It still doesn't quite add up. Teaching is a one-to-many activity but the computer remains a one-to-one tool. Many teachers know that to make the most of the computer in any classroom you have to have a way of sharing a single screen with many students. The good news is that many new tools make this aim achievable and increasingly affordable.
Data projectors allow any computer or video image to be shared with a whole-class, year or school group. In the last three years they have gone from luxury status to "must have" tool. In addition, the arrival of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) has proved dramatically successful in schools across all age ranges. The whiteboards combine with data projectors to give teachers complete touch-sensitive control of the computer from the front of the class.
Imagine a giant touch-screen at the front of the classroom that you can touch with your finger or a hand-held pen to browse through the Web or demonstrate a piece of software and you have the idea of an interactive whiteboard. It's important to note that often a projector by itself will have much the same effect at half the cost, but teachers who see the electronic whiteboards in action are captivated, after all it looks to be an important tool which will change the deployment of ICT in schools and allow it to play a part in collaborative whole-class learning. It is also interesting to see how many schools are combining the whiteboard with software to allow the board at the front to become a participative forum.
"Although the whiteboard captures the pupils' interest," says Matt Gowen, head of ICT at Ash Manor School, Surrey, "short-sighted pupils cannot see the detail. We bought NetOp School from Richmond Systems which is fairly cheap and allows the image to be simultaneously projected on to pupils' screens. Now we can carry out on-screen chat between teacherspupils and remote control a student's screen and show it from the front."
Promethean (stand V60) was an early pioneers of whiteboard technology and its ACTIVboard system now has two extras in the form of the ACTIVslate and ACTIVote. The slate allows students to send their drawing or note from the tablet to the whiteboard at the front and the voting option allows students to respond via a wireless keypad to give whole-class voting results up front instantly. RM (stand D50, E50, TC9 and TC10) also noting an increase in classroom interaction on the back of whiteboard use. Its Easiteach maths modules contain a series of lessons specifically designed for teachers to use projected at the front of the class and its Discourse software allows individual communication and interaction over the school network. At BETT RM will also be showing the next generation of presentation tools in the shape of touch-screen plasma.
Schools can pay up to pound;6,000 for a whiteboard and projector system, but discounts are available. More affordable deals include the SMART Board, which allows teachers and students to write and draw with their finger on the board, a beautiful simplicity. Time Education (C60) now offers a complete whiteboard and projector deal at under pound;4,000 and several satisfied teachers describe the difference the systems have made. The best whiteboard in terms of accuracy and consistency I've seen so far is the Hitachi StarBoard. The Interactive Whiteoard Company will be showing this with a new suite of software tools on stand Q40.
Lower cost whole-class interactivity is also available in several other formats this year. One of the most interesting is the Mimio a device which clips to the side of any conventional whiteboard and turns it into an interactive device. Sensors in the jackets which slip over your whiteboard pens tell the computer where you are writing, and as you draw or write on the board a copy appears on the computer screen which is connected to the Mimio via a long lead. It's wonderful to write or even just to trace an imaginary line with the pen cap in place and see the line appear on the linked computer screen. The software provided with the Mimio is ideal for packaging final notes up into a series of Web pages. Teach a lesson and save the notes for repeated access (see Virtual Inc at C166). In addition, the Mimio can be used with a project or to give a large interactive touch-screen on any surface you can attach the sensor by means of suckers. While not as accurate as a whiteboard it certainly provides an alternative.
A range of low-cost but powerful solutions in classroom presentations comes from AverMedia (G60). They provide a number of convertor boxes starting at pound;50 which allow a computer image to be shown on any TV which has a video input (usually in the form of a SCART connection). I trialled the AverKey Pro and was most impressed by the clear, still image it produced. A number of special schools are using the convertor with a VCR so that a series of images or a PowerPoint presentation can be recorded on to a short video tape and taken home by the students. Another dramatic product from AverMedia is the AverVision DL which acts as a TV convertor, but also features a camera on an adjustable stand with lights. This means that any object placed under the camera will be shown on the TV screen, ideal for building animations or reading round the class in literacy hour. You can even overlay 3D images with text from the computer For data projectors, the key trends this year will be brightness, portability and greater PC connection options. Some projectors now come with USB connections and hard discs. The new range from Epson allows you to download presentations to the projector, removing the need for a connected computer at times. Projectors like the new Compaq MP1800 are as small and as light as a laptop. Utilising the new Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology, the MP1800 uses a chip with over half a million rotating microscopic mirrors to reflect the light source needed by the three component colours in the projected image. The result is a much brighter picture than that provided by the older technology of light shining through a liquid crystal display.
The new Philips UGO also joins the ranks of tiny but bright DLP projectors at over 800 lumens but weighing no more than 1.3 kilos. Just Projectors (G90) provides a range of projector types for schools and large colleges and it's a useful place to get a comparative feel for the various models.
Schools deciding to invest in technology need to avoid the "ghetto effect" where one department gets a presentation suite and nobody else benefits. A more sensible approach could be to set up one multimedia classroom where staff can experiment and get confident in using these new tools.
Interactive Whiteboard Company www.iwb.co.ukNetOp School from Richmond Systems www.richmondsys.co.uk.
Aver media www.averm.co.uk