either think for you or disregard your efforts all together. On several occasions, the outlines and timelines we had written on the Smart Board disappeared with a hiccup in the projector unit or a bump of the computer. 

All week we were plagued with different technological glitches from the Smart Boards (I was beginning to think Smart was a misnomer). I had the good sense (or years of vast experience) to bring a hard copy of the work as a back-up. Yes, archaic devices called paper and pencil saved the work several times over the course of the instruction hours. 

Then it happened. A region wide blackout. No Smart Board, no computer and more importantly no lights! In an instant we were plunged into the dark ages. It was interesting to witness the chaos that ensued. Parents began calling the school insisting they were coming to pick up their children. The students were beside themselves as to what would happen next. There was no way to signal the end of recess so the teachers began yelling out the classroom doors for the children to come back in. The cafeteria had to shut down and figure out how to prepare lunch for the onslaught of non-brown baggers. Clocks stopped, although this seemed the least of concerns as multiple cell phones came out of back packs. 

And there I sat with my pencil and paper. I told the students that I lived in a time of blackboards and chalk. I had never heard the word remote until I was in college. A calculator was our brain or an abacus. We went to school from 8 to 3 everyday, because there was so much to learn. We had encyclopedias not Wikopedia. We surfed on the ocean not on Google. In the darkness of the classroom, I had 30 students spellbound with the tales of the ancient classrooms of the 50's and 60's

I wonder if they learned more in that day then they had all week with the Smart Board. Technology, whether it be friend or foe, is here to stay. Adapt or die as they say. But here's a tip for survival in the Technology Jungle. Always carry a pencil and paper...and if you want to know what time it is, bring a cell phone.

Image: Flickr images by General Wesc

Article originally appeared on Eularee Smith • Writer & Educator in Eugene, Oregon (
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