Emerging Technology

Long-Term Interactive Solution

Software, not hardware is where you find true value.

My August article, “An Actual Interactive Board? Why?”, addressed interactive whiteboards from the curriculum/instruction viewpoint. This article will look at them from the technical viewpoint. My last search indicated there are 15 different firms out there offering an interactive whiteboard product. Making a surface interactive is fairly simple with today’s technology.

If there are at least 15 companies offering interactive whiteboard products; why are only three of them used in the K-12 environment? The answer is that the key element is not the hardware, the actual board/surface; all 15 companies have that. The value those three firms bring to the K-12 market table is the large collection of applications (student experiences) generated by educators and available to other teachers who use that manufacturers product. So it is not the hardware that is unique but the software. The secret they do not want you to know is that you do not need the actual board to make any surface interactive.

To see an example of how simple and inexpensive it can be, log onto YouTube and search for “Johnny Li and Wii Controller.” While a student at Carnegie Mellon University, Li figured out that he could take a Wii controller and $65 dollars of parts and turn any surface a projector could shine an image on into an interactive surface. Oh! So I do not need the actual board mounted on the wall. You only need a projector and a projection surface with the correct material on it.

There are multiple products that we can use as a projection surface. Some are new versions of marker boards that do not create white hot spots of glare when used with video projectors. Others are projection and marker materials I can glue to an existing marker board or a wall. A number of companies offer paint that enables the entire surface to be used as a marker board or projection surface. All of those can be used as the projection surface.

While we are on the subject of projection surfaces, we need to talk about appropriate height of those surfaces. An interactive projection surface mounted at the same height as a marker board is problematic for at least pre-K through second grade students. If you want to make the projection surface interactive and reachable to those students, the image needs to be much closer to floor level. Eighteen inches above the floor seems to be a reasonable compromise height for early-grade-level students and teachers. Special Education classrooms may need the image starting all the way down at floor level, dependent upon the physical function level of the students.

There are multiple products available that you can use to make the projection surface interactive. A number of the projector manufacturers have seen the Li video and now offer interactive projectors. There are a couple of companies that make sensing units that you install at the edge of the area you want to be interactive, and the surface becomes interactive. The three K-12 interactive whiteboard companies also have wireless slates that replace the interactive surface. The gesture-based Microsoft Kinect unit used with the XBOX was hacked, and it can now control any Windows, Apple or Chrome OS program using gestures. Phones and computers now have gesture-based control systems provided as a basic feature.

I, personally, favor a LED-based interactive projector with wireless connectivity for my classroom solution, primarily in that we will never need to replace the light system (bulb). I connect one Windows 7 desktop computer (which has a LCD display and wireless keyboard) to the projector using an HDMI splitter/extender and I call it the Main Presentation Station. The reason for the desktop unit is that there are apps for Android, Apple, Chrome or Windows operating systems that use your WiFi network to mirror (connect) the screen of any tablet, netbook, Chromebook or even smartphone to the Windows 7 machine. That means I can connect any teacher or student computing device to the projector from anywhere in the room.

Once you have your projection surface and interactive projector or sensor mechanism, you pay a license fee, and the interactive student experiences from one of the three K-12 interactive whiteboard companies are yours to use on your less-expensive interactive surface. Well almost, not all of the K-12 providers of interactive whiteboard understand that the value to their products is their software. One company requires you to purchase a hardware product before you can purchase their software; silly but true.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management November 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected].