A kind of magic

14th September 2001 at 01:00
The days of writing on simple boards - black or white - are numbered with the coming of the interactive whiteboard. Jack Kenny reports.

Imagine that you are back at school as a pupil. One classroom has a traditional blackboard with chalk. Another has an interactive whiteboard where the work is in colour, images move and your teacher illustrates points using CD-Roms, Internet material and output from a computer.

When the teacher writes on the interactive board, the software translates the words into computer text that can be printed out and handed to you at the end of the lesson. Everything is saved so that if you want to you can refer back.

Which do you prefer?

There is no contest. The advantages of an interactive whiteboard are so great that you would need a good deal of time to explain them fully. Above all the interactive whiteboard answers the question of what can you do with only one computer in a classroom. Crucially, you can display work on a big screen so that you get whole class teaching with whole class attention - as with a blackboard - and have all the flexibility a computer offers.

Interactive whiteboards have been the success story of the last few years. They have done what computers alone have never done: attracted teachers who shy away from information and communcations technology. One look at a whiteboard being used by a skilled person convinces most teachers that it is something they must have in their classroom.

Denny Whiteford, who is responsible for ICT at Hunter Primary School in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, has used one in the computer suite for a year and was surprised at the way her colleagues embraced it.

"Everyone uses it but the infant classes use it most," she says. "The impact of the images has a real effect on their concentration. They seem to see it as a kind of magic."

Buying an interactive whiteboard is not particularly easy, in that it has to be tailored to the school, its staff and its computers. Yo* can buy a package including the interactive board and the projector, but you should make sure the generosity of the package does not impel you to buy something less than completely suitable.

The boards come in different sizes and have different features too. Electromagnetic boards made by Time, Promethean and Hitachi must be used with a special pen. Membrane boards, such as Smart Board and Displaymate, will work with a pen but also with a finger.

Software is crucial. Some people argue that it has to be simple, that more staff will use the board if all they need are general computer skills. However, the contrary argument is that using material in front of a large group is very different from showing it to one pupil; the software has to enhance what teachers can already do and give them the techniques for maximising impact.

Ms Whiteford is quite clear about what the board has done at Hunter Primary: "It has made our job so much easier."

Bullet Point Presentations, www.interactivewhiteboards.co.uk stand D30Displaymate, www.displaymate.co.ukHitachi, www.iwb.co.ukIntegrex, www.integrex.co.uk stand A36Promethean, www.promethean.co.uk stand F16Smart Boards, www.scotsys.co.uk stand D20Time, www.timegroup.co.uk

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Where will you mount the board and projector?

Will the board be moved from room to room?

Is the board robust?

How near to the front of the class can you put the board?

What size display will you need?

What are the light levels in the rooms you will be using it in?

Will you need a new projector?

Is the board complete or can you add to its functions later?

Will the software work with PC andor Mac?

Is training on the board's software expensive?

How will you integrate the board into your normal work?

Will children be able to use it with ease?

How good is the quality of the audio?

How much are replacement pens for the board?

How much are replacement bulbs for the projector?

Seminar: Make a Show of IT, learn how whiteboards, digital projectors and presentation software can help to bring your delivery to life, September 19 and 20 at 10am

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