The SMART Choice in Tech?

SMARTBoard in the ClassroomSMARTBoards have become the Xerox of interactive display boards (IDBs) at least in the educational market. What I mean by that is that they are ubiquitous and if you know little of IDBs, you likely know them. You may even have a different brand of board in your room that you mistakenly call a SMARTBoard. It is important to know the differences though because it could impact your use. You can learn about the alternatives and worth of an IDB my post The How, Why, and Really? of Interactive Displays.  Here I will go through some of the basics and give you resources to take your skills further.

Know Your Hardware & Software

One of the IDB basics that I discuss in previous posts is knowing about the kind of board you have. It leads to differences in hardware and software issues you may encounter. Unlike when SMART first came on the scene in the 90s, now there are a variety of options available for boards.


Interactive Whiteboard

images.jpegThese are the akin the original models that require a projector that include large rear-projection and newer short-throw front projection machines. That means you’ll have all the issues that come with older touchscreens along with all the issues that come with old projectors.

  • Connections/Cables: VGA for video, USB cable for touch & audio, (sometimes) 3.5mm audio jack for audio, and power
  • Benefits: not many compared to the newer boards except that they are cheaper (in the short term) and it’s what people may be used to
  • Issues: shadows, projector/board misaligned, VGA adapter, bulb burn-out, missing pens affect touchscreen

Interactive Flat-Panel Display

These are the newer boards that don’t need a projector and have a number of awesome additional features. They will lead to far fewer issues.

  • Connections/Cables: multiple HDMI inputs for audio/video, VGA input (if you want it), DisplayPort Input, USB cable for touch, 3.5mm audio jack for audio, USB inputs for flash drives, ethernet port for internet access, and power
  • Benefits: They are more reliable and less likely to break down (Bye, bye projectors). You also have built-in screen-sharing, display and internet access through SMART kapp iQ. There are multiple display options and a touchscreen that doesn’t need to be realigned regularly. You also can utilize multi-touch interface actions like a hand for erasing, a finger for writing, pinch to resize, and more of the features we’re used to from our phones.
  • Issues: You may encounter issues selecting the appropriate display since there are now more input options which could also impact the touchscreen capabilities since they’re linked. It is generally more reliable, but also more expensive up front.

Non-Interactive Display

SMART’s 2000 series are not touch screen which may seem counterintuitive except many normal size classrooms that allow for screen sharing in larger classes that don’t need the display to function as a touch surface.

  • Connections/Cables: multiple HDMI inputs for audio/video, VGA input (if you want it), DisplayPort Input, Compnent RCA input, 3.5mm audio jack for audio, USB inputs for flash drives, ethernet port for internet access, and power
  • Benefits: It’s a cheaper way to no longer have to deal with projectors. It also allows the same SMART kapp iQ features.
  • Issues: You can’t touch it to control it, but you may not need that.

Other Options

Interactive Projector – SMART doesn’t have any options in this area, but you can learn more about them in a separate post.

SMART Tables – SMART doesn’t really offer these any more, and they were never that popular, but they I liked them for elementary group activities.

Floor Stands – Does your board need to move or tilt? For most classrooms that might be no, but maybe it’s for an auditorium or for a class where students are in wheelchairs.

Document Camera – These aren’t like the old-school overheads.

SMART Audio – This isn’t really for me, as I was born with a resonant ‘teacher voice’, but working with hearing impaired students I have learned the value of boosting audio to make it easier for students to stay attentive.


smart-boards-in-classrooms-1200x661.jpgUsing IDBs require three different kinds of software (not just Notebook) that you need to know a little about to be able to use your board efficiently. I’ll explain the purposes for each here.

Drivers – This is a device-specific software (that with SMART will often install automatically with Notebook) that lets your computer talk properly to the board. Without it, the touchscreen might not align properly. If you are using Notebook on a non-SMART board you will need that device’s driver instead of SMART’s. You should note that the type of board will affect certain touch capabilities like pinch to resize.

Instructional Software – This is the stuff you are likely most familiar with including Notebook 17 and everything that goes with that. This is where you create your lessons and assessments. There are online versions of software as well including the new SMART Learning Suite Online along with the older Flash-based SMART Express which are both currently free. You can also access a limited online version of ClassLAB game-based learning. You can access a Notebook Tutorial that will take you through the basics.

Ink Layer – Many people don’t realize that this is separate and apart from Notebook and is different for differnt types of hardware. This is what lets you write on a browser or take a screenshot of writing on your desktop that you can later pull into Notebook. If you’re using a version of Notebook before 15 then it probably looks like a little grey tab on the left side of your screen. If you’re using a newer version it looks like a little circle that could live anywhere and may be invisible if you haven’t picked up a pen or used Notebook recently.

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Quick Fixes


The first thing you should check if your board isn’t working is the cables.

No Power – If there’s no power make sure it’s plugged in and turn on.

No Display – If you can’t see anything check the VGA/HDMI cable that both sides are plugged in properly and that they aren’t damaged. If you’re using an adapter check that as well since they are frequently damaged.

Wrong Display – Check that you’re set to the right input on the board. Check that your computer’s display settings are appropriate. That means you may need to adjust the scale (smaller for old boards, 16:9 for new ones, etc.) and mirror the displays.

No Audio – Check the cable (HDMI, USB, audio cable, etc.) first, but this is usually a settings issue. Make sure your audio output is set to the appropriate device.

Touch – Check the USB cable and that it is plugged into the right input especially on newer boards, make sure the power is on, and make sure the driver is properly installed.


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Other Tips

The whole point of an interactive display is that it is interactive. So if you’re just using it to show videos and websites without students touching it then you are wasting a valuable resource. Next month we will review many of alternatives to the SMARTBoard, but for now here are some other basic rules to follow:

  1. Turn it off when not in use – The bulbs and screens do eventually burn out, so don’t waste them or electricity.
  2. Don’t stand with your back to the class
  3. Don’t project small/crooked/pixilated images
  4. Let kids interact with it – Don’t just stand in front of the room teaching out or you lose almost all of the benefits of the board.



There are a myriad of resources available, but you should start with the SMART Exchange, a site cultivated by SMART themselves. It has resources including full lessons, for SMARTBoards and SMART Tables. Below are a few other tools.


  • SMART Kapp – a share as you go whiteboard that can also function as a SMARTBoard app
  • SMART Lab – access the features online even without Notebook 16
  • SMART Amp – a collaborative workspace available in Notebook
  • Labdisc – portable measurement system in 4 models
  • STEM Fuse Educate – web-based science content
  • Tech Tub Trolley – a portable and securable device cart

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