Want a SmartBoard? Yeah — so does everybody else. Rich schools will get it; poor schools won’t. Hell, poor schools won’t get technology until the item costs as much as a textbook.

Good thing an off-brand SmartBoard costs as much as a textbook. Check out this Web site, or watch this TED talk.

I’ve mentioned TED here before, but not ever like this. Not-inventor Johnny Lee explains his innovation better than I could, but in case you don’t have YouTube where you’re accessing your Internet — where could that be? — here’s the gist:

As of September 2007, Nintendo has sold over 13 million Wii game consoles. This significantly exceeds the number of Tablet PCs in use today according to even the most generous estimates of Tablet PC sales. This makes the Wii controller one of the most common computer input devices in the world. It also happens to be one of the most sophisticated. …

Since the Wiimote can track sources of infrared light, you can track pens that have an infrared LED in the tip. By pointing a Wiimote at a projection screen or LCD display, you can create very low-cost interactive whiteboards or tablet displays. Since the Wiimote can track up to 4 points, up to 4 pens can be used. It also works great with rear-projected displays.

You can make off-brand SmartBoards with 80 percent of the name-brand functionality with 1 percent of the name-brand cost, Lee said. He estimates his system costs between $40 and $50, depending on the project. Less than a decent textbook.

In the end, all that matters to us: Will this technology add anything to the classroom?

Let’s use an example. Does CNN’s infra-tracker-screenie-thingie add anything to their broadcasts? The New York Times article that describes it uses the headline: “CNN’s Election Night Interpreter Revels in a High-Tech Toy.” Operative word: toy.

Now the debate becomes: Why the hell would you want a SmartBoard in a classroom? What ways could you use a SmartBoard in ways that don’t make it an expensive distraction?

Answer me this and I’ll make myself Lee’s SmartBoard knockoff. But not before.

Thanks to a commenter here for the link.


  1. the hidden part of this is the software aspect. the controller part is almost trivial, including the mouse driver (which is the software that he provides).

    getting it to work like a smartboard, allowing you to annotate over a variety of other applications on a variety of platforms, is not trivial. it’s quite possible that there will be open source solutions for this at some point, but from what i can tell, it’s not quite there yet.

  2. Lee has developed some open-source software, and it has slowly been evolving over the last four months. That said, I haven’t tried it out, so I can’t speak for how well it works.

  3. TeacherMom


    During my field work, I heard from a social studies teacher that he uses the SB software a lot…I never actually saw him use it, so I’m not positive of exactly what social studies software he used. Did you use any SB software during your student teaching? I assume that the less expensive SB brand wouldn’t have that bundled in with the hardware.

    On a related note, have you used any computer-based learning software with your history classes? If so, which software did you use? I’m thinking this is a great way to differentiate instruction.

  4. Oh man… SmartBoards can absolutely be your best friend. Have you had the chance to play around with one? They’re amazing for in-class editing, for one thing. You can “write” all of the revisions on the file, projected onto the screen, and then print off a copy complete with annotations for that student or the entire class.

    What you want to do, though, is skip the SmartBoard or the InterWrite board. Get the handheld Interwrite tablet instead. You use it in conjunction with a regular overhead projector (the computer kind, not the transparency and smelly marker kind) and do all of the things a SmartBoard can do – from anywhere in your classroom. You can hand it to a student and let them do stuff, too. And they’re SO much cheaper – in the $200 area, I think, instead of the $2000 area. You can also get multiple tablets and have team activities and stuff.

  5. I have never used either, and so I honestly have no perspective.

    I’d have to have one to play around with it, though — there’s no way that Podunk could afford it, and even White Kids’ Unified would struggle to get even one $200 piece of electronics, not to mention that projector.

    Know any easy grants?

  6. Showing movies, powerpoints, and things like that, visiting any web site immediately when the teachable moment happens. However, if I only had money for one thing, I’d rather get a computer for the class than a SMARTBoard.

    Also, Lee’s solution is not really a $50 solution because you still need a projector which most classrooms don’t yet have.

  7. Noted.

    Chances are, though, I’ll probably end up shelling out money for a projector out of my own pocket. That way, it’ll double as a TV during makeshift bedsheet-as-projector-screen movie nights at my apartment.

    My master teacher already does this with her privately owned project, and I’m thinking that it would be so awesome.

  8. Hi!
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    It is an online community for teachers of all levels and curriculum areas.Your visit to the network will provide an opportunity for you to share your expertise with our teachers.At teachers planet you can start your own groups, start/participate in a discussion/ forum, add videos, music, RSS feeds, start blogs and do many more things.

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  9. samjshah

    Hi. Your post got me thinking about the role that SmartBoard plays in my own classroom. I started writing a comment, but it turned into a huge thing, so I’ll just direct you to my response to your thought provoking post, if you want to read it:


    And thanks for your blog. It’s gets me thinking a lot about what I’m doing.

    Sam Shah

  10. You’re welcome for your time and consideration, spam.

    Sarah: I don’t disagree with your post. As soon as there’s a way for technology to improve the likelihood of learning, I’ll adopt it in a heartbeat.

    I invite any further readers to comment on her blog in response, or at least read it so you know what we’re talking about.

  11. May I add that SBs are better than the ole’ blackboards that my kids have in their school. They – the chalkboard – should be outlawed.

  12. I shall grant you neither audience nor credibility, vile spammer.

  13. tom

    i like mr.bees blog because you are so right dont buy a smart board get an interwrite tablet or genius tablet it does the exact same thing except not on a bord handheld from anywhere in the room it is really cool save your money get a tablet instead of a smart board it is the SMARTER!!! thing to do.

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  1. 1 Yet Another Spammer

    You can also now embed videos from YouTube. This could be quite useful if you wish to beat the dead horse further and “Rickroll” a room full of people in the middle of a presentation. ……

  2. 2 True or False: Smartboards are an Expensive Distraction « Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere

    […] 29, 2008 · No Comments On the blog On The Tenure Track, Benjamin Baxter asks in a recent post: Why the hell would you want a SmartBoard in a classroom? What ways could you use a SmartBoard in […]

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