Few educational products have reached the level of popularity of interactive whiteboards. An estimated 12 percent of American classrooms use the devices, and the numbers continue to grow. In a survey by the NSBA at the 2008 Technology + Learning conference, school administrators named the interactive whiteboard the device “most useful to support instruction and engage students” by a significant margin over other products, such as laptops, document cameras and audience-response systems. SMART Technologies introduced the first model in 1991, and today many manufacturers offer their own designs. Interactive whiteboards use a touch-sensitive display to connect a computer with a digital projector to show the desktop on a screen. Users can then control computer applications directly from the display with a hand or a pointer, use a stylus to write notes in digital ink, and control video clips, animations, slide shows or other multimedia without a keyboard or mouse.
A variety of options are available for implementing whiteboard technology. For example, manufacturers like SMART, Hitachi and NEC offer all-in-one packages that include a whiteboard, projector, mounting equipment and accessories to enable quick and easy setup. Stand-alone whiteboards, without additional equipment, can be purchased from many different manufacturers if a school or district already has projectors. Another option is to convert existing equipment into an interactive whiteboard using devices like the SMART Interactive Display Frame or mimio interactive system, which add interactivity to a television or a dry erase board, respectively. Here are just a few of the many options you may wish to consider using in your district.
SMART’s flagship all-in-one integrated package, the 600i system, enables quick and simple setup. The 680i, for example, includes a 77-inch whiteboard and SMART’s Unifi 45 short-throw projector mounted on an integrated boom arm that folds out of the way when not in use. The integrated design eliminates the need for additional wiring or a ceiling mounted projector. A control panel allows the entire system to be turned on with the touch of a single button, and users are able to easily switch between inputs for a computer, MP3 player, document camera or DVD player. The Unifi projector displays XGA (1924x768) resolution at a brightness of 2,000 lumens and uses a filter-free DLP chip. The system also includes SMART’s Notebook collaborative learning software, which includes over 100,000 pieces of educational content. www.smarttech.com
Panasonic offers a series of whiteboards called Panaboards. It has a unique partnership with RM Educational Software, providing RM’s Easiteach interactive curriculum software with each of three models. The software is available for math, science, language arts and geography. Easiteach is based on interactive curriculum-focused toolbars designed by educators and includes Flash-based lessons that are ideal for use on an interactive whiteboard. Panaboard models like the UB-8325EW also can be switched to a traditional whiteboard that uses dry erase markers. This model is also unique because it includes a built-in printer at the bottom of the board so users can print out the notes or images on the screen immediately for handouts or recordkeeping. www.panasonic.com
Starboard FX Duo 88, $2,599
For educators in need of a larger display, Hitachi’s new StarBoard FX Duo 88 is an interactive whiteboard capable of showing widescreen content. At 88 inches across, it is one of the largest boards on the market. This model also allows multitouch hand gestures, accommodating more than one user at a time. The large size allows more room to work and is easier to view in larger rooms, but it also enables movies, video clips and other content in a widescreen 16:10 format to be fully displayed. Hitachi’s unique design also contains all the whiteboard electronics in a replaceable component at the top of the unit, 24 customizable function buttons, 72 digital ink combinations, and networking features. This stand-alone whiteboard is available apart from a projector, or it can be purchased as part of a bundle with a Hitachi CP-A100 projector and integrated boom arm for $3,995. www.hitachi.com
Mimio’s technology converts an existing whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard simply and affordably. The compact mimio infrared sensor is attached to the side of a board, which tracks the included stylus pen 87 times per second, so users can write or use it as a mouse. This system requires an additional whiteboard and projector, but it may be the most cost-effective option for getting interactive whiteboards into classrooms for many districts. The hardware does not require any major construction or retrofi tting and is designed to be easily portable, so it can be moved from classroom to classroom. The included mimio Studio software is intuitive and enables the creation of lessons, drawing, typing, annotations and the importing of video, sound and Flash files. Add-on options include a wireless connection to the computer, the mimio Ink Capture Kit, which digitally stores dry erase board writing, or the mimio Pad, a wireless tablet that teachers can write on and use to control the whiteboard while walking around the room. www.mimio.com
Interactive Display Frame, from $2,319
SMART’s interactive display frame is another approach, which converts an existing plasma television into a touch-sensitive interactive display—essentially a whiteboard without the board. The frame attaches to televisions from 42 to 65 inches across and integrates seamlessly with SMART’s collaboration programs, making it especially ideal for collaborative purposes like training and professional development. Two tiny cameras in the bottom corners of the frame detect touch from fingers or the included “pencil,” which writes in digital ink on one end and erases with the other, just like a real pencil. The frame is lightweight at between 9 and 11 pounds, adds less than 1 inch to the width of the television, and has a wide viewing angle to ensure accurate viewing in different areas of the room. www.smarttech.com