Tech Talk: Seeing is Believing

Advancements in interactive whiteboards.

When the first interactive whiteboard hit the education market, many people reacted negatively. First, the software was far from user-friendly. It was difficult and required several hours of training just to be able to do basic maneuvers. Second, a projector had to be placed low to be centered with the board, and a teacher would have to stare directly into the projector bulb to address the class. Third, the surface of the interactive whiteboards was a soft vinyl, so it could not be used with dry-erase markers. Finally (and probably the worst), the shadow of the teacher was dead in the middle of the board, making the teacher stand off to the side and wish for longer arms.

It is easy now to say these older models were logistical nightmares. But in the last year, all of the above issues have been addressed. Today’s interactive whiteboards enable a teacher to focus on the class, not the technology. These new boards have an appliance-based system that provides widescreen visuals, precise touch capability and a large interactive surface without the need for a dedicated classroom computer. This gives teachers digital whiteboarding and information-
sharing capabilities at their fingertips.

The boards have a USB input that is all connected, so powering up and beginning work is fast and easy: a single button gets the whole system powered up and running in 60 seconds. Teachers can:

  • Connect laptops and multimedia devices to interact easily with digital material.

  • Write on the digital whiteboard or over documents, videos, spreadsheets and presentations.

  • Save all of their notes into a single file and e-mail them directly to students or colleagues, or store the files on a USB drive.

And when a teacher’s class is finished, he or she can use the reset room function to clear the whiteboard instantly, close all conferences and applications, and leave the room ready for the next class.

What is really new is the software. Software and content finally have caught up with the capabilities that an interactive whiteboard has to offer. Opportunities exist that weren’t available even a few months ago.

A teacher now can switch among all the audiovisual devices directly from an extended control panel. The panel provides centralized control of classroom technology, including DVD players, digital cameras and document cameras. The extended control panel also has a dual-USB port that enables a person to connect two computers to the interactive whiteboard and switch between them easily as required.

The new interactive whiteboards have a hard-coated, polyester front sheet secured over a robust aluminum composite backboard. The surface is tear-proof, optimized for projection, compatible with dry-erase markers and can be cleaned easily. The boards are durable and built to last, and are tested, designed and produced much more rigorously.

New boards include an ultra-short-throw projector, which virtually eliminates shadows, glare and distracting projector light. Positioned above the interactive whiteboard, the projector displays bright, crisp images from only a few inches away. It provides superior image quality and a native widescreen resolution, with no letterboxing or distortion. Compared with longer-throw projectors that are mounted on ceilings or walls, the short-throw projector creates virtually no shadows or glare. This makes it easier to see images on the interactive whiteboard and increases productivity by reducing unwanted distractions.

Interactive whiteboards and software have made a quantum leap in creature comforts since their inception. However, the question remains: Is the pricetag of interactive whiteboards the most cost-effective way to improve learning?

C. William Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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