The White Stuff

When it comes to interactive whiteboards the question isn’t “if?” it’s “when?” “Thirty percent of K–12 schools already use this technology,” said Sharon Holton, vice president for strategic initiatives, Promethean World. “Next year that number will jump to 57 percent. The ship has sailed and colleges need to get on board. Otherwise, students will feel like they are going backward.”

Interactive whiteboards are a pretty impressive piece of technology. More than just a dry-erase surface, the board works like a computer screen that runs all the latest software while allowing Internet access. Teachers write on the screen via a virtual keyboard or a stylus pen. Students interact from their desks with a handheld palette. “Anything you do on your computer you can do on an interactive whiteboard,” said Karen Nelson, director, global marketing, Polyvision. “And their open architecture means you can use a variety of software.”

The “wow” factor remains high, even as traditional interactive whiteboards overcome some bothersome technical issues. The old whiteboard projectors would create annoying shadows and shine light in the presenter’s eyes.

“Extreme short throw projector technologies solve this problem,” commented Erik Willey, director of product marketing, projectors, ViewSonic. In short throw, the projector is mounted close to the screen on the wall or ceiling, allowing unlimited sight lines. “This technology has recently come down in price dramatically, from $3,000 for a dedicated smartboard to under $1,000,” continued Willey. Some manufacturers have provided a unified system where the whiteboards, short throw projection system, and audio system are all combined into a single unit which can be set at different heights.

Support for Collaborative Learning
Interactive whiteboards support new teaching models like collaborative learning. “You can now have two or three people drawing on the board at the same time without confusing the software,” said Genevieve Rowland, account executive, Troxell Communications. “Boards are also allowing their software to seamlessly work with other hardware like document cameras and audience response clickers to afford a more robust leaning experience.”

 “Handheld devices help keep the students engaged,” agreed Holton. “They allow for instant feedback while letting the professor know if students understand the message.” They can also help students retain information better. “I remember in statistics class I could either listen to the lecture to understand concepts in real time but not be able to recall them later. Or I would take notes but miss a lot of what was going on in the moment,” Holton continued. “This technology lets professors capture the entire lecture and post it so students can replay on their own time.”

“Professors love this new technology,” continued Rowland. “I had a professor at Galveston College tell me that it allows him to impart more information to his students within a shorter period of time while increasing their retention. And because the virtual pens can highlight and magnify, they immediately bring the student’s attention directly to the content. No longer is half the class trying to determine where the professor is attempting to point on a spreadsheet with a jittery red dot from a laser pointer.”

 “Studies show that this interactive technology helps boost test scores,” said Willey. This may be because the technology speaks to visual and kinesthetic learners as well as audio ones, not to mention the advantages it gives to English Language Learners. “It can also bridge geographical gaps. By using WiFi, you can have up to four presenters from anywhere in the world on the same screen at the same time.”

Three-Dimensional Modeling
Three-dimensional modeling is also possible with these new whiteboards. “The active view document camera allows professors to project images to a big class,” Holton said. “For instance, a teacher can show a single piece of coral from various angles to a large lecture hall. She can zoom in and out and label and draw on the specimen as well.”

Holton says that schools are also excited about the layering capabilities of the technology. “A medical school could actually peel back the different layers of the human body right there on the screen,” she said. “Architecture schools could look at the layers of buildings. It’s a big ‘aha’ moment when we show them those functions.”

Schools are coming up with even more ways to use the technology. “A university teaching hospital uses the interactive boards in physical therapy to encourage mobility by making the patients build their reaching skills,” said Rowland. “Patients had to move objects from one side of the board to another. The immediate gratification helped reinforce their efforts. Plus, to many of the patients it was fun, which encouraged them to repeat their actions over and over.”

It’s as Easy as It Looks
The boards also work for those who are not techno-savvy. “I always say that people should ‘start where they are and grow as they go,’” explained Holton. “Professors can keep it simple with a PowerPoint presentation, for example, and still get great results with the products. The other functions are there, waiting to be discovered.”

All boards boast durability and warranties ranging from five years to “forever.” Training is offered for free, and some companies can tailor specialized training to match specific curriculum. But usually not much is needed to get started.

“If you can use a chalkboard, you can use an interactive whiteboard,” said Holton. “In 15 minutes you are up and running.”