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Two-way teaching

Jack Kenny looks at the development of whiteboard technology and how it's giving pupils more control

Sales of interactive whiteboards show no sign of tailing off and technology advances should keep demand buoyant. This year's developments increase the interactivity and move the control centre away from the front of the class, with wireless technology allowing students and teachers to interact with the whiteboard software anywhere in class.

The 47-inch whiteboard of market leader SMARTBoard is preferred by many teachers, largely because children can use the boards without needing a pen, a feature that wins plaudits from special needs and primary teachers. Its new wireless technology further liberates the users by breaking the triangle of board, projector and computer all tethered together. A wireless laptop can now be linked to the board and the teacher is free to use it anywhere in class. If you have a wireless laptop and wireless projector you have an elegant set-up that's a model of portability.

News like this doesn't usually go down too well with users because it means their existing equipment is becoming obsolete. Not so here. SmartBoard users can upgrade their system by buying the two wireless stations. The wireless system is based around the standard IEEE 802.11b. And with fewer trailing cables, it also makes the classroom a safer place.

SMART, which claims the virtue of its software is its simplicity, has improved its handwriting recognition software and now boasts attractive features such as an ability to record all key strokes used in the lesson and even the teacher's voice.

The first thing you notice about Interactive Education's 77-inch and 47-inch whiteboards is the 20 programmable keys. You can program these to carry out any task - you can assign a key to open Word, for example. The only snag is you have to remember which key - unless you stick a label on it. The board's five-year warranty is also welcome.

The Interactive Education board works with a pen and Interactive is proud of the "reveal" function in its software. Remember how teachers would place a piece of card on top of their transparency then gradually reveal the contents? This works in the same way. It's effective and keeps attention on what is on the screen. IE will also unveil two new products at the BETT show - the digital tablet Presentation Pro Pad at pound;345 and the IE interactive pen display Pro Digital Tablet at approx pound;1,100.

RM's ClassBoard is a 50-inch interactive whiteboard from InterWrite. You can even write on it with a dry marker pen and save your annotations. A bluetooth (wireless) version will be launched at BETT which, like the SMARTBoard, frees the user from having to work at the front of the room directly before the board, blinded by the projector's glare and casting shadows.

Also from RM is Easiteach Studio software, which will be helpful in preparing materials. This is the platform RM is using to develop its curriculum materials such as maths and literacy.

Hitachi's new board, the Cambridge Board (price TBA) has been developed alongside Cambridge University Press. Cambridge will licence its content for use on the board to provide a product that is no longer just a board and software tools, but has content as well.

The InterWrite Meeting Pad and RM Classpad extend the technology further. Both are made by InterWrite and can work anywhere in the classroom. Looking rather like an A4 slate, the pads transfer anything written on them to also appear on the main screen, which means a teacher can pass them around the class or use them to direct the lesson - up to eight of pads can be used for one set-up.

Promethean will be launching its 'Kitemark' at BETT, which will provide guidelines to software producers so their products harmonise with Promethean boards. While this provides no guarantee of suitability for the curriculum, it addresses usability, which means that at primary level icons can be reached by pupils and that the software is compatible with Promethean's ACTIVstudio tools.

ACTIVote2 is its new radio-controlled voting unit and its new "complete primary" product uses a board and software designed for young students.

Mimio and E-Beam represent the budget end of the market, letting users change an ordinary whiteboard into an interactive one at a reasonable price.

These are cost-effective ways of bringing presentations into the classroom and useful for spreading technology use across a school.

Although not a whiteboard, the CPS Response System from Accurate PLC is interactive and benefits from a board to display responses. Each student has a handset, rather like those of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. These let teachers set instant tests, which pupils respond to using the keypad and which are marked by the software. At pound;1,995 for 32 handsets this is well worth a look. In addition, Accurate is giving away 50 systems during the BETT show.

SMARTBoard. 47-inch whiteboard. Price: pound;795. Two wireless station upgrades. Price: pound;299

SMART. BETT stand G40. Tel; 020 8213 2100.

Interactive Education 77-inch whiteboard. Price: pound;1,395. Interactive Education 47-inch whiteboard. Price: pound;1,195. Presentation Pro Pad. Digital tablet. Price: pound;345. Pro Digital Tablet. Interactive pen display. Price: approx pound;1,100. Interactive Education. Stand W100. Tel: 0870 043 4024. educatione_home.htm.

RM ClassBoard. 50-inch interactive whiteboard. Price: pound;1,199. RM ClassPad. Wireless A4 writing pad. Price: pound;549. Easiteach Studio. Curriculum materials platform. Price: pound;170 (single licence). RM. Stand D50, E50. Tel: 01235 826000.

Cambridge Board Whiteboard, software and Cambridge University Press content. Price: tba. Hitachi. Stand Z60.

InterWrite Meeting Pad. Wireless A4 digital writing pad. Price: pound;595.

ACTIVote2. Radio-controlled voting unit. Price: pound;2,500 for 30 handsets. Promethean. Stand D66, V60. Tel: 0870 241 3194

Mimio. Interactive whiteboard conversion. Price: pound;99. Tel: 0870 458 3344.

E-Beam. Interactive whiteboard conversion. Price: pound;395. Stand Z18. Tel: 01903 539922. interactive.htm

CPS Response. Interactive remote board and 32-handset voting system. Price: pound;1,995. Accurate. Stand D96, H72. Tel: 0113 250 0500. www.accurate.plc.ukeducation

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