The big picture

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Jack Kenny checks out a range of classroom presentation products that will be on show at this year's BETT

The problem with whiteboards is not how to buy them but how to make good use of them in a classroom. Using them, as so many do, as pacifiers for placating pupils is not good. Nor is showing your old worksheets written large. In fact, the mantra "less is more" could have been created with interactive boards in mind. Use them economically; increase the impact.

Content is king

Learning materials (content) designed for the board are essential. Some teachers develop their own materials. However, most teachers know as much about software design as most software designers know about teaching. I have seen nothing that could rival Espresso's latest materials.

In the past year, Espresso (a subscription service) has dramatically increased its number of school customers because teachers value the up-to-the-minute offerings that come from Espresso's links with ITN. The news bulletins prepared for Espresso and aimed at different age groups are unique. For media-aware children, and that includes most youngsters today, the content is a must.

Pearson's Knowledge Box (another subscription product) is full of material and is a rival to Espresso. It will only be the affluent school that could afford both. Most others will have to make a choice. You need to see both and judge the different approaches. Ideally you should have pupils along to add their views. Pearson has a more conventional approach and much of the software looks as though it has come from CD-Roms. Although, like Espresso, the software can be upgraded and supplemented, the downloads are not as vibrant as the weekly offerings from Espresso.

Get board wise

SMART is reckoned to be the market leader with boards in more classrooms than anyone else. It has launched a new board, the SMART Board 600 series - but the company is anxious to point out that, although there are some interesting developments (more space, snazzier design, better connections, including for PDAs), the new boards will be completely compatible with all that has gone before. The basic software has not changed.

Promethean, Smart's main rival, has continued to develop its main offerings. The new ACTIVslate tablet ensures that pupils and teachers can operate the ACTIVboard from anywhere in the classroom. Ruth Miskin creator of the Read Write synthetic phonics teaching programme for literacy has developed, together with Promethean, interactive whiteboard software called Just Phonics- Speed Sounds (review p83), This can be used to support the Read Write programme in teaching literacy. Ruth Miskin will demonstrate this at BETT.

New from Polyvision are boards supplied with RM's Easiteach Studio software. There are two main boards, one with Walk-and-Talk Lightning, which enables a teacher or student to operate the board anywhere in the classroom. Teachers can also use the remote to write with projected ink, erase, save, print and access the web.

Speed is important when you are writing on a board. It is unnerving when the board lags behind; the Cambridge Hitachi board does not do that. The board is available with video-conferencing features and the webcam video-conference software changes the board into an easy-to-operate video-conferencing unit.

The alternatives

Some people argue that visualisers are more important than conventional projectors. You can project virtually anything on one. They enable three-dimensional objects to be projected on to a wall or large screen.

They can be linked to a Tablet PC in order to create interactivity, and linked further to video and sound equipment. Tiny details can be seen by the whole class. One of the most economical is the AVerVision 130 (pound;322) portable document camera. It is capable of displaying any document or 3D object and recording and projecting it.

Something you must see is the range of LUMINA Digital Home Entertainment Centres from Elonex. At pound;1,998 including VAT you will probably feel a constriction in the throat. What you have to realise is that this is 32-inch widescreen LCD TV that can "timeslip" and "pause" live TV. There is a DVD player and recorder, an FM radio, a video recorder, a complete PC and a hi-fi system with an MP3 music centre. The uses this monster could be put to in the classroom are endless. It is the ultimate in classroom display.

Also worth looking at is the ONfinity Portable Interactive Whiteboard system (pound;450). It works with projector and PC or laptop. It will project on to any surface and a teacher can interact with the surface in the way that you would with a conventional interactive board. Nothing needs to be attached to the screen. The infra-red signals are transmitted via the small ONfinity box. An electronic pen is used for the annotations etc. It is a device that is light (250g) and is easily transported from room to room.

Tools like the Classroom Performance System and Quizdom are essential if a teacher is to ensure that pupils are not passive recipients of data. It is not unusual for children to ask for lessons with these devices. Quizdom hope to unveil new software at the show.

And watch out for new kid on the block Aclass Technology, with the EzClick Pro system (review p58).

The criticism of display technology is that it improves teaching, but there is little evidence that it improves learning. Everyone using boards should have that at the back of their mind.

Don't miss at BETT

The AVerVision 130 AverMedia Stand M20 A new way of looking at display. Will display 3d objects Tel: 0870 224 7116

LUMINA Digital Home Entertainment Centre Elonex Stand E30 A complete media centre. Worth the expense.

Tel: 020 8452 4444

Espresso Espresso Education Stand D64 Great content always fresh and relevant.

Tel: 020 8237 1200

Other contacts

RM Stand E50 D50 Tel: 08709 086969 (Primary); 08709 086868 (Secondary)

PEARSON EDUCATION Stand C60 0800 587 8032

Promethean Stand W40V60 Tel: 0870 2413194

Polyvision Stand Z90 www.polyvision.comuk Cambridge Hitachi Board Stand A20 Tel: 01223 325588

Quizdom Stand Z70 Tel: 0800 849 4047 Classroom Performance System Tel: 0870 167 0818 SMART (STELJES) Stand A30X22F10 interactive whiteboardsystem cm2 Compubits Stand SN42 Tel: 01753 878030 ACLASS TECHNOLOGY Stand G61

Tel: 01484 717070


BECTA ADVICE Report on the impact of Whiteboards on teacher motivation. RM ADVICE This report is based on the work of the North Islington Education Action Zone (NIEAZ) who have been using whiteboards for five years.

www.rm.comcompanyGeneric.asp?cref=GP2000Page=Press%20Office%20Reports LT Scotland Advice This site provides information for first-time users and enables teachers to develop their whiteboard skills. asp

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