Promethean: Worth It?


Credit: Jack Steenburgh

Math teacher Mr. Gauss uses his Promethean board to do interactive notes with his class.

This school year Albemarle County Public Schools purchased new Promethean boards for almost every classroom in Albemarle County.  The purchases were made to combat the outdated and inconsistent technology in classrooms around the county and to facilitate similar opportunities for every kid in Albemarle.


Promethean boards in comparison to older technology boast a couple features which make them much more adaptable to the classroom. The displays are brighter, larger, and let the users interact with them in ways which aren’t possible with a projector. These features have potential to make lessons more engaging for kids when used correctly, and give teachers who have them the ability to create lessons which are much more efficient and attentive.


Alfred Toole, Western’s Learning Technology Integrator, cited four main reasons for the purchase of the boards for the school year. 


First, to combat inconsistent technology around certain parts of the county he informed that they were purchased “As part of the digital equity plan”, Toole said.  “Our County purchased panels first because they wanted to provide equitable experiences in the classroom in terms of the delivery of instruction from classroom teachers.  Regardless of where you attend, you have access to first rate visual and audio experiences.”


Western principal, Jennifer Sublette, elaborated on the issues which faced the county regarding different technologies. “Some (teachers) had their projector in the ceiling,” she said. “Others had smart boards that teachers could hook up to and use, and we probably had anywhere from three to four different platforms.”


The problem which faced the school system with all of the differentiation in visual technology was not just in inconsistency in the quality of the tool, but also in the maintenance and upkeep.


Sublette continued, “if you think about that not just from a school building perspective, but from a county perspective, about 27 schools with 1300 faculty members, if everyone has a different projection system, all of the training, all of the repair, all of the ordering is really diversified.”


Improving lessons and the quality of education county wide was another reasoning for the purchase. “The panels provide additional opportunity to increase student engagement with these modern audiovisual technologies,” Toole said. “It allows students to write or drag items as well as presents.”


The steep price raises questions on whether the purchase was necessarily the most efficient solution to outdated technology. These boards are set at a hefty price costing thousands per board. The county allocated 3.5 million dollars to purchase the boards, with 2.5 million dollars given to k-12 programs and one million for High schools in the district. 


History teacher Daniel Bledsoe said that the new board hasn’t helped his lesson plans as much as one might expect. “It has not really changed anything that I do in the classroom just because I have not used all the features of it. We didn’t have a ton of time to play with it prior to starting the school year. As you get into the year with the course load and everything else it becomes pretty hard to go and say okay, how do I use all the resources on a singular board for one lesson?”


Bledsoe also said that the board’s features, which are exclusive to Promethean boards, for him, didn’t really improve his ability to teach or change his lessons in any way. 


Toole doesn’t seem to be worried about the lack of use in some classrooms affecting education versus teachers who may utilize the board more. He stated “First and foremost everyone should realize that teachers will always be the greatest and best resource in the educational space.  Teachers are masters of their craft and should be respected as such with pay and honor.”


In some classrooms it seems like these boards are inessential, but In others it seems like they have been invaluable tools for teachers. For some teachers the boards have let them better show examples, annotate, or have kids engaged in lessons. 


Kate Innes, Ap Microeconomics and Econ teacher said,about half of her lesson plans would not have been possible without the new technology.  “I can use it as a standalone, I don’t have to tie my computer to the board, which was much better than my old board because I would have to use multiple screens,”  Innes elaborates, “The touchscreen is a lot more interactive. The other good thing is that I’m able to annotate and write directly on the board a lot easier than you could before.”


Toole said that the tech should be used where its features are needed. “Where the tech fits, it should be used.  One shouldn’t use tech simply for the sake of using tech or checking a box.  Although the Panels have a number of bells and whistles, the panels exist as tools to expand a teacher’s capacity to teach and reach students.”


Detailing another strength of the board, Toolenoted that older panels couldn’t move around well. Toole said that new Promethean boards “provide flexibility in the educational space. The wheels allow any wall or corner with an outlet to be a learning space.  The teacher isn’t limited to a mounted screen or fixed spot in the classroom.”


This feature opens opportunities for teachers to use them in different spaces giving the boards more flexibility than a wall mounted projector or smart board.



Toole also said, “lastly, the panels give teachers a greater ease to share written notes with students or to capture annotated images.  Teachers can convert written notes to pdfs and share them in Google Drive or Schoology.” in order to make sure students unable to attend a period have the ability to recapture some of the in class experience other students received.


For students who miss class it gives them the opportunity to revise work while getting some of the in class experience they missed. For students who miss many periods of class due to illness, a problem which the school system saw a lot of in concern to Covid-19 social distancing rules, it gives them the ability to not become unengaged in lessons upon returning.


The real problems facing these boards for some teachers is not knowing how to utilize the boards or not having the time to learn. 


Albemarle county does offer multiple levels of training and opportunities. Christine Diggs, the chief technology officer for the county, stated, “There are multiple levels of training for teachers, beginning with an introductory training and then follow up sessions they can attend that go deeper into the use of the boards.”


Toole himself offers an array of help and training for teachers at Western. “With the panels, I provided direct school-wide training, self paced lessons for individuals, and small group training for staff as they have requested it.  Periodically, I will pop into a space and share a feature or workflow on the panel with a teacher.  I try to meet teachers where they are and walk with them on this tech journey.”  


While these training opportunities are nice it seems like teachers are struggling to find the time to utilize them. 


While training was required for a day, for some it may have been helpful to have more time allocated to set up. Innes, commented “it’s hard because you’re dealing with over 100 employees to provide better training for the boards. I equate it to like swimming and being thrown in versus actually taking lessons. Yeah, most teachers were just thrown in.”


Giving teachers the opportunity to utilize these technologies is also important to the county. Toole commented that “Teachers are professionals and will put themselves in the best spot when given time.” and divulged that “ with all things tech, not just the panels, I am always available by email and appointment.”


The value actually being obtained from each Promethean Board in each classroom will depend on the ability of the county to keep building on the skillsets of the teachers using them. 


Toole expressed the hope countywide that as time goes on these boards will help to form the classroom into a more educational and interactive experience for students. Toole stated that, “training on the panel provides a teacher with more tools in their toolbox to demonstrate their mastery of their craft. Teachers are very creative”