My student teaching site recently had a Promethean ActivDisplay (a type of Smart board) installed in the music room, so my CT and I have been gradually learning how to incorporate it into our lessons. Promethean hosted a training event in Midtown, so I attended to see if there were any tips or tricks I could bring back to the classroom. The event was somewhat open-ended in that all user-experience levels were welcome and consultants were on hand to address individual questions. Attendees could also watch 15-20 minute demos on general topics if they wanted to learn more about generic functionality.
My time watching the demos generally reinforced what I've already learned just playing around with the board at school. Although it was helpful to have the consultant validate much of what my CT and I have been doing, there are several limitations to our use of the ActivDisplay in our class:
1. The system is Windows- and Google-based; thus, it is designed to plug seamlessly into other Windows software and online tools such as Google Classroom and Google Play. Both my CT and I use Apple devices, so the connection between our devices and the board can sometimes be bumpy or require workarounds.
2. A significant lift of Promethean is its teaching and learning interface, ClassFlow. This software is designed to replace ActivInspire, the company's previous interface that is widely used on both proprietary and non-proprietary boards. In this interface, teachers can design activities and assessments, display them on the board, push them out to students' devices during class, and create small groups for collaborative work in real time. An improvement of ClassFlow is that it is intended to be a student communication tool as well. Through it, teachers can email assignments, assessments, grades, etc. and use ClassFlow to display these various artifacts during their lessons.
The downside is that my school doesn't use any of this content, nor do they allow students to use devices during music class. The school already has an integrated grading, LMS, and SIS system (Jupiter iO) that includes a communication portal for documentation communication and sending emails to staff, students, and parents. The school has no incentive to change over to ClassFlow - it doesn't appear that the school considered this feature important when they decided to purchase the displays. In addition, the device policy is firm at the school so there is very little chance that my CT will ever be using the software to push content out to students during class.
3. All of my classes this term are performance-based (band), with very little interaction between the students and the board. My CT does not include composition in his curriculum, nor do students write out music literacy exercises on the board. Any writing is done as homework. As such, I don't see the students using the touch feature of the board any more than they used the traditional chalkboard.
4. The speakers on the display are powerful and clear, which is great for classrooms that don't have sound systems. My CT, however, already has a high-quality stereo system installed in the room, so I don't anticipate using this feature either.
As the demos were not especially helpful, I spent about 20 minutes talking with consultants about specific questions. They showed me a few tips to streamline navigation between apps, and helped me fix some whiteboard issues I was running into. Only one consultant had ever trained a music classroom, and she was limited in the amount of context she had for everyday use of the board. One idea she did suggest was to display the conductor's score on the board during rehearsals via forScore. I actually loved this idea with one caveat. My CT and I have the score on our iPads during the rehearsal and I think we'd continue to use that display (i.e., in front of us) as our guide. Meaning, I don't see us following along using the score on the board rather than our iPad. But having the big score displayed behind us might help students keep their place, improve their ability to hear other parts (by seeing them), and ensure that everyone knew where we were starting each time we ran a section. I think with some practice, my CT and I could probably integrate the score display into the process. We would, however, have to spend a bit of time teaching the students how to read a full score, since none of them are used to this (to my knowledge).
Overall, many of the features offered by Promethean aren't going to significantly impact the daily routine in this classroom. Currently we are only using two features - the timer and the generic display. The timer is helpful for students as they enter the room, seat themselves, and get organized. The display is larger and clearer than the chalkboard, so the agenda and homework are more easily read in my opinion. That said, for a $6000 per-board investment, I'm not sure an effective cost-benefit analysis was conducted for the variety of classrooms in which the boards would be used. I suspect other subjects may be using the tactile interface much more than we are in music; however, I wish the teachers would have been surveyed more prior to implementation. I also wish the administration carved out time for the departments to discuss and collaborate on ways to use the boards more effectively. Perhaps we might discover additional uses for the board if we had the time and space to discuss it with the other music teachers.