October 2007

Whiteboards Bringing Interactivity in Education

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SMART Board, ActivBoard, eBeam, mimio, Webster,…these names may sound unfamiliar to some, but are phenomenal tools and some of the most widely used educational tools at this time. Gone are the days of  traditional whiteboards or flipcharts. Interactive whiteboards are used in many schools as replacements for all such traditional tools. They provide ways to show students any thing which can be presented on a computer's desktop, educational software, web sites, and others. Interactive whiteboards also allow teachers to record their instruction and post the material for review by students at a later time. In other words, IWBs offer very effective instructional strategy for students who benefit from repetition, who need to see the material presented again, for students who are absent from school, for struggling learners, and for review for examinations.

Interactive whiteboards are used in classroom environments in the case of which the technology allows one to write or draw on the surface, print the image off, save it to computer, or distribute it over a network. One can also project a computer screen image onto the surface and then either control the application by touching the board directly or by using a special pen.  The computer image can be annotated or drawn over and the annotations saved to disc or emailed to others.

How does it affect education- teaching and learning?

IWBs are highly motivating and learner-centred tools when integrated innovatively. They offer a powerful facility for integrating media elements into teaching to enhance content and support collaborative learning. Although already penetrated the school sector, the tool has still less presence in the higher education sector. All IWBs though do not offer all similar features, but their over all contribution to teaching learning revolves round the same set of objectives.

IWBs are used for purposes like-

  • Offer the same features as a traditional whiteboard such as writing directly on the board, circling things, highlighting or labelling elements on the screen, and erasing errors but able to save or print out the results without further ado.
  • View and navigate the Internet from the whiteboard. Surf and display websites that the entire room will be able to see in a teacher-directed manner.
  • Students can approach the whiteboard and add their contribution to the discussion by writing directly on the whiteboard. Groups can view and solve interactive problems together.
  • Connect to video conferencing systems.
  • Allow teacher and/or students to move around a screen without the use of a computer because the screen itself is sensitive.
  • Offer an on-screen keyboard that floats over the software, allowing to enter text or data into almost any application.
  • Enable editing on screen and recording of changes or additions.
  • Provide an electronic flipchart of a number of pages, with all notes and diagrams saved as an HTML file for later use across an Intranet, allowing an archive to be easily maintained and displayed.
  • Allow notes to be stored and made available to students who missed the lecture.
  • Cater more effectively for visually impaired students and other students with special needs, using say drag and drop exercises with graphics instead of text to test learning.
  • Allow the tutor to monitor/see what each student has on their screen and choose which screen to display on the whiteboard in a networked environment.
  • And many more.

Types of interactive whiteboard technologies

Resistive Membrane

These whiteboards have a soft flexible surface similar to vinyl, comprising two pieces of resistive material with a small gap between them to create a touch-sensitive membrane. They can be drawn on using fingers or a special stylus that can represent pens of different colours via software selection.

Electro-Magnetic

These whiteboards are similar to traditional whiteboards in that they have a hard surface and can be drawn on with normal pens. To work interactively they require special battery driven pens that emit a small magnetic field that is detected either by the frame of the whiteboard or by a grid of fine wires embedded beneath the surface of the board.

Laser Scanners

These whiteboards have a hard writing surface with infra-red laser scanners mounted in the top corners of the board that detect pen movement. To work interactively they require special felt pens, each of which has a uniquely encoded reflective collar that the lasers use to identify its colour and position.

Advantages

Because interactive whiteboards are so like conventional whiteboards, they can help teachers to use technology comfortably for presentations from the front of the room.

  • They help in embedding the use of e-learning because they rapidly demonstrate the potential of alternative modes of delivery.
  • They make it easy for teachers easily integrating all kinds of content material in a lesson: a picture from the Internet, a graph from a spreadsheet and text from a Word file in addition to student and teacher annotations on these objects. They allow teachers to easily and rapidly create customised learning objects from a range of existing content and adapt it to the needs of the class.
  • They allow learners to participate in group discussions by freeing them from note taking, and allow them to work collaboratively around a shared task area.
  • When fully integrated into a virtual learning environment and learning object repository there is potential for widespread sharing of resources.

The large scale of interactive whiteboard panels and the option to control them and write on them using fingers make them potentially useful assistive devices for a range of visual and physical impairments, whilst the synchronised software and the ability to work with all programmes on the PC has huge potential for blind students and tutors. Additionally interactive whiteboards are useful with hearing impaired students.

Interactive whiteboards can be fixed or free-standing. Free-standing boards have the advantage of portability Interactive whiteboards work with both PCs and Macs, the only need is to check the right software. However, the tool has yet to address some issues attached to it, in order to make a widespread use of it in teaching and learning. One of the major issue being interactive whiteboards are more expensive than conventional whiteboards or projector/screen combinations.

Cost

The higher the resolution and the faster the tracking speed, the more the board will cost.  Prices usually range from INR 10,000 to INR 100,000, depending on the size and technology employed.

The lowest cost are dual membrane resistive boards which can be operated with a fingertip or special stylus. More expensive are the solid state impact-resistant whiteboards that can only be operated with an electronic pen or a more expensive variant, offering control via a cordless infrared pen. Most expensive are the laser scanner whiteboards, operated by markers with special, reflective collars.

Software is almost always included in the purchase price of the whiteboard, but it is necessary to ascertain what the software does, as different packages offer different functions. However, the special pens required by some boards add to the cost and so does the digital projector.

Whiteboard Shopping Questions

  • Do you prefer “resistive” technology, which means the whiteboard responds to hand pressure, rather than using a single pen or pointer that comes with the technology to interact with the board? Different whiteboards offer different methods of interaction.
  • How easy is it to incorporate a broad range of multimedia Internet resources and classroom content into lesson plans using the whiteboard?
  • Does the company offer whiteboard lesson activities and videoconferencing remote-control software?
  • Is the system compatible with the most current software available for Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, or Linux?
  • Does the company offer extensive technical support?
  • Is the product durable enough to sustain the normal wear and tear of the classroom?
  • What warranty does the company offer?  

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