Interactive whiteboards are an important advance in classroom technology, but check which one is right for you
With the government announcing a pound;25 million scheme to put interactive whiteboards into more than 3,000 classrooms in London by next year (see page 4), this classroom presentation technology is very much to the fore.
More and more schools are now considering buying interactive whiteboards, but with the cheapest product leaving little change out of pound;1,000, buying the "wrong" interactive board can be an expensive mistake.
"Often the problem is with the supplier and not the manufacturer," says Leo Harnden, a partner of The Light Saver, a company that provides presentation technology to schools. "A good supplier will find out exactly what you want to get from an interactive whiteboard and provide the product that fits the bill. They will also help with installation, training and support."
Although price is important when it comes to choosing an interactive white board, other factors need to be considered just as strongly.
Interactive whiteboard systems consist of a board, projector and computer, which are joined together to offer a highly flexible presentation set-up.
The first big decision is whether to opt for a fixed or portable system.
Portable systems are attractive, not least because they allow interactive whiteboards to be used in more than one room. But the downside is that interactive whiteboard systems require precise installation, which includes careful calibration to ensure that everything works at the optimum level. A portable system will need careful set-up before every lesson and this needs to be factored in when planning a session. Self-contained back-lit products are available, but they are currently large and expensive.
Most interactive whiteboards use either dual membrane resistive or electromagnetic technology. A board with a dual membrane surface can be written on with a finger rather than a special pen, which some children may find easier to cope with. Electromagnetic boards have hard-wearing surfaces and are used with an electronic pen, which may also double up as a computer mouse. Some pens are corded, but a cordless version is more flexible.
With some boards, one pen is used for everything, including changing colour, but others require a selection of pens. If using the whiteboard with young children, then it's important to check that the pen isn't too big for them. One other problem is that an interactive whiteboard can take up the wall space normally occupied by a standard whiteboard. A flexible solution could be to use an interactive whiteboard that can also be used with dry marker pens or a system that converts an ordinary whiteboard into an interactive one.
One thing that is often overlooked is the software that comes with the interactive whiteboard, which allows it to operate with the computer and projector. Your questions about the software should cover ease to use, what features it offers and whether it will work with your existing software.
There are lots of features on offer, such as programmable keys for selecting functions and the ability to save annotations, but think carefully about whether these features will be used in the classroom.
Also check out the optional extras. A growing number of models offer wireless technology. There is a price premium for wireless but it does make the classroom a less cluttered place. Other extras include remote control functions that allow students to send work directly from their desk to the interactive whiteboard or to participate in class voting.
Last but not least, check the training and support that is offered.
Although interactive whiteboards are designed to be easy to use, staff will need some guidance on how to operate them. A good supplier will include training in the sales package and some even offer on-going training to cater for staff that arrive after the initial training programme. Most interactive whiteboards come with a two to five-year warranty, but check what this includes, for example, what happens if the board needs to be taken away for repair?
Some schools shun whiteboards and project their computer images on to a wall or screen, using wireless tablets and PCs to share the interactivity around the class. So remember, whiteboards might not be the only game in town.
* Do I want a fixed or portable board?
* What do I get for my money in terms of delivery, installation, support and training?
* What size board do I want?
* Will it work with my existing equipment?
* Do I want it to double up as a standard whiteboard?
* Should I consider an interactive whiteboard converter, such as those offered by Mimio or E-Beam?
* Do I want a backlit model?
* How easy is it to set up?
* How easy is it to use?
* Do I want a surface that can be written on with a finger or with a pen?
* Do I want a wireless or wired connection?
* How sharp are graphics and text, and how quickly does the board respond to contact by pen or finger?
* How flexible is the board's software - can I use it with my existing software, for example?
* What features does the board offer and do I really need them?
* What upgrades and optional extras are available?
* What type of training is provided?
* How long is the warranty and what does it offer in terms of support?
The Light Saver
Tel: 01604 750053
Interactive Whiteboard Company
Tel: 01454 878774
Tel: 08709 200200
Tel: 0870 2413194
Tel: 020 8213 2100 www.smartboard.co.uk
Tel: 0870 043 4024
Tel: 0870 458 3344
Tel: 01903 539922