The school I am currently posted to has one smartboard and I have observed the teacher using it and discussed with him his experiences.
The board itself looks like a normal but fattened moveable whiteboard but it has some extra buttons and jacks. That is where the similarities end as it is turned on it is now the familiar screen of a computer. All the programs and applications found on your average computer are accessible and ready to use. The image is projected from a data projector but it is not just an image as the surface is touch sensitive so that your hand is either a cursor or can scribe directly to the document. You can drag, highlight and callout items as need be. Students can get up and control the image as easily as the teacher (height permitting) which denotes the interactiveness and engagement the board embodies.
The potential of the board to enhance learning is undeniable but the same rules apply to any tool in that it relies on the craftsman to reach that potential and also the tasks to which it is applied. For the purposes of data display the board is limited to only the small number of sites approved by the Department of Education and the speed and capacity of the local server. Teachers need appropriate training to be able to use this technology and students need a framework for appropriate use instilled in the classroom culture.
Restrictions aside, I can see the desirable attribute of having instant data at your fingertips when in a class discussion on a topic but being able to follow related but unplanned for tangents in students thinking and inquiry. Modelling the thinking processes in “explicit teaching” Wilkinson (1995) used for early learning literacy development would be applicable to an investigation where vocabulary definitions, image representations and even sounds could quickly and easily be drawn down.
Comber, B., Cormack, P. & Wilkinson, L. (1995) "Explicit teaching " in Cornerstones:Modules 6 & 7, DECS, 20-38.