You don't "need" a whiteboard. When you had an abacus, you didn't need a calculator. When you had a slate, you didn't need paper. "You can do very much the same with a panel on top of an overhead projector," say the critics. But can you really?
A whiteboard is an electronic board that works in a classroom very much like a blackboard. It is driven by a computer and a projector and can display any electronic information that you care to throw at it: the output of a computer, video, video-conferencing. As with the blackboard, you can write on it but you need an electronic pen. It's like having a massive touch-screen. The effect of this on students has to be seen. The size of the images that you are used to seeing reduced on a computer screen look compelling when enlarged.
To be able to bring in prepared work and use it with a class is useful. The ability to mix media and to create links can be done with ease and style. The boards look as though they could be part of the 21st century classroom.
Promethean, one of the market leaders, is showing an extension of its board's powers at the BETT educational technology show. The company has developed small drawing tablets that can be used by students to write or draw on the main board at the front of the room. This will make whole-class work more interactive. It is a stimulating idea and one that has many possibilities.
The child who is reluctant to speak may well feel differently about joining in with a dialogue on the board. Work on the main board will no longer be the province of the teacher but shared with the learner, almost blurring the distinction. There are problems: you do need some kind of way of reducing light levels in the room, and there is the expense. The cost is a severe problem. The Promethean board is around pound;3,500 without the projector. Those lucky enough to have them think it was money well spent.
* BETT CONNECTIONS
Display Mate 0118 966 8895
Just Projectors stand H50 01483 275259
In Focus 0181 213 2100
Liesegang 01924 423331
Promethean stand A70 01254 676921
RM stand D50 01235 826868
Sharp 0161 205 2333
Smart Board 0181 213 2100
Softboard 0171 2670100
Tegrity Digital Flipchart 01264 357722
3M Whiteboard 0700 2752638